Browsing Steam's new releases is almost always a waste of time. It was an old habit that I finally gave up on. However, due to some series of misclicks or another, I ended up there. Before I left, a game caught my eye. This is how I discovered When the Darkness Comes, a free to play horror game that seeks to fill the same sort of meta-shoes that Undertale and The Stanly Parable popularized. Is it worth your time, or should you just let the darkness overtake you?
There's some real difficulty when it comes to talking about When the Darkness Comes' plot. I don't really want to spoil too much since it's going to be the biggest surprise for most players. The gist is that you're inside of a video game in the process of being made by a mysterious unseen narrator. He's more than happy to have you there at first. As his insecurities about his work build, so do his hostilities towards you. Things quickly take a turn for the weird when it's implied both that the game is the narrator's life story and that the game has taken on a malicious life of its own. At this point, I don't want to say anymore.
What's most interesting about the whole experience is When the Darkness Comes' insistence that not everything needs to have a meaning. It seems a bit strange considering the striking scenes on display. A shadowy marionette woman playing piano by a fireplace. An all-consuming black hole eating up a single glass pathway to it. A nuclear missile hitting a house in the middle of the woods. These are all dramatic scenes that could easily symbolize important events. When the Darkness Comes insists that these events are meaningless, and your job isn't to try and figure out what their hidden meaning is. Instead, it's up to you to relate to each event and figure out what it means to you.
It's in these moments that I became most involved. I will fully admit that it has been a while since I've found myself caring about this style of game. Despite that, When the Darkness Comes pulled me back into this genre with ease. I loved every scene I came across, and each time I found myself admiring how it managed to make me buy into my analysis. I have several theories about the story that I'd be more than happy to talk about. I've certainly been keeping an eye out for other people's interpretations as well.
As you may expect from this style, there are also some metanarrative elements. Much like the other story beats, I can't really go super deep into it. However, I was surprised when I finished and went to bed only to turn on my computer the next day and find a text file saved to my desktop imploring me to do a second playthrough. I highly suggest you do so, by the way. It's hard to say the game is really complete without doing it.
Since almost all of the focus is on this story, there's not too much to say about the gameplay. You're mostly just walking around and occasionally interacting with things. In fact, the few times that When the Darkness Comes tries to be a more traditional game is when it's at its weakest. One segment has you wandering around a college campus and collecting alarm clocks, something that reminded me of Slender: The Eight Pages. However, the campus is dark, difficult to navigate, and ultimately an annoying time sink. Another section has you doing some mild platforming across cubes, but the controls aren't really up to the task and it's not much fun. If you're here for the gameplay, you'll likely find yourself disappointed.
However, there is some quite effective work into making the game scary. Shadowy figures always seem to be watching you from a distance. Getting close to one leads to a barrage of unsettling whispers. Intense music comes to full effect when text pops up out of thin air. It gives an amazing interpretation of someone having a mental breakdown. There's also the occasional jump scare, which is par for the course for a horror game, but it wasn't often enough to really bother me. I also appreciate the voice acting, which normally I'd feel isn't great but actually manages to work very well in context as a confused developer.
I really don't feel like I'm doing When the Darkness Comes a real service here. Oh, sure, I'm saying I love it and it's getting a great score. However, it's hard to describe why I actually love it so much without ruining it for other people. If anything in this review has even vaguely interested you then I implore you to give it a chance. It's a free game and the most you stand to lose is a couple of hours of your time. Give it to When the Darkness Comes though, and you may just come away with one hell of a fantastic experience.
TechRaptor reviewed When the Darkness Comes on PC via Steam using a freely downloaded copy.
When the Darkness Comes is a surprisingly smart horror game that manages to blend in introspective narrative elements seamlessly.
- Great Story
- Neat Meta Elements
- Lovely Scenes
- Occasional Gameplay Blunders