2Dark Review

By Sam Quirke, 2 years ago
Released in 1992, Alone in the Dark is considered one of the forefathers of the survival horror genre, pushing the limits of both graphics and gameplay for the period. Created by Frédérick Raynal, the game saw many sequels over the years, culminating in a lacklustre reboot and some truly terrible movies. Now Raynal is back with a completely new horror title and again seeks to deliver a fresh twist on the existing formula, both in terms of gameplay and story. In 2Dark, the graphics are scaled back to simpler times with voxel characters and pixel-art backdrops. In terms of the narrative, Raynal explores particularly dark territory by centring on child abduction. The gameplay is a fusion of several genres, including survival horror, point-and-click adventuring and tactical stealth. This convoluted mix of design ambitions results in a very strange game that is difficult to love, despite some engaging moments.

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In 2Dark, you’ll play former police detective Smith. The game’s non-interactive opening scene explains his retirement and subsequent obsession with child abduction cases in gruesome and disturbing detail, and is probably the scariest and most engaging sequence in the game, at least narratively. Once we join Smith on his crusade to stop a ring of child trafficking nut-jobs across the dismal town of Gloomywood, the story becomes a weirdly wacky hodgepodge of several horror stereotypes. You’ve got an abandoned theme park with homicidal clowns, a hospice full of abusive nurses, a shack-load of yokel cannibals, illegal death-match gambling rings and, of course, a creepy orphanage. While I don’t want to spoil the plot, I want to at least warn you that it is utterly ridiculous and way off the mark in terms of tone. It reaches so far into B-movie nonsense that you feel like it’s trying to play for laughs. At the same time, the core gameplay is really quite disturbing and graphic, dealing as it does with all sorts of horrible things happening to children — especially when you fail. The total mismatch of tones between the plot and the gameplay leave an unpalatable taste in the mouth, and the child-snatching premise really deserved a more thoughtful and serious narrative.

Putting the story to one side, the actual gameplay experience is adequately tense, if not particularly chilling. Scariness is relative, but I must admit I never found myself quite as freaked out as I would normally expect from a survival horror. This is partly due to the fact that this was designed to be a casual experience and the top-down perspective removes any immediacy to the threats chasing you down. Still, that perspective is crucial for the stealth infiltration gameplay and it’s in this genre rather than survival horror that the game finds a home. Use of light, shadow and sound serves to aid both Smith and his assailants in finding their targets, resulting in some pretty tense cat-and-mouse moments, though it’ll never be particularly taxing for stealth aficionados.

Taking this type of gameplay and adding in the extreme scarcity of resources from the survival horror genre is a nice touch. The inventory is clunky, making reloading guns and torches frantic and irritating until you get to grips with it. Luckily there’s only a handful of items within it that you need to get hold of frequently, so once you’ve adapted to the odd controls you should have an easier time of it. Each of the game’s six main levels is a maze of dark hallways and multi-level buildings, with rooms only lighting up to reveal their contents if you walk close by or open the door — if they light up at all. The only detriment to this is the totally unnecessary inclusion of collapsible sections of flooring and spike traps that instantly kill you, which seems a step too far when murderers stalk you on every corner.

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Apart from collecting evidence for your investigation, your other main priority for the mission is to rescue as many trapped children as possible and lead them outside. Kids respond to simple calls to follow or stop, and it’s a nice touch that you can tap the call button repeatedly to make your strained whispers a little louder. This will allow you to call children from a wider range, but it might also bring trouble down on you. They’ll whimper occasionally and scream if they see a dead body, so you’ll need to make sure you plan your escape route as carefully as you planned your way in. If the escort AI had been as troublesome as it tends to be in other games, this could have easily become the wrong kind of nightmare. Luckily, the children are pretty responsive and fatal endings are usually down to player error. The same can’t always be said of your enemies. On more than one occasion I found myself completely circumventing a complicated cat-and-mouse puzzle because the psychopath stalking me got stuck swiveling on the spot, walking into a closed door or attacking a box instead of our plucky hero standing just behind it.

The first time a child meets a grisly end as a result of your mistake is quite horrifying, and the game doesn’t shy away from showing you the entire event. I’m certain the idea is to shock the player with some gritty and realistic death scenes, but the causes of death and the murderers themselves are so absurd that it’s not particularly chilling, it’s just weirdly insensitive.

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Perhaps in order to mitigate against censorship, characters are depicted using voxel models. It lends an archaic blurriness to everyone’s appearance that makes it hard to make out significant detail. While this helps soften the blow of gory deaths and mutilations, it also makes it even harder to feel emotionally invested in the good guys or scared of the bad ones. The only exception is Detective Smith himself, who seems slightly more animated and capable of some basic expressions. In another baffling display of cartoonish humour, Smith’s current health is depicted by how much of his body and face has been shot or hacked off, constantly spurting blood like an amateur filmmaker’s first zombie movie. The messy character design is a real shame because it distracts from some fairly decent pixel art in the environments.

The use of dynamic lighting is effective at illustrating the surroundings and contributing to the claustrophobic tension. It’s particularly nice to see the impact of different light sources, whether it’s the harsh arc of your torch, the softer circle of a lantern or the desperately tiny flicker of your lighter. Sounds are displayed like echolocation, radiating out from the source and letting you know just how close you are to detection. Most of the game’s dialogue is delivered in text form, apart from some voiceover interludes that aim for laconic but end up sounding bored. It’s probably for the best that the rest of the lines remain unvoiced, because the quality of the writing is as wobbly as the plot.

Most of the game’s replay value lies in getting in and out with minimum casualties and maximum collectibles. It might be quite easy to rip through the game, but getting out of each level with all children rescued, no bystander deaths and all collectible candies will take patience and co-ordination. It’s a good way to stretch the gameplay out when the narrative and visuals are doing nothing to make you want to return.

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It’s impossible to comment too much on the achievement list as it was not live in time for this review. Several unlocked during the course of play. Without giving away any major details, the achievements unlocked had nothing to do with completing levels or even reaching the end of the story. Instead they were rewarded for triggering unique scenarios in certain levels, taking lots of steps, staying still in the dark, dispatching an enemy stealthily and completely avoiding using the pistol during a mission.

Summary

2Dark is a mildly interesting stealth-horror fusion sadly dragged down by some bizarre narrative and visual decisions. It struggles to find a genre to call home, vacillating between a casual point-and-click adventure, a classic survival horror and a tactical stealth puzzler. It succeeds best as the latter, requiring careful study of routes and guard patterns in perpetually gloomy surroundings, but it’s still never much of a challenge. The horror storyline falls flat thanks to a cartoonish tone that completely jars with some graphic and disturbing scenes involving children, culminating in a narrative that is more uncomfortable than scary. Dramatic tension might go straight out of the window, but the gameplay creeps along fairly well as you sneak around saving children or accidentally leading them to their grisly doom. Collectible hunts and side objectives give this short game a small amount of replay value. It might throw off audiences looking for a typical survival horror or a decent story, but if you're in the market for some casual top-down stealth, 2Dark might have something to offer.
3 / 5
2Dark
Positives
  • Tense and engaging stealth gameplay
  • Use of light, dark, and sound adds great atmosphere
  • Collectibles and challenges give some replay value
Negatives
  • Wacky tone completely jars with disturbing content
  • Voxel character models and gore look terrible
  • Enemy AI can be pretty buggy
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately six hours luring kids with candy and feeling pretty uncomfortable about it, earning 10 of the game's achievements. An Xbox One digital code was provided by ID@Xbox for the purposes of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Sam Quirke
Written by Sam Quirke
Sam has been a Newshound since 2016 and is now the Editor for both TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. He loves gaming on all devices and in all genres. He still plays Pokémon GO with his wife.