The first thing you notice when loading up Darkout is how much it lives up to its name. The world that your character crash lands on is inevitably filled with so much murky darkness that it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly where you are inside of the game. Darkness also conveniently spawns creatures ranging from flying jellyfish to dogs to giant bugs, all of which want to eat you and teleport you back to your base. Once you run out of the game’s initially provided light sources and you’re scavenging in the darkness with threats all around you trying to find enough goop to fit in a jar so you can see for a few minutes, you’ll begin to wonder what else you could be doing with your time. It’s a familiar feeling.
Darkout is, first and foremost, a sandbox mining game in the vein of Minecraft and Terraria. You manipulate objects, build structures, cut down trees, and craft items in order to further the tech tree and become more survivable. You play as the pilot of a starship that has crashed on an alien world, so your toolset is a bit more advanced than other games of this ilk, including the recently released Starbound. It’s easy to be charmed by Darkout‘s future aesthetic and neon infused worlds in a genre that is mostly known for voxel based models. Just standing around and watching the jellyfish fly through the air is fascinating.
Darkout (PC [Reviewed], Mac)
Publisher: KISS ltd
Released: December 4th, 2013
The same niceties cannot be extended to the rest of the audiovisuals however. The main player model resembles a character that would be used to represent video games on an episode of Law and Order, and the sounds when you are chopping down a tree or attacking a creature are clunky and cartoonish. The entire point of games of this genre is to zone out and explore your own world, but here you’ll constantly be brought back to reality by the strange graphics and sound design, as well as the 45 second long forced pause the game initiates whenever it decides that it’s a good time to autosave. All these distractions add up to a game that practically guarantees you that you’ll only play it in short bursts.
Of course, this type of game wasn’t designed to be played like a phone game, and even on top of the genre conventions, Darkout has a complex control scheme to master if you wish to get anywhere. A note to any game designers out there: If picking up items off of the ground in your game is mapped to holding down Shift plus a mouse click, you have failed to properly utilize the wide array of buttons you have at your disposal when developing for PC. One positive about the controls is an “Auto” tool that lets you dig through different types of rocks and cut down trees without switching between the shovels, hatchets, and picks you’d normally need for the tasks. Of course, it doesn’t switch to your weapon when you target an enemy, so you still have to futz around with the mouse wheel whenever a shadow beast spawns in your tunnel and lunges at your throat.
If you can get your head wrapped around the game’s wonky controls and graphical problems, you’ll come to find the beginnings of a story. You get a beacon you can place once you build a base, but the beacon is being jammed by three other beacons. These beacons are placed randomly inside of your already randomly generated world, so the next stage of the game after getting beyond the text-only tutorial section is to randomly dig underground and build bridges over tar pits until you stumble across all the items you need. This can be extremely frustrating considering the day/night cycle that limits your already limited vision throughout the game, as well as the fact that your armor stays behind if you die, meaning that if you fall down a pit, you’re going to have to find a way to safely get in and out of that pit if you want to be wearing something other than your pajamas.
As I said previously, effortless exploration is key to a game like this. There is a reason Minecraft doesn’t have a large enemy population out during the daytime. Whenever I left my base in Darkout, my best strategy was to swing my weapon randomly as I ran back to where I last died, as there were always a swarm of jellyfish or a dog ready to pounce me. Running through the tunnels I had dug out, I was disheartened to see how short they actually were, and how long it took to inch along, digging in darkness because I had run out of torches. It started to feel like work, and any early appreciation I had for what the game was doing was washed away.
Simply put, there are plenty of issues here, issues that you might even be used to considering the grand pile of Early Access titles that have invaded Steam in the past year or so. However, Darkout is being advertised as a finished product despite all of its flaws, even though its store page lists it as “Part 1” of development. Significant features such as multiplayer, vehicles, and even the end of the story in the campaign are not in this initial release. Technically, the game is a mess. I’ve seen reports of crashes, and for me personally it never once quit out cleanly without forcing me to the task manager. If development does continue, there certainly is potential here for a fun Minecraft-like experience. As it stands now, the game’s lack of polish and lack of concern for the player’s time makes it hard to recommend.