D.A.R.K., an action-adventure title with RPG elements, has been developed by Gamelab, published by Chillingo, and is now available from the app store. Featuring a polished presentation with atmospheric audio, dual-stick controls, and character leveling, D.A.R.K. is an engrossing experience that borrows elements from Dead Space as it tries to keep gamers on the edge of their seats.
- Great 3D visuals with nice lighting effects
- Atmospheric soundtrack that heightens the experience
- Customizable dual-stick controls
- Engaging battles and simple puzzles keep things moving along
- Crystal integration for leaderboards and achievements
- Not a ton of content, campaign is relatively quick to complete
- Too much hand-holding, not enough discovery
- Aim assist is a necessity as manual aiming is too touchy
Set aboard a seemingly abandoned spacecraft adrift in the blackness of space, you control an elite member of D.A.R.K. Squadron as he boards the crippled vessel and tries to make sense of what has happened while fighting off waves of creepy creatures who aim to protect their new habitat. Throwing switches and solving puzzles will allow you access to all areas of the ship as you wend your way through its often mazelike halls looking for an escape route. Creatures manifest in various areas, often appearing in small numbers of waves that must be wiped out before you can continue on your journey. Eliminated baddies occasionally drop stacks of cash and other power-ups that give you the means to purchase upgrades or replenish your important meters on the spot.
Though there is only one game mode currently, the surprisingly short campaign appears to contain a fair amount of content, including frequent battle sequences, a bit of exploration, and even some boss battles. You gain experience points through these encounters, which can be used to improve your HP, power, regeneration, and speed. Weapon leveling occurs frequently, improving the effectiveness of your attacks against a variety of enemies, such as metallic spiders, attack drones, vomiting zombies, and more. Since your weapon reloads often and enemies can fire back at you, you’ll need to keep moving if you want to maintain some health. Aim Assist is on by default and it helps greatly, as effective targeting feels like it could be quite a chore if you were to turn it off in the Options menu. Despite its somewhat slow pace, things can get hectic quickly and stay that way for a while. We were pretty impressed overall, with the overbearing hand-holding being the most egregious drawback. There is a good deal of showing you what to do before you even have the chance to discover the solution for yourself, which is pretty frustrating for gamers who like to solve puzzles using their own wits.
Graphically, the 3D environments look very nice, giving off a sterile metallic feel that’s entirely in keeping with the setting. The camera view cannot be controlled, alternating between top-down, angled, and side view at various times. It keeps things interesting, but ultimately leads to some annoyances, as there were times where we wanted to change our viewing angle and couldn’t. In fact, the side angle was rarely necessary and added little to the game. Lighting effects brought an additional measure of realism that aids in immersing yourself in the gameplay. The atmospheric soundtrack is also brooding and foreboding, giving you a sense of dread during the calm moments as you wait for the music to pick up when a battle sequence is triggered. The dual-stick controls follow the traditional convention: the left stick moves the character, while the right stick aims and fires. The right stick is actually absent outside of battles, which frees up some screen space to allow you to enjoy the visuals. A roll button resides above the area for the right stick, and meters that indicate health, stamina, and experience are placed in the upper right corner. Swiping the weapon indicator switches weapons if you have more than one. A button also appears in the screen center when you step on a tile that allows you to interact with an object, like a door or computer. The placement of the buttons is fully customizable via the Options menu, so you can place them where they work best.
Replay value is fair, with three difficulty levels allowing you to adjust the game to your abilities. Crystal integration offers global leaderboards for single and multiple campaign scores, as well as a dozen achievements to earn. Multiple profile slots also make it possible for more than one gamer to use the same device without impacting the progress of another player. Since the menu teases us with two additional grayed out modes, there should be additional replay components coming in the future. In all, it feels like a great first step, but a fairly unfinished and unfocused attempt at the moment. At a special launch price of $0.99 (regularly $2.99), D.A.R.K. is an engaging 3.5-Dimple exercise in survival.