Edited by: Tiffany Lillie
Swim through the vast ocean of your dreams. Sift through the murky depths of that lucid realm and uncover mysteries lurking in the shadows. That’s the thematic draw of Unfold Games’ DARQ, a brilliant little indie title that sets you in the shoes of a boy locked away in the unconscious, searching for a way out of his nightmares. Even though he’s in a dream, those monstrous amalgamations are all too real, and through stealth and wit, he might just make it out.
In the Dim Light
Crumpled upon a bed, you find yourself with our charming little hero, Lloyd. He’s a sickly lad, and his dreams are far from pleasant at that. His self-awareness leads him spiraling into the void as he scrambles for a way — any way — to get out and return to the waking world. First and foremost, DARQ is a puzzle game, and a very good one at that. Through the membrane of his psyche, you’ll guide Lloyd and solve a series of creative little trials that range from collecting items to trial-and-error combinations. While this style may be common to puzzle games, DARQ’s leading mechanic is Lloyd’s ability to manipulate his surroundings. Climb up walls and shift the perspective of your environments, allowing you to manipulate and access areas that traditional games would not allow. Given the murky dreamscape Lloyd inhabits, many puzzles will have unique functions that play well with the insanity of the game’s premise. Pull the lever and you find yourself accessing an entirely new road. Turn the wheel and you’ll watch a completely different room replace the previous. It’s a quirky and fun little experience that keeps gameplay fresh and enjoyable throughout the entire short story.
Dark and Dreary
With its artwork painted in deep hues of grey, DARQ is a monochromatic piece. What color you may find is saturated with the bleak darkness, leaving only hints of what their regal colors might have been. Visually, DARQ is quite a beautiful little work. Its characterful art style compliments the dreary surroundings, letting you guide Lloyd through abandoned tunnels and rundown apartments. It can feel a little one note at times, but the game is honestly just short enough that this never feels like a major problem. The game maintains its creepiness throughout, leaving the environment absolutely dripping with atmosphere. The subdued lighting, meanwhile, certainly helps convey the dim atmosphere, but the level of white glow can potentially leave your eyes aching a little at one or two areas.
While DARQ excels as a puzzle game, remember that it's also intended to be an addition to the horror genre. As you and Lloyd travel between puzzles, you’ll come across bizarre and disturbing creatures that try to bar your path. There is an element of stealth integrated into the story, but it’s honestly the weakest aspect of the game. While DARQ maintains a surreal and disturbing atmosphere, it rarely feels as though it can be considered horror, especially with its (thankfully) rare, but cheap, jump-scares. There’s never any real sense of threat and it might have been a better choice to simply omit stealth in order to offer more puzzles. Luckily, the story is short enough that the tedious stealth sequences and jump-scares aren’t around long enough to dampen the game’s overall quality.
The Verdict: Great
Twisted and Puzzling. Despite a few little setbacks with the attempted horror and stealth, Unfold Games’ DARQ is an absolutely charming little experience for fans of puzzle games. The beautiful environment and creepy atmosphere will keep you engaged through the entire short-but-sweet experience.