Upon hearing the name alone, you might be fooled into thinking that this is another shallow horror title that's trying way too hard to be edgy. However, you'd be wrong. Fronted by Frédérick Raynal, director of the original Alone in the Dark, 2Dark is a survival horror game with a surprising amount of depth, resonance and legitimate devastation in subject matter.
Don't be deceived by its cartoon-y aesthetic either; the title really is no exaggeration. The opening scene sets the tone for the game, as protagonist detective Smith hears his wife getting brutally murdered on a family camping trip and powerlessly watches while his kids are abducted.
Several years have passed, and children continue to be taken in the aptly-named town of Gloomywood. Taking matters into his own hands, Smith decides to investigate the kidnappings and save the younglings from a gruesome fate - and we don't use that word lightly as the game explores taboo areas such as child abuse and murder in an incredibly graphic way.
The aim of the game is to sneak into derelict locations in an attempt to rescue the children who have been kidnapped. Generally there will be a number of puzzles to solve and enemies guarding the area, meaning you have to use a combination of stealth, wit and combat in order to successfully escort the kids to the exit.
Gameplay is simplistic and can be picked up quickly enough over the course of the tutorial level. Interacting with objects and picking up items only requires you to walk into them, which does well to keep action flowing. The inventory system allows you to keep all your survival gear in one place, such as weapons, ammo, evidence, etc. Reloading your gun or replacing the batteries in your flashlight is as easy as clicking and dragging the respective items to each other.
The game features many stealth mechanics you'd come to expect from the genre. The darkness is used to mask your location which means enemies can't see you unless you're exposed to light. This is generously indicated by the colour of your inventory; red signalling that you're visible, while fading to a subtle blue when you're cloaked in darkness. But it isn't just wandering around with a flashlight that could get you in trouble, as the enemies are also alert to sound, with displays popping up to warn you of your visibility and noise level.
The very first level takes place at an abandoned fairground, complete with haunting circus music and clown laugher sound effects once you manage to locate the power. As if the premise of the game isn't creepy enough. From here all of the mechanics are put into the practise, and it isn't long until you discover that the gameplay is deceptively simple, as much of it is difficult or at times frustrating to get to grips with.
Despite being a tutorial stage, it's incredibly punishing if you step one foot out of line (literally). The fairground's floor is littered with traps and holes, of which triggering or falling down will result in an insta-death. As you're surrounded in darkness the majority of the time, you're forced to tread very carefully and memorise your surroundings. While assumedly in there to add challenge, this caused annoyance more than anything and only interrupted the pace.
This issue would have been much easier to overlook if death didn't force you to restart the level or load a save. While it doesn't set you back too far in the first level, it's not hard to see this becoming a bigger problem as the game's puzzles potentially progress into more intricate solutions and stage layouts become more complex.
That being said, if you appreciate this brutal approach, you'll enjoy the challenge which comes with the save mechanic. Saving itself requires you to combine cigarettes and lighter to spark up a smoke. As the protagonist puffs away, he temporarily comes to a halt until the game finishes saving. If that didn't leave you vulnerable enough, lighting a cigarette also makes the player momentarily visible to enemies and he can even start to cough should the feature be overused, leaving you further exposed to being found.
Even though the game can be frustrating for someone not particularly keen or skilled when it comes to gameplay heavily reliant on stealth, it actually does work well. Rescuing the children doesn't feel like the regular tedious escort mission we've come to loathe in games; it's more engaging and less clunky. Since the kids follow the exact movement of the player, it never feels as though a failure was out of your control. You can't blame mistakes on bad AI, and the lack of restriction is refreshing.
Of course, it wouldn't be much fun if there wasn't any risk or complications. The movement speed of the children is a lot slower and they're also extremely susceptible to danger. Some kids will cry and draw attention to your location, while others might see something which frightens them, causing them to stop following you entirely. There are a number of interactions available to aid you with this, or if all else fails, lobbing a candy should keep them happy.
After adjusting to the mechanics, the game really does start to come into its own. Planning your attack and executing it well couldn't feel more satisfying. There's a lot of room to experiment with different playstyles, from picking off enemies one by one to tactically using items and the environment to pull off a non-lethal approach.
As it stands, 2Dark appears to be a chilling horror game flowing with possibility. Despite some issues early on, it shows potential with the versatile gameplay and variety displayed in level design. If you enjoy a challenge, have the patience for its stealth elements and can stomach the sensitive subject matter, this isn't one to be left in the dark.