A spooky puzzle game that combines classic headscratchers with quirky perspective changing enigmas, Darq is well worth your time. The Finger Guns Review:
According to the press kit, Darq is described as a “psychological horror puzzle game”. Part of this is correct. Darq is most certainly psychologically unsettling, regularly tense and often creepy but I’d stop short of calling it a horror game. Aside from a handful of jump scares, there’s nothing in this game more horrific than, say, watching a good Tim Burton movie or listening to a Nickelback album. This is to say, if you’re one of those gamers that’s feint of heart and is turned off by horror games, don’t let the description of Darq put you off. If you can sit through the Frankenweenie movie, you can play the entirety of Darq: Complete Edition with no problems.
The plot to Darq is intentionally ambiguous and it’s all the better for it. The first 5 chapters of the main game all begin as the main character Lloyd (a bald gangly man with a serious case of panda eyes) gets into a bed and is then transported to twisted locales from which he needs to escape, back to his bed. There’s no moment to moment story line or dialogue to follow as Darq allows the player to make their own interpretation of what’s going on. There are dream diaries that expand on the intentions of the plot but they’re very well hidden (I had to use a guide to find 3 of them) and don’t explicitly explain anything. Instead, there’s a persistent cast of weird beings that stalk Lloyd though the game, either from the shadows, appearing just out of view only to disappear, or as part of Darq’s lattice of puzzles to overcome. In either case, they constantly raise the questions, “what’s going on here?”, “what are you?” and “why are you hunting Lloyd?”.
The puzzles in Darq are a mix of classics with some brain teasers that are totally unique to this game. In the former, you’re asked to solve switch puzzles you might have seen a hundred times before e.g. buttons that need to be pressed in a particular order or mazes to navigate. There’s gear shape puzzles that ask you to move a link between 2 shapes so that one end of the link can find its way into a particular hole. There’s a number of room sized puzzles that require Lloyd to rotate sections of the walls to ensure a wire is connected from one end of the space to the other. While these puzzles are traditional, their presentation is anything but.
That’s partly because of the creepy aesthetic, but mostly because of the way that Darq uses perspective. Lloyd has the ability to walk up walls or over ledges, rotating the world 90 degrees as he does so. As this happens, gravity changes planes depending on the perspective of the screen. Finding a puzzle difficult? Maybe it needs to be approached from a different surface. Switches on the floor in some chapters do something similar; either rotating the entire room (and gravity) or moving Lloyd deeper into the level away from the 2D slice of the world he usually navigates. The best example of this is during a chapter that can be entirely rotated around a central crossroads. Walking down a 2D slice of a street unveils all new details once the world has been rotated by 180 degrees. At times, the player is tasked to complete timed puzzles while navigating different perspectives around a room, like following a charge along a wire which runs up walls and along ceilings.
There’s the DNA of a point and click adventure spliced into Darq too. You’ll find items around the world which you’ve got to use to overcome some obstacles. A plank, for example, can be used to cross over a gap left by the crumbling of the world. While most of the inventory-based puzzles are entertaining and enjoyable enough, this eventually became one of my biggest bugbears with Darq. I understand that this is supposed to be an obtuse game with obscure, peculiar puzzles but some of the solutions here can only be reached via trial and error. For example, Lloyd comes to a large hole in the path forward in which he needs to cross. The solution? To use a wrist watch as a bridge which is now miraculously 10 times the size it was when I picked it up. I understand why this is the way it is. I just think it sticks out when the game does this among the plethora of high quality puzzles there are in Darq.
The final chapter of Darq becomes something different again. Instead of the creepy, suspense-filled puzzles, the game becomes a fast paced, danger-filled, trial and error sprint for Lloyd’s life. Imagine Limbo but played at twice the pace. That’s this final chapter. This is the most thrilling section of the game with the recurring characters laying out jump scare after jump scare that eventually bring a modicum of clarity to the story. You’ll die often here until you’ve fallen foul of each pitfall and learnt from it but unlike other games that attempt this, this doesn’t become frustrating. After all the tension that’s built up throughout Darq, this final section instead feels like a truly cathartic release.
The tension in Darq is built up by a masterful mix of visuals, sound and design. Some levels in this game are almost entirely silent with no backing music or sound effects. The only noise during these levels are the shuffling footsteps of Lloyd. When sounds break this relative since, it’s incredibly effective. In a later level, a puzzle which would be incredibly simple to solve on its own is made into probably the most chilling section of the game – a maze is presented with the goal of reaching the centre. The camera leaves its usual static side on view and rotates around and around. With each complete rotation, a shuffling abomination gets closer and closer to the unsuspecting Lloyd accompanied by rising strings. In other sections of the game, you’ve got to sneak past bizarre creatures that patrol the corridors by hiding in spots until they pass. This is all standard and rudimentary stealth gameplay you’ll have seen before in other games, but the use of it in Darq feels at home with the constant low level stress the game expertly works to build.
This is topped off by a general eerie air that is exuded from just about everything in Darq. The character designs are all something you’d probably find on a Laika movie cutting room floor, trimmed for being a little too freaky for their own good. Dismembered yet still moving limbs form the basis of many puzzle solutions. The game world is black, grey and thick with atmosphere. This never becomes overbearing or becomes ‘scary’ but it’s certainly an aesthetic I found myself absorbed by.
The Complete Collection Edition of Darq includes the 2 additional chapters that developers Unfold Games have released for the game. The first, The Tower, feels for the most part to be little more than an extended version of one of the original chapters. Some puzzles are repeated and the vibe is the same – that is until you finish the chapter’s final puzzle which involves the darkest, most bizarre moment of the entire experience. The second additional chapter, The Crypt, follows directly on from the The Tower and it introduces an entire new puzzle system and mechanic. I don’t want to spoil what happens in these 2 chapters because, while the core of Darq is great, these 2 expansions take it to a whole new level.
Like trying to solve your way out of a puzzle box that’s persistently creepy and occasionally nightmarish, Darq is an artistic game that leverages perspective to have your cogs turning and your head spinning. There’s a number of puzzles that rely on trial and error and stand our as low points but the rest of the game, including the 2 additional chapters, make this an easy recommendation for puzzle game fans.
Darq: Complete Edition is available now on Xbox One (review platform), PS4 and PC via Steam.
Developer: Unfold Games
Publisher: Feardemic Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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