DARK Review: This Game Bites
Video games may be art, but some of them are the kind of art you see in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. It’s not clear exactly what went wrong with DARK, but there’s no getting around the fact that it is the worst game I have ever reviewed.
But there are plenty of bad video games. The strange thing about DARK is how consistent it is. Every element is bad — the characters are wooden, the graphics outdated, the gameplay wretched. If the game has any value, it’s as a guide to what not to do. That kind of guidance can be useful, though. Popular culture is currently experiencing a kind of vampire glut. Maybe RealmForge Studios’ disaster will prevent other game developers from trying to cash in on the trend. Ditto any studio looking to dip its low-budget toes into the similarly burgeoning stealth genre; consider this review a warning.
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), XBOX 360
Developer: RealmForge Studios
Released: July 4, 2013
DARK stars Eric Bane, a gravelly voiced youth with a hoodie, a pair of European-style adorned jeans, and the charisma of an empty bottle of dish soap. As the game begins, Bane stumbles into a nightclub, with no idea of how he got there. Thankfully, the staff are happy to fill him in: he’s a new vampire, and he’s come to the right place: Sanctuary, the nightclub where all the vampires hang out.
It’s the expected kind of goth-fantasy confection, the nightclub a teenage boy would dream up after a Blade marathon on Spike TV. All the girls are wearing a combination of bondage gear and lingerie, jerking back and forth awkwardly thanks to the game’s stilted character animations — if there’s one word that sums up DARK, it’s “stilted.”
The DJ in Sanctuary only plays one song, and it plays on a loop (try to talk to her though, even after another NPC suggests you do, and she’ll complain about being “BUSY!”). By the time you’ve been back to the club a couple times later in the game, you’ll start to recognize the lyrics, which will make you contemplate acts of violence against inanimate objects. Speaking of inanimate objects, there’s a statue of two busty nymphs groping each other by the entrance of the club. The fact that you can press the left mouse button to ogle them speaks volumes about the kind of game DARK is.
Stumbling into Sanctuary also introduces you to DARK’s writing and voice acting, which is so bad that it’s at least occasionally amusing. The single most common problem is repetition; RealmForge’s scriptwriters haven’t mastered the trick of using different words that mean the same thing. This problem leads to the immortal quote “the cool thing about us vampires is that we can do some pretty cool shit” delivered by Tom, Sanctuary’s head of security, in what DARK’s German designers clearly thought was a “surfer” accent. This exchange is captured in a preview video on the GameFront YouTube channel, embedded below.
You could write an entire article about how bad the voice acting is, starting with Tom’s dude-bro colloquialism. Eric Bane is played by The Witcher’s Doug Cockle, who is clearly proud of his unintentionally hilarious growl, even if it makes Christian Bale’s Batman voice sound intimidating. The biggest offenders are the enemies, endlessly repeating their idiotic barks. Museum guards have a kind of nasal drawl that makes them sound like they’re hunting wascally wabbits, not murderous undead. One class of mid-level goons tells you to “stop doing that, asshole!” when they catch you chowing down on a comrade’s neck, sounding more like a frat boy debating a point of Beer Pong etiquette. Experienced vampire hunters deploy a “little vampire, come out to plaaaay” line that officially marks the end of the The Warriors as a viable pop culture reference.