Up until recently, stealth-action games had been all but forgotten. With the recent unveil of a new Thief game, and even earlier, Dark, we might be seeing a resurgence in the genre. While Ubisoft's Sam Fisher may have moved on to more action-oriented pastures, Kalypso's kicking it old-school with Dark, a vampire-themed stealth-action title, which is coming early this summer on Xbox 360 and Windows PC.
At this year's GDC, we saw what appeared to be a fairly complete build of Dark on the Xbox 360. We'd seen the game earlier in the year, but this new version featured new effects, improved enemy A.I. and more, making for a more interesting experience.
Dark's premise is one of supernatural simplicity. You, as former Special Forces operative Eric Bane, wake up in a very groovy bar and realize that, "Hey, I think I'm a vampire, and I keep having delusions of an angel following me around and talking about 'my mission'."
OK, so maybe it's not that simple.
As Eric, you'll prowl around the club, which is named Sanctuary, as you learn the controls, meet (non-sparkly) fellow vamps, and learn about what happened to you through a series of flashbacks. Soon enough, you meet Rose, the vampire hottie who runs Sanctuary. She fills you in on a detail about being a new vampire: You need to drink the blood of an elder vampire within a day, or you'll turn into a vampire/zombie known as a ghoul. Being a ghoul doesn't look fun, so you set out to chug some grandfatherly vampire blood.
Outside of Sanctuary, you explore the game world, treating each level like a stealth puzzle. As the level starts, you get a briefing on what needs to be done, and then you're on your merry way. You start with a basic set of skills: Blood Drinking, Insta-Kill, Shadow Leap (a short-range teleport between cover points) and Vampire Vision (essentially thermal vision in other games). Along with these four basic powers, you can unlock 12 others, which vary from Celerity, a power that doubles your speed, to Distract and Shadow Kill (combines Shadow Leap with a killing move). The skills are a good mix of stealth and action talents, so the game is friendly to both types of players. The developers say the game is 75% stealth and 25% action, but watching the powers in action, the balance can easily tip in either direction, depending on how you play.
Skills are unlocked and upgraded via an experience point (XP) system, where you earn more XP by being stealthy than you will going in with vampire powers a-blazin', but even action addicts earn XP from less stealthy kills. As you earn XP, you level up, earning unlock points ("Power Points") to spend on new powers, or upgrading what you have. To prevent you from spamming your magical powers, each has two limitations: a cooldown timer and a Vitae cost. Cooldown measures how long it takes before the power recharges, while Vitae is an energy you earn by drinking human blood. The only way to drink human blood is to sneak in and use your Blood Drink ability. This sounds simple enough, but it becomes more challenging as the levels become more complex.
As noted, the gameplay starts out like a puzzle, with you scanning the area with Blood Vision to check for enemies. After you figure out where the nearest targets are, you can decide how to complete the level. Will you sneak up on Guard A, take him out, drag him behind a wall, and then teleport back to snap the neck of Guard B? What if Guard C calls to the now-dead A on his radio and doesn't get a response? Suddenly, all those memorized patrol patterns are gone, as the guards' new and improved A.I. routines kick in.
If graphics are important to you, Dark has improved over what we've previously seen. While earlier videos and demos showed a game that almost looked last-gen in many ways, this new build is upgraded, with the graphic novel-inspired art style showing some real polish. We were told to keep an eye on the graffiti in the game world, as you might see a new game announced if you've got a keen eye.
Although Dark is limited to a solely single-player experience, it has what looks to be a fun mix of stealth and action, with a cyberpunk feel to the world. With its non-sparkly take on vampires, Dark looks to be a fresh and interesting addition to stealth-action games.
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