Not much can be said for the Darkout’s storyline from the beginning of the game, infact the game’s trailer shows more of what the game possibly involves than the game itself. It could be said that the trailer serves as an intro for the main game as your essentially just thrown into the game feeling more like a respawn than an actual introduction. You’re an astronaut or ranger of some sort and you crash land on a dangerous planet and you have to survive. This idea is fine but it’s in its introduction in which it feels weak when it attempts to portray mystery.
Before being rocketed into the game you are required to create a custom character from three choices of Name, Gender, and Costume colour. The option to customize your character later on in the game as you find items is what will make your character rather distinct from say that of a friends. This is where the inventory of scavenging comes into playas it provides an otherwise mediocre avatar with a splash of personality, so that you can further immerse yourself into the game.
After selecting your character options you’re required to give a name to the planet in which you will inevitably and randomly crash upon to begin your journey. This adds to the feeling I mentioned of being respawned rather than introduced to a game of which I have never played. Darkout doesn’t do well to excel in its storyline or explain what it’s actually about, but the level and enjoyability of gameplay overwhelms this desire and the basic knowledge of crashing on a dangerous planet and trying to survive proves to be satisfying.
I didn’t pay this much attention as I found myself more in-touch with other aspects of the game, particularly the platforming and building aspects as this is where the game appealed to me the most. The platforming elements combined with your own manipulation of the world you traverse adds a true sense of player interaction and choice. The game backs this up by providing the environmental assets in order to challenge or aid your platforming.
Darkout steers the majority of its content and interaction through its crafting features and inventory windows. As the player journeys through the game everything within the environment provides a crafting feature, that can be combined with other resources and items to create weapons, furniture and other materials for use. The crafting implementation suffers from general direction and helpfulness towards the player, in that it complicates its method of delivering hints and instructions onto the player.
This over-complication lack of direction gives the player far too much to take advantage of during the start of the game as you find yourself with resources at the ready, in which you don’t know what to do with. This gives the player the illusion of having to do something with them straight away and may leave you stumped for resources later on in the game when you may need them. This overpopulation of resources also crowds the crafting menu and serves as nothing more than a mess when later tutorials require you to find and combine specific resources to create items for use.
The need to find specific resources in the beginning of the game to get you up and ready for what the rest of the game may throw at you, clashes with the overcrowded list of items already at your disposal, it feels messy. While the game is helpful in providing you with resources and items at the start, you find yourself overwhelmed with what to do with them and this becomes a problem when you’re stuck at later stages in the game for goal progression. You’ll find yourself looking to items that are of completely no-use when attempting to craft something that the game hasn’t done well enough to explain.
Tutorials don’t explain themselves well enough to be understood in a simplified and helpful manner, and are over-complicated for what needs to be done. Where the game provides you with a toolbar tab at the bottom of the screen, it is there to serve as a shortcut from your main inventory. This doesn’t actually work so well as you’ll find yourself more often than none having to go back in to the main inventory anyway, only to place items into the toolbar to use at the current moment. It’s constantly changing in what is required for the player to use and the toolbar becomes too cluttered to make sense off.
It makes me wonder why they just didn’t merge the two separate tabs and have them simplified into something more simple and helpful to understand. The toolbar works in the same fashion to that of an MMO whereby you place whatever you want here so that it’s readily available for you to use. This is assigned in rows of two, assigning each panel of the rows for right-click and left-click. Now while this seems practical and works well in theory sometimes it feels as if it didn’t quite fit the overall felling of the game due to its complicated manner.
The only asset which seems to hold purpose and steer its own direction amongst these over-complicated menus is the “Auto Row”. The auto-row works as a way of simplifying interaction and skips over the hassle of finding the right tool for the right job. When placed in front of a tree the axe becomes available for chopping, when looking down at the dirt the shovel is ready to dig, this feature implies its own nature, and is a handy shortcut.
While I find nothing wrong with the whole idea of survival, resource scavenging, and the fend for yourself idea that this game attempts to place on you, but the lack of helpful tutorials that are needed most in order to achieve the current goal, or better yet tell you, what to do next becomes something of a frustration.
Where the game opens itself up to you in the beginning as a tutorial of how to play the rest of the game and how to navigate and combine your resources, without much need for hints and help further down the line. It seems to abandon you at the oddest of times and this isn’t done in a “Now it’s your turn to figure it out” kind off way, its more like a “Oh wait we forgot to add the next step here for player assistance” kind of way.
During the early stage of the game where my “unknown, don’t know how I got here” character decided to build a house and set up a nuclear power-supply in the middle of an unknown jungle, doing this felt like a rushed choir for survival rather than fun. This feeling of collecting resources and combining them together, to place blocks of wood and such in order to build a house did feel immersive however, but steps that followed after was non-existent to me and this became something of a common flow.
I often wondered if I missed a step following the tutorial window that was guiding me from the bottom of the screen. This tutorial window became more of a pest than a guide and had the game been simplified or watered down in its execution of scavenging and crafting, I would have been just fine in fending for myself, no pun intended. The tutorial is there when you need and not there when you need it, and because of this it feels broken. It should be noted that this feeling of poor guidance is only present in the early stages of the games and you as figure things out for yourself, these things become forgettable as you become more adapt to the game.
Having to wonder ahead of my current goal following the attractive glowing neon colours of floating jellyfish, only to have them attack me for no reason wasn’t particularly welcoming when my tutorial tab hasn’t taught me how to craft weapons or use the Axe at my disposal to defend myself. I have an Axe here but my only purpose for it is to cut down trees for logs. Having each item assigned to a specific use-case is fine and in most cases this makes perfect sense. However when you’re being chased by flying Jellyfish that propels harmful pins in every direction of the player’s environment, and your carrying an Axe that isn’t cast as a weapon, fleeing for survival is your only choice.
The crafting plays its way into the game’s progression system in that you have to build shelters and setup a bed in order to save your game’s status. Taking the route of safety which you’ll find out later on, I figured it best to build my shelter underground rather than on the surface using the intricate and enjoyable digging system. The game gives the player a lot of choice with what’s available to you from the crafting system, and the aspect of digging and traversing underground to avoid confrontation is enjoyable and immersive.
As you venture further on in the game, what once started as a struggle of assembling a small shelter becomes an enjoyable ride of building bigger and more complex structures, and this became an addictive element that the game heavily emphasizes and places focus upon. It’s in the game’s aspects of building, digging and scavenging of resources that it shines through its earlier parts of frustration. It’s a love or hate relationship that constantly switches as you go on, it’s also why its enjoyability cannot be denied.
The control scheme of Darkout is directly dictated by its inventory and crafting system. At its base it’s a method of moving backwards, forwards, up, and down, as common to the 2D side-scroller genre of game. This is combined with its MMO style crafting system whereby your character is able to interact with the environment and characters by using the left-click mouse button. Other keys-bindings serve as purpose for opening different windows and inventory menus, that work in real-time alongside the gameplay.
Darkout is the best attempt I have personally seen that tries to combine 2D side-scrolling and MMO action and interaction. Aside from changing and combining different weapons and items in the game to navigate through your environment that can be of use, the rest of the keys are essentially useless in what they allow you to do. Being able to toggle your progression log and HUD displays such as your character health bar and hint windows are done with the press of a key.
This is more or less pointless as it isn’t something that will directly benefit the gameplay as people have been accustomed to setting these elements on or off from the main menu’s options, before the game would actually begin. This reflects the game’s complication in giving the player unneeded and unwanted elements, whereby less is more effective in execution.
Darkout does a superb job in its method of immersion. In all of its aspects beside its overcomplicated HUD assets, everything from the crafting menus, choice of design and colour within its HUD, is a direct contribution to its overall immersion factor. The games takes place in dark and swamp-like environments and underground caves, where darkness and light play a significant role in traversal, building, scavenging, and interaction.
The game uses a neon colour palette within the in-game light sources, and this can be created by the player depending on what he or she is doing. Setting up torches or lanterns or other objects that give light, cast impressive shadows amongst the rest of the environment. Glowing creatures and plants contribute to the overall visuals of the game and this serves as a significant factor in which danger is very real if light is unavailable.
You maybe able to see flying Jellyfish and Ape-like creatures coming at you from afar. But dropping into swamps and falling down pitch black pits, in which you literally have to dig your way out of is a different story. Darkout doesn’t go for realistic visuals here nor does it employ anything of a mature nature. The visuals are strictly cartoonish and basic but look impressive in it’s Sci-Fi theme and neon colour design. There’s no denying that amongst it’s gorgeous setting of glowing plants of purple and blue neon that the influence of James Cameron’s Avatar played an obvious role here.
The good thing about this is that it’s in no way a rip-off or an insult, nor does it try to be anything of relation to Avatar. It’s just a nice resemblance and isn’t in anyway a “Wannabe”. Through other parts of the game you can see it’s own personality shine through, even if it does implement other alien-like creatures possibly bearing resemblance to other standouts in popular culture.
This game was reviewed on the PC.