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Dark Trailer Analysis: Dishonored Meets Deus Ex: Human Revolution?

Kalypso Media and Realmforge Studios’ new vampire stealth game, Dark, due for release this summer on XBLA, seems to be very different things in every different trailer. It shows a lot of parallels with other games in its third-person supernatural stealth mechanics, but it’s not clear yet how effectively the mechanics, the story, or the game’s non-triple-A budget will come together.

In Dark, players assume the role of one Eric Bane, a newly-blooded unwilling vampire who is completely generic and nondescript. His name is even a blend of some stereotypical “cool guy badass”ones. Bane is sired as a vampire without his consent, and due to short-term amnesia, without his knowledge. The plot of the game revolves around trying to discover why it happened to him, although there also appears to be a backdrop of a vampiric faction war or something, too. We’ll have to wait and see on that front.

One of Dark’s original gameplay watersheds was a brilliant, lengthy video preview by GamesRadar. The video featured twenty minutes of late-Alpha gameplay footage with an interview over the top. And while the game looked a bit clunky, on the whole it was pretty exciting stuff. We saw a hub nightclub, a dialogue-choice system, a pretty open level, a some cool powers.

Dark is a third person stealth game. They emphasise that in the video- Dark is not a third person shooter. It is game where the player uses guns or gadgets. It is a game where players sneak and use limited, yet dangerous powers to circumvent and defeat enemies.

A particularly exciting aspect of the GamesRadar demo was some of the levels on show. There appears to be a Deus Ex: Human Revolution level x1.5 quality to the gameplay, with many paths on show and (most excitingly) a couple of enemy factions at each others throat mid-gameplay.

However, there are a couple of stumbling blocks in the game’s way, from what we’ve seen so far.

For one, there’s the animation quality. Since GamesRadar’s big exposé, there have been several other trailers. A gameplay trailer (seen in the above video, courtesy of IGN) and two “Skills” trailers ala Rockstar’s Gameplay trailers for Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3, seen below. In all of these trailers, which should hopefully be more polished than the late-Alpha footage of the big demo, animation is incredibly weak.

Every single animation on show looks unbelievably wooden and stoic. Unrelentingly so. If it wasn’t for that, the gameplay on show in all the trailers would look fantastic.

When he sucks a guys’ blood, we see no actual blood. When he beats up a guy, it looks like he’s rehearsing a dance move with a willing participant. A willing participant who is also a robot. It looks like a PS2/Xbox era game on current-gen consoles.

The writing and story on show look a little derivative, too.

Commentors on various websites have noted the parallels with the World of Darkness pen-and-paper RPG universe. I’ve played a couple of World of Darkness games in my time, and it’s a good system. A good world, which players familiar with the much-underknown Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines (which I, in a horrific admission, have never played) and its precursor Redemption will know. These comparisons are clear from attribute systems like Vitae for health and Obfuscate for illusions. The whole universe and RPG system is currently looking at a reboot by CCP with the upcoming MMO called World of Darkness.

However, Dark’s writing itself doesn’t sound strong. The narration flowing over the top of the gameplay trailer above sounds like Max Payne 2 (which is good) but the in-mission dialogue has the B-movie quality of a low budget title (not good). Bear in mind that this is going from trailers and one gameplay demo shown months ago. Still, it’s not a high-budget game, and high-level artistic qualities are likely to be a challenge for Realmforge.

Perhaps the only positive aspect on show regarding the narrative is in the GamesRadar interview, a developer said that Dark’s two different endings are not “good guy/ bad guy” endings. This is something promising, as per Kotaku’s study of “shades of gray” being preferable to “black and white” moral choices, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Here’s to hoping that Dark’s endings will not only resolve its story, but provide a compelling narrative outside of the videogame medium’s usual clichés.

As said in the game’s title, the powers and gameplay mechanics on show appear to be a mix between Dishonored, Deus Ex: Human revolution, and to a certain extent Splinter Cell.

The game’s powers effectively show these parallels. In Dark, the players powers are tailored cleverly to gameplay restrictions. The “Shadow leap,” like Dishonored’s “Blink”, requires a cooldown period to recharge. This should help with strategic deployment, unlike in Dishonored where, upon being spotted, I would often spam Blink to escape my pursuers. Most other powers, like Shadow Kill, the instant long-distance takedown move, uses one Vitae point, which requires a lengthy blood drink to regain. Obfuscate, a temporary invisibility mode, looks also like Deus Ex’s cloaking ability. The game also features a power which is half Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Detective Mode and half Dishonored’s Dark Vision. It allows the vampire Bane to see enemies bloodflow through walls, whilst seemingly slowing time down to allow for strategic decisions. An interesting idea.

In order to take out the enemies who block Bane’s path, players can either one-hit kill guys to neutralise them, or drink their blood to gain the use of powers. Splinter Cell Conviction’s combat system is also in effect. I’m a personal fan of the mechanic: the attack button is a one-hit win at toe-to-toe (or toe-to-heel), but if the enemy is aware of the player, they may shove the player back once to deter them. When the hunters are closing in- as in the GamesRadar demo- this leaves the player exposed and will probably lead to death.

Drinking blood takes longer than the strikedown move, but gives you Vitae power slots, similar to Mana in Dishonored or Execute tags in Splinter Cell Conviction. One thing Realmforge seems to have definitely captured with Dark is knowing what mechanics in other games are strong. Which ones are best to lift.

It’s a pity that the game looks so totally clunky and wooden in the trailers. The gameplay is extremely promising for the stealth enthusiast- the level design looks quite decent, perhaps not too open, but with relatively wide areas.

Regardless of any doubts, I appreciate the developers honesty. Even in their demo, in which gameplay was barely scripted at all, they mentioned that God mode was switched on. And they also candidly stated that while there are no gadgets, the powers we have often fill in for abilities seen in games like Splinter Cell. The developers seem sound, even if, regarding the quality of the game, the verdict is still out.

For a final verdict, watch this space for Leviathyn’s review of the game around June.

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