The creation and development of a single game can involve a company with thousands of employees. Have you ever sat down with the end credits for an Assassin’s Creed title, or Cyberpunk 2077, discovering that 15 minutes later you’re still there wondering why five people were working on just the programming of hair follicles? On the flip side though, there are a bunch of indie programmers, makers, and experimenters who work with a tiny team attached; sometimes even totally solo. Most recently we have had the wonderful Omno arrive on Xbox Game Pass; a solo developer’s vision and work. Now we have Untitled Darkness – another solo project with a low budget. I couldn’t wait to see what had been made.
Untitled Darkness is a game which has been created whilst the developer has continued to hold down a full-time job. It’s a labour of love yet deals with a subject that is very passionate and personal to the maker. You play the part of a man – who we find at the start of the game in a very dark place; a small room with a slither or crack of light shining through. This is a symbolic area as the game deals with the issue of severe depression and the journey of self-criticism a person can put themselves through after a traumatic event.
Untitled Darkness sees the man question where he is and what his purpose is from the very beginning. He moves through doors to the left and right of his starting location and in each of these rooms lies a memory to unlock from the past. Each memory – which range from his life as a child through to that of marriage and kids – has a deep effect on his mental health. There is the childhood trauma of divorce that is dealt with, alongside parents letting the child down when it’s their turn to visit. Later on, we see his own adult life unfold and the start of a relationship that leads on to kids. Then the same things start to happen that happened to him as a child. All the time the man is questioning and self-doubting, surrounded by a dark cloud of hopelessness. It’s pretty hard stuff and, frankly, not comfortable or enjoyable to play, but I completely respect and understand the driving force of the game’s narrative.
The gameplay sees Untitled Darkness play out as a walking simulator-styled affair. It’s very basic and even less active than a normal game of this genre. You move your character very slowly left or right. You open a door and enter a room. You will unlock a couple of memories from the main character’s past. Then off you go in the opposite direction, heading slowly towards another door before opening it to reveal a new set of memories. That’s about it gameplay-wise – you can’t run or jump or do much of anything really, except experience the journey and the story of this person’s life.
A walkthrough will take you around 15 minutes to complete, but there are a couple of endings available so there’s the chance to replay things. In fact, there is a bad ending which you will get after a normal playthrough, and a good ending that is much more hopeful. It is this however which needs you to do a couple of things to unlock it. Due to the short nature, Untitled Darkness is a good game for the achievement junkies out there who will be able to get the well-sought after 1000 Gamerscore fairly easily from just a couple of playthroughs.
Visually the game employs an artistically pleasing style that reminds of impressionist paintings that adorn modern art galleries. The main character is superbly drawn; strangely elongated which works brilliantly with the subject matter. Every time the character experiences a painful memory from the past, becoming mentally self-punishing, the whole world distorts visually so that the theme of the piece is demonstrated effectively. The soundtrack works nicely in tandem with the elegant visuals to great effect.
It’s hard to say whether Untitled Darkness is a gaming experience at all. It’s definitely an experience and an important one at that, and I’m a big fan of solo developers experimenting with their art forms and concepts – it’s great that Xbox is giving a platform to these types of games. It’s helped that the art style and subject matter are both well-executed and designed, as well as being very prevalent in our recent examinations of mental well-being. However, it’s going to be the lack of pace and gameplay options – as well as the length – which will put a lot of people off. If you don’t get on with walking sim-type games this isn’t for you. But it’s cheap and it’s an important project that will ensure anyone playing it gets to look forward to what this developer does next.
Journey through the psyche of a self-critic in Untitled Darkness, now available on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One