Roughly 25 years ago, Alone in the Dark released on PC and it’s now regarded as a classic survival horror game. It’s spawned numerous (mostly bad) sequels and even a (very bad) movie. Series creator, Frédérick Raynal, has moved on to a fresh canvas with 2Dark, a retro-esque stealth game that tackles mature events. I have been eagerly anticipating 2Dark for months, ever since the first trailer was released. Copies were provided to the press literally hours before the game’s launch, which is rarely a good sign. That being said, is 2Dark too little too late for the self-proclaimed “pioneer of survival horror”?
There are a handful of themes in 2Dark, and they are the stuff of nightmares. Murder, revenge, child abduction, human trafficking and more had me feeling many emotions while playing. The main character, Smith, experienced the unthinkable while on a camping vacation with his family. While off gathering firewood, his wife was murdered and his children abducted. Fast forward seven years and children of Gloomywood keep going missing and Smith can’t help but search for answers. Smith will find himself in a variety of unnerving locations in search of the missing children and more importantly, closure.
At first glance, 2Dark looks like a twin stick shooter or a point and click style game. With its emphasis on sneaking through the shadows and remaining undetected, 2Dark is a stealth game. Without careful planning, you will quickly find yourself out of bullets and other resources such as batteries or fuel for your light sources. Along the way, you will pick up a lot of keys, evidence in the forms of letters, pictures and other items which are mostly a waste of inventory space. I would have loved to combine all the evidence into a separate file as it can take up nearly half the screen. Sure, you can toggle the size but that just meant I had to untoggle it when I wanted to choose a certain item. Other times I picked up objects that I didn’t even need to complete the level. Combining Smith’s cigarettes and lighter provide a clever way to save your game. Smith must finish his cigarette without interruption or the save won’t work, if you smoke too often he will frequently cough, giving away your location to nearby enemies. The goal is to find all the children in the level, escort them to the exit and get out alive. With various methods of completing a level, how you do this is up to you.
Like any stealth game should, 2Dark places an importance on staying hidden and quiet. The player can tell if Smith is visible or not by the inventory menu, which will change colors from gray (hidden) to red (visible) accordingly. The player can see the sounds that Smith and enemies make thanks to expanding circles that show how far the sound traveled, similar to echolocation. Smith can walk slower and quieter with the LT button held down, perfect for stealth kills from behind. Running, coughing and shooting are surefire ways to give up your location to the enemies. The children cry, scream and won’t follow Smith if there’s a corpse in the way. This means you really need to plan your exit route accordingly. Thankfully the children are good listeners and you can command them to follow, wait or even pick one of them up and escort them physically.
Would I call 2Dark scary? Not really. Being able to save any time takes away some of the tension and creates more trial and error style gameplay. I didn’t mind this because I am constantly dying in 2Dark. Being able to save often provides me the chance to take risks and retry without having to retrace my earlier steps. Despite all these advantages, I often found myself outnumbered and outgunned. The various settings, unique boss characters and satisfaction of saving the children kept me coming back for more.
When a level is completed you are giving a grade out of 5 stars. One star is earned for completing a level, another for rescuing all the children (they can be killed), another for finding all collectable candies, a fourth for not killing anyone and lastly, a final star for doing all of the above. Collecting 5 stars will be a real challenge, as I never got more than 2 and beat most of the levels by the skin of my teeth. Challenge mode offers the player a chance to replay levels, as you cannot do so in the main campaign.
Graphically, 2Dark has a unique voxel style that I don’t see used very often. 2Dark lives up to its name as many areas will need a light source. Whether from the bright flashes of lightning to the quaint luminescence of a candle…the lighting is well done and a critical aspect of the game. I would have loved to hear more voiceover but sadly the majority of dialog is expressed through text. After the initial level loading screen things reload very quickly…making restarts quick and painless. The sound in 2Dark is serviceable, but there are certain moments, typically at the end of a level, where some eerie music will play along with some sort of reveal and it feels quite chilling.
Despite all that is good and unique, there are quite a few shortcomings in 2Dark. The inventory system is very clunky to navigate; even after hours into playing, I still found myself fumbling and stumbling. Items like reloading a gun or filling a flashlight with batteries must be manually combined. I get it that it’s supposed to add tension, but it just adds frustration. There was a sound glitch in the third level where an alarm would continue to sound even after I restarted. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes you find items and have no clue what to do with them, even after finishing the level. Lastly, the decision to have police enemies in the third level just makes no sense to me.
I give 2Dark a lot of credit for creating a challenging stealth game with a unique look and compelling story. I always looked forward to playing in a new environment and the creative ways to take down the bad guys. The $30 USD price tag is about double what I would have expected the game to cost, which will deter some. Keeping the gripes in mind, if you do decide to take the plunge into Gloomywood there is a solid stealth experience, and a whole lot of crying toddlers, waiting for you.