2Dark, the comeback piece of Alone in the Dark’s creator Frédérick Raynal, adopts much of the familiar horror tropes you would expect. Creepy houses, insane clowns, cannibals and the full works. All these themes are set against Gloomywood, the aptly named town where the story unfolds.
Playing as the former police detective Smith, you begin by bearing witness to one of the most gruesome opening sequences ever, and perhaps the finest storytelling throughout the entire game. These sequence of events set Smith on a never ending quest to end all child abduction and the syndicate behind the heinous crimes. This is very much unlike the usual horror genre, with the main character dealing with the loss of a close one. Instead, Smith’s quest is a search for redemption, one that’s compensated with the saving of the abducted children to compensate for the loss of his own. Regretfully, even this last shred of hope eludes him during the course of the narrative.
The premise is good, but things start to crack and fall apart, starting with the villains of the world. While the overarching theme of child abduction is one of abject seriousness, the perpetrators in the game are some of the most hilariously and poorly written characters ever. This stark contrast betrays the promise the game initially sets out to show, thus dooming 2Dark to a miserable end.
Horror fans looking for a genuinely good scare will be turned off by the mishmash of horror tropes and situations. It borders on the nonsensical and ridiculous style of B-grade movies, despite the horrendous subject matter and visual shock you get when you fail to save the children. The latter is presented in a somewhat disturbing pixel-art and voxel design. Even so, having a child die on you won’t be a pretty sight as you will see it happen without any restraint. It is dark and gritty, but loses meaning when you consider the silly villains involved, the lack of any meaningful relationships with the characters, and the absurdity of the locales and situations in the levels.
Gameplay, thankfully, presents enough of a challenge with tense moments that will keep you on your toes. With both light and sound playing a crucial role in this macabre game of cat-and-mouse, stealth games enthusiasts might take a liking to this particular form of survival horror. Maneuvering your way around the dark hallways and rooms raises the tension, especially when all you get is a small radius of light surrounding you. The lighting work is one of the game’s saving grace, with each light source casting light differently. The torch is your best illumination, but eats up batteries that you will have to replace constantly. The lighter burns indefinitely, but its small cone of light does little to reveal the foreboding darkness around you. All these contribute effectively to an already claustrophobic game.
The usual resource scarcity makes a welcome return, but the inventory management and user interface leave much to be desired. It was more frustrating to fumble around trying to reload your weapon than being murdered by the depraved criminals roaming the corridors. As if the crazies stalking the hallways aren’t punishing enough, insta-kill traps and collapsible floor are unduly brutal. The problem is, such mechanics add little to the experience other than to inflate the difficulty artificially and make you question why a game about a serious subject matter goes to such lengths to delegitimize itself with silliness.
Your top priority, besides staying alive, is to rescue the poor children. They are either hidden, trapped, or just standing there in plain sight, waiting for you to reach them. There are also candies that can help you distract your foes with noise or get the children to come to your side from afar. The young ones will follow your commands, taking the exact route you choose, and staying put when you ask them to. The real trick is to keep them quiet while they follow you. For example, walking past a dead body would trigger the children to scream in fear, thus alerting your foes. This creates another dynamic that requires you to plan your escape route. The pathfinding of these innocent pixels is thankfully good enough, so any deaths you encounter are due to player error rather than poor programming.
2Dark attempts to add some replay value by asking you to finish its six main levels with little to no deaths and gather the collectibles at the same time. Collectibles come in the form of evidence and snippets about the world, filling in the blanks for the grisly events that transpired in Gloomywood. Getting them all won’t be easy, so it’s really more for the perfectionist who wants to completely dominate the game.
2Dark is a game that does not shy away from its controversial topic of child abduction. The accompanying horror and dread can be seen in many of the moments during my time in Gloomywood. While the backstory is commendable, the gameplay is definitely not up to snuff, creating a cognitive dissonance that affected the five to eight hours I spent with the game. It begins interestingly enough as a stealth-survival-horror mix, but hastily descends into its own brand of madness and failure as I dived deeper into it. This is not the hardcore horror game that will give you the sudden adrenaline rush. Instead, it’s a more casual affair that’s good for a short burst, if you are not picky.