Don't be afraid of the dark...
2013 was a huge year for indie titles, games like Gone Home, Papers, Please and Rogue Legacy were improving the opinion of indie games throughout the industry with their fun, intuitive or intriguing design.Darkout entered the party in early December and is a signpost as to why indie games can often be hit and miss. Although fun, there are plenty of issues in this procedurally generated survival game. The story starts off nicely, but fizzles out soon after you realise it’s not hugely important to your play through. A spaceman or woman, your ship has crashed on a strange planet where light is a rarity.
From then on you’re free to explore to your heart’s content, build where you want, mine where you want, it’s all very 2D Minecraft. It feels as though the story element of the game was thrown in quickly, though, and other things were focused on instead. That is fine, however, as some might say a game like this isn’t even in need of a story. Because of that it’s nice to see developers Allgraf attempting to add some context to their world. Instead, the real meat of the game lies in its ability to give you an interesting world to explore.
Light the way
An undeniably beautiful game, Darkout sadly lacks a proper graphical menu to complement that beauty. At 1080p the game looks jaggy, specifically when it comes to your character. Without an option for it, running AA through your GPU will be your only choice. Despite that, everything in this game looks amazing. From dark, foreboding caves to huge forests dotted with only the smallest slivers of sunlight.
Light is the most important resource in Darkout and probably the most impressive facet of the experience. Torches will only illuminate a small fraction of the cave or area you’re exploring; sure to frustrate some but thrill others. Shadows constantly loom down on you and there’s an ever-present feeling that something nasty is lurking close by, one torch away from pouncing.
Light is the most important resource in Darkout
Shadows work fantastically well and light management will quickly become your top priority. Creatures are weakened by light and using this to your advantage will often be the difference between life and death. Early-game can be unbelievably frustrating, however, due to the sheer numbers of creatures that’ll spawn around you. For the first hour or so, after using all of your original ammo, you’ll be huddled in your rushed shelter researching new weapons to use against the mobs, who are constantly spawning outside. The components for these weapons will be gained by dashing out and hurriedly mining what you need, only to quickly run back inside to the safety of your house.
Skin deepIt's a real shame that the beauty of Darkout is only surface deep, as UI bugs, crashes and a mountainous learning curve will often spoil your fun. The tutorial leaves much to be desired and after a brief introduction on the very basics of shelter building, researching and crafting, you’re left all alone.
It’s not that Darkout is a particularly difficult game, it’s simply that the unintuitive UI and lack of any direction will leave you scrambling for the first couple of hours of your play through. As foolish as it may sound, only after a quick Google search did I figure out how to pick up items I had previously placed and how to open doors. Fully expecting placement/removal of items to be mouse based was my downfall, but to me it seemed obvious.
You’re allowed to research complex items like power cables, piping and wiring but the game never tells you how to implement them or what to use them on. After experimenting for some time with some piping and a tar pool, I deduced that my work was pointless. Instead, I stuck to scooping the stuff out with buckets and gave up on any ideas of grandeur I might have earlier had.
On Steam and the Darkout wiki there is a full ‘beginner’s guide’ which will let any budding explorer comprehensively know the ins and outs of what’s going on. Surely, though, this should have been explained in game, even as a small piece of text as a hint. Darkout isn’t Dwarf Fortress and a ‘beginner’s guide’ shouldn’t be necessary to understand a game just because a couple of objects aren’t self-explanatory.
The finishing touchesOne thing that really sticks out in contrast to Darkout’s beautiful world design are the sound assets used in game. Weapons use the same sound for each swing, enemies make the same sound each time they’re hit, mining/chopping/digging makes the exact same sound each time and it eventually bores into your mind. The noise the sword made on each swing was so irritating I stopped using it altogether, opting for the slightly less annoying bow.
Combat, for the most part, is lacklustre. Weapons, mainly due to their poor audio, don’t feel like they’re hitting hard. In the second biome you encounter enemies that will take around five to ten hits to kill, making your weapons seem soft and enemies spongy. That is, however, using the first weapons you can craft. As you upgrade enemies become easier to dispatch, but the other biomes remain unbelievably dangerous until then, severely limiting the amount of exploring you can do. For an exploration game where the sky is the limit, you sure are restricted a lot in the early hours.
Darkout ultimately feels like a game that is still in beta. On Steam, an early access warning might help consumers feel less misled with their purchase, something the Steam reviews section tells the story of. Although definitely functional, mass consensus agrees that this title just isn’t done yet.
The world design and graphical fidelity are amazing feats, but when the story, sound, gameplay and tutorials are so weak, it’s hard to accept that this game is complete. Marketing it as finished feels slightly dishonest. Finding echoes of this opinion isn’t difficult, but a consumer who does no research could be unpleasantly surprised by the sheer lack of finality the appearance and inner workings Darkout supplies. It’s also worth mentioning that the game was released without a multiplayer mode, and this is still in development as a feature that will be added in the future.
Carrying a torch for...
- Impressive lighting effects
- Beautiful procedurally generated worlds
Put that light out!
- Still very buggy
- Awful sound assets
- Unhelpful tutorials
- Unfinished – no multiplayer
Darkout PC ReviewIf you enjoy games like Terraria and Starbound, the chances are that you could look past Darkout’s problems and find an experience you truly appreciate. If you’re new to this type of game, however, give it a miss. From a team as small as Allgraf’s is, Darkout is an ambitious and impressive achievement. Unfortunately, the unfinished feel of the game and the rough aspects of some areas really do let it down. If you’re interested, treat this as early access, so as to avoid any disappointment when your first crash occurs.
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