Frederick Raynal may not be a household name among most gamers, but he is important to gaming because of at least one title: Alone in the Dark. As one of the first survival-horror games to be made, it pioneered a genre that reveled in gore and tension due to your limited vision and scarcity of supplies. Raynal has gone on to work on other games in vastly different genres, but he's back now with 2Dark, a title that is similar in vibe to his classic horror game but played much, much differently.
The game starts off with a tragedy. You play as Smith, a happily married detective who's feeling a little burned out by his current case. Hoping for a recharge, he takes his family on a camping trip, but things go horribly wrong. On their way to get firewood, his wife is murdered and the children are taken and Smith is unable to save them. Seven years later, the kidnapping of children is on the rise, and he's convinced that rescuing them will bring him closer to the rescue of his own kids.
The basic tenets of a survival-horror game are there. You have a gun at all times, but good luck finding bullets since it takes several of them to down one person. You can find a bunch of items all over the place that'll be helpful in some puzzles or open up doors. Every place you visit is dark, so you'll also need to find flashlights and batteries. Unlike other survival-horror games, though, you don't have healing items, and it only takes a few hits before you die.
Speaking of dying, you'll do that often if you aren't careful. Going into a fight unprepared will most certainly get you killed, and going head-to-head against anyone will mean that you'll die in your next fight. Even if you never fight, you'll fall victim to pits and other traps, some of which you'll never notice until you succumb to them for the first time or see them despite your flashlight's relatively small cone of light.
Given your relative fragility, you're going to want to play this like a stealth game, and 2Dark gives you the tools to do that. Your inventory window changes colors to let you know if you're hiding in darkness or exposed in light. You can also hold down a button to creep around instead of producing sounds when you walk. As in any good stealth title, enemies react to your presence and the sounds you make, so you can create distractions so you can avoid combat. It is annoying, however, to see that they're sometimes superhuman, since they can detect your steps or presence if you're close to their alert cone but obscured by a wall or shrouded in darkness.
The save system is both distinct and punishing. You can save anywhere you want in the game — by smoking. There are constant warnings that smoking will kill you, and the game adheres to that by slowly sapping away your health when you save. Aside from risking your health for the sake of not having to repeat sections, you have a chance of coughing, which can also alert people nearby. More detrimental is the fact that you can only occupy one save spot at all times, so smoking at the wrong time means falling into an endless loop of failure and resurrecting at an unfavorable situation, unless you're willing to replay the whole stage.
These aspects alone make 2Dark a survival-horror game that isn't afraid to punish players at every opportunity. This is a very hard game, and even the first stage you encounter will test your patience; you have to come up with the correct tactics to reach the boss and survive the surprise he has waiting for you. At the very least, your journeys will take you to some pretty messed-up places, like a mental facility or an amusement park, all of which are abandoned and filled with viscera.
The polarizing feature of the game is the kids. No matter the level, your goal is to locate the kids and lead them to safety. You'd be right in thinking that this transforms the game into one large escort mission. In some cases, the kids act better than the NPC in escort missions from other games, since the kids follow your steps without deviating. They don't move very fast, and staying in one spot for a while leads to them whining and producing more noise. You can try to silence them with some noise of your own or tempt them with candy, but they certainly make things much more difficult if you've chosen to not kill everyone on your way. You have the option of picking them up if you don't want to deal with the difficulties, but that only works if you're dealing with one child at a time, not a whole train of them.
The presentation is certainly distinctive. Shown from a top-down perspective, the game adheres to a pixel look instead of a polygonal one. Some of the elements, like insects and rats, are small but not completely invisible, so you do know what's hurting you all the time. The use of light and shadow isn't dynamic, but it works well in creating an unsettling atmosphere. The characters look and move like they came out of Donkey Kong Country, complete with stunted movements and shifting colors if they so much as breathe. On the audio side, voice is nonexistent except for Smith asking the kids to follow him or stay quiet, and that's digitized and muffled enough that it can sound like gibberish if you aren't listening closely. At the very least, the rest of the effects and music keep the horror vibe going strong.
2Dark is shaping up to be a very interesting survival-horror title. The story is a little disturbing, since it involves the kidnapping and inhumane treatment of kids in unsettling environments. The mixture of stealth and survival-horror makes things difficult at every turn. The inclusion of escort missions naturally makes things even more difficult, but it's understandable since you're dealing with kids instead of adults. Even though we've seen some really good horror games recently, 2Dark still stands out and should be on your radar when it hits Steam in a few weeks.
More articles about 2Dark