Darq: Complete Edition Review
We’ve all had a vivid nightmare that we could have sworn was real. Perhaps you’re running down an endless hallway, being chased by a shadowy being, or simply unable to escape the clutches of the last videogame you reviewed poorly — that one might just be for me. Now what if your only means of escape was to solve a series of puzzles? This is the situation that we’re faced with in Darq: Complete Edition.
Muddling in the macabre and basking in all things Burton, each chapter of Darq is a living nightmare from which the main character, Lloyd, must escape. All elongated limbs and cranial distention, the art style evokes a very familiar feeling; one that’s likely to stand it in good stead initially. However, it quickly starts to feel a little wrote. The game’s various enemies all have that slight ‘box of broken toys’ look about them: lamps for heads, bags on heads, tubas for heads — there’s a lot of missing heads — all serving the twisted, mechanical and ominous dioramas that developer Unfold Games has set its game in.
Backed up with great music and sound design — something that comes as no surprise given creator Wlad Marhulets’ background — each area Lloyd ambles deliberately through is framed as if he’s appearing in the middle of an unsettling monochrome painting. The impact of these sets is undeniable. However, I can’t help but think they detract from the real star of the show — the puzzles. Although basic in the beginning, with Lloyd walking on walls and shifting physics in single rooms, they steadily grow into what can be level-spanning head scratchers that will take some time to work out. Whilst not anything too demanding, they were often enough to create that “eureka!” moment and rarely, outside of one towards the end of the game, a cause for severe frustration.
And yet, I can’t help but feel the focus pull more towards the severed limbs, hellish enemies and looming shadows. Had there been an ounce more narrative outside of the crumb of environmental storytelling we get — I only know the main character’s name from the game’s bio — it might have made more sense. Added to which, danger is so infrequent and that, when it does come, it’s nowhere near as impactful as I think was intended. As ever, there are moments when this balance shifts. For example, the third chapter asks the player to rotate the entire level to solve its puzzles, something I thought was really unique. Similarly, the finale finally delivers on the peril that Darq is so entrenched in and provides a short but thrilling end sequence.
The question of whether Darq wants to be a horror game with puzzles, or a puzzle game with a horror theme is answered in its additional chapters. Both ‘The Tower’ and ‘The Crypt’ offer the most intense challenges of the game. The puzzles are at the core of both of these levels, with the game’s grim set dressing reduced to just that. Originally released as downloadable add-ons, they play far more to the game’s biggest strength.
They also help to mask one of its biggest weaknesses: Both levels adding an extra hour or so of content onto what is otherwise a pretty slim package, with the core game taking me around two hours to beat. Playing on a PlayStation 5 also means getting into the game is incredibly quick too, with blink and you’ll miss them loading screens only appearing on start up. Alas, not even the PlayStation 5 could stop some serious frame rate issues towards the back half of the game though, which is seriously disappointing.
Still, the biggest problem with Darq: Complete Edition isn’t technical, mechanical or artistic. It’s that it doesn’t commit hard enough. It’s challenge is satisfactory, but it’s not going to stump puzzle fans for too long, and with only an unsettling atmosphere, some strangely menacing (if not a little ‘garden variety’) enemies, and an art style that is unmistakable in its influences, it’s not going to spook seasoned horror heads either.
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