Puzzle games can be something of an interesting beast. If you're good at puzzles or at least good at the particular brand of puzzles in any given game, then you can breeze through them without difficulty. However, if your mind isn't in the right place they can become a long, drawn-out slog. Darq is a thematically dark (get it?) puzzle game from Unfold Games. You control a boy called Lloyd who becomes aware that he is dreaming. As the dream turns steadily into a nightmare, Lloyd must do his best to escape his dreams and make his way back to the waking world. If not, the untold horrors will eat him alive.
Darq has a few unique features which make it stand out against the sea of indie puzzle games. It has a certain amount of horror elements to back it up. The entire game takes place in a dream world. That translates to a rather desaturated environment filled with horrific parodies of human beings. In fact, Darq has a particular 'Tim Burton-esque' quality to it. The main character is clad in black and white stripes, a favorite of the director, and the drawn thin features of the different humans only go on to add to the similarities. Even the 3D models and animations support this, sporting a decidedly 'stop motion' style.
Mechanically the most unique thing about Darq is that it uses the strange qualities of dreams as methods of solving puzzles. Shifting perspectives to walk on walls and ceilings, objects changing shapes and sizes and severed limbs acting independently all feature as puzzle solutions. For the most part, these dream-like mechanics work pretty well with a minor exception here or there. Objects changing size is possibly the biggest culprit for poor implementation. While it might make sense in a dream for a watch or compass to grow to enormous sizes, it doesn't necessarily give the puzzles logical solutions.
Darq Review | A Relationship With Death
Another interesting factor in Darq is its relationship with death. You will probably find yourself dying quite often, or at least you might find that to be the case. The first time you come up against an enemy, you have no warning and they'll likely kill you. Luckily death isn't exactly much of a drawback, possibly because of the whole 'dream' thing. Whenever you die you seem to come back to life in almost the exact same place. In fact, there is actually a puzzle that you can't solve until it kills you. Excusing some moments in the late game, these deaths never seem to break the flow of gameplay too much.
For the most part, the gameplay in Darq comes out very much in credit. The puzzles are all interesting and require you to really think about the different perspective mechanics that you have available to you. The monsters you come up against are all creepy and unsettling in their own unique ways and require you to be careful when dealing with them. On top of all that, Darq contains a considered thematic structure and insane levels of polish. Clearly, the small team of developers put in a lot of work bringing out Darq's beauty. The feat only becomes more impressive when you take into account the huge redesign the game went through.
Darq Review | Carefully Laid Plans
A lot of careful thought and detail went into the level design. The models show beautiful craftsmanship all the animations sport more polish than many triple-A games. Levels also each have their own specific themes as well. You start out exploring what seems like a sewer and move on to city streets, abandoned hospitals and moving trains. Not only are all these places extremely creepy, but they also give the player insights into the world. How much you take from the level design is up to you, but there's plenty to glean there. The levels seem to place the game in the modern world, despite a decidedly vintage feel to the whole thing.
Despite all of its good points, Darq does have a few problems. Other than the aforementioned issue with odd logic, there is also a fair amount of padding. Solving the puzzles in most of the chapters requires a fair bit of back-tracking, especially in chapter 6. There is also one instance, again in chapter 6, where an enemy becomes hidden by a foreground element. Combining the back-tracking with the hidden enemy results in several annoying moments. Realistically it's not too hard to get around, but it does break the immersion somewhat. In a strange way, it seems like a lot of Darq's issues come about near the end.
Darq Review | Final Thoughts
All-in-all there is only one really major flaw with Darq: it's length. With any puzzle game, the length is going to be different depending on how good you are with puzzles. Regardless, with my own playthrough, I finished in under two hours. With a fair amount of leaving the game paused to do errands around the house too. On the one hand, this does make the game painfully short. On the other hand, it speaks to the game's quality that I wanted more. Although, I do have to admit that the final chapter did have some issues which broke the flow a bit. It's basically a trial-and-error chapter which requires you to die numerous times.
With all said and done, Darq is very enjoyable. The high level of polish makes it easy to ignore most of the flaws which crop up. Even though the experience is criminally short, there was still enough to sink my teeth into. Artistically and mechanically Darq is, ironically, a ray of hope. Despite a large number of clunky releases, it is still possible to find highly polished indie games. A dark tone and high level of polish give me hope for what Unfold Games might come out with next.
TechRaptor reviewed Darq on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
- Highly Polished Tone And Visuals
- Interesting Take On Perspective Puzzle Gameplay
- Well Animated
- Reminiscent Of A Tim Burton Movie
- Pretty Short
- Occasional Back-Tracking
- Some Relatively Insane Logic