This survival horror game has clever ideas and bold subject matter, but quite often fails to hit the mark.

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The majority of good survival horror games excel at building suspense while luring the player into a false sense of security. 2Dark, created by the father of interactive horror, Frederick Raynal, makes no attempt to ease the player in. It delivers grimacing subject matter and shock factor in spades, but unfortunately not much else from a developer of such a high pedigree.

The game immediately throws the player into its dark themes with a flashback of a family camping trip gone wrong. The protagonist, a former detective known as Smith, is preparing a fire when familiar shrieks from the woods grab his attention. He then discovers his wife has been brutally murdered and watches helplessly as his children are abducted. Flash forward several years and Smith is living in the town of Gloomywood, a bleak setting where kidnappings are becoming more frequent. Adamant his kids are still out there, the gone-rogue detective investigates the reports of the missing children, determined to save them and make up for the past. While a survival horror title in spirit, 2Dark's gameplay is primarily stealth-focused. Playing from a top-down perspective, you have to navigate the pitch-black, almost labyrinth-like levels to rescue children and bring them home. There are a generally a number of enemies and puzzles lining the stage, with only limited light sources available to guide you.

There are a variety of weapons to aid you, however, and the darkness itself serves as a valuable tool. The lack of light can be both a huge help and hindrance at times, as many of the mechanics revolve around it. The darkness masks your location, for instance, and you need to utilise it to successfully stealth your way through. The light will give your spot away, but it's necessary to find your way around, pick up specific items, and avoid deadly traps littered around each stage.

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For the most part, the gameplay remains active. Picking up and interacting with items only requires you to walk into them, and the action is constantly kept flowing as you slip past enemies and escort the kids across the level. Selecting items from the inventory doesn't disrupt gameplay either, forcing you to switch objects on the fly rather than suspend the action. With so much to split your focus between, it can become quite hectic at times and lead to frustration.

Once you've accounted for the overwhelming mechanics and found your rhythm after much trial and error, executing your plan of attack can still be satisfying, however, the combat often gets in the way of that, and usually it takes countless attempts of doing the exact same thing over and over again with the occasional dash of luck to get it right and feel any kind of reward. Sneaking up on an enemy and attacking feels far more clunky than it should, thanks to the character's slow movement speed and some noticeable input lag, and it doesn't help that regular enemies seem to have a large amount of health and the majority of melee weapons prove ineffective. Blasting your way through baddies with the pistol is the frustration-free way to play, but due to the survival nature of the game, you're constantly restricted on ammo.

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Some of these issues could be alleviated with a more forgiving save mechanic, as you're frequently reloading your file each time you die. There's no autosave available, for instance, and the player is forced to smoke a cigarette to save progress. While it seems like a harmless gimmick, smoking does stop Smith momentarily without suspending his surroundings. If saving is abused, the protagonist will suffer the consequences by frequently letting out a series of loud coughs, sending out audio and visual signals to nearby enemies, leaving you exposed to danger. For a game which is so intent on punishing the player with quick deaths, this becomes a lot more of a frustration than a quirky feature. When gameplay relies heavily on trial and error, it needs to be fast paced and accessible; this mechanic does the opposite and often leaves you feeling discouraged after losing substantial amounts of progress at a time.

That's not to say that 2Dark is a complete step backwards when it comes to tried and tested mechanics, as despite the stigma surrounding escort missions in games, it manages to keep rescuing the children from becoming tedious. As the kids follow player movement precisely, there's no blaming bad AI for fatal mistakes either. The escort element as a whole isn't clunky, surprisingly, and the variety of interaction options keep you engaged while adding a touch of realism. If the children are left in the dark or see something which frightens them, such as a corpse, for example, they will cry and give away your location. Their fears can be soothed by calm interactions or by offering them candy.

These are neat touches which do little to detriment the gameplay.
In many ways, it's refreshing to see how the game tackles the taboo subject matter of children that not many other developers would dare touch upon, and it explores the themes of child abuse and murder in a very graphic way. Despite the cartoon-y voxel graphics which are in complete contrast to this, it's impossible to not feel relatively sombre when witnessing some of the kids' grim fates.

On the other hand, the title also shoots itself in the foot when portraying the majority of its villains as overly-stylised and comic circus acts. The use of such sinister subject matter is brave, but it's incredibly unfortunate to see that it never actually plays on these menacing themes in a respectable or meaningful way. The narrative is contrived and outright confusing at the best of times, and it's shame the themes and storytelling weren't able to complement one another. Graphic violence for the sake of violence only holds so much shock factor before losing its impact, after all.

2Dark presents a series of clever ideas but squanders its potential on an incoherent narrative, frustrating gameplay and distinct lack of horror vibes. While credit is due for the brave subject matter, it's disappointing to see it was never utilised in any impactful way. The game falls flat in most areas, offering little more than promising concepts and clever attention to detail. To enjoy the gameplay for more than a few hours, patience really is a virtue.

05 Gamereactor UK
5 / 10
Dark subject matter, Interesting ideas, Top-notch audiovisual detail.
Trial and error gameplay falls flat, Perplexing story, No emphasis on horror.
overall score
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