Where Resident Evil has witnessed a triumphant return to form, the same can’t be said for Alone in the Dark – a series that effectively birthed the survival horror genre. Its creator, Frederick Raynal, has been in and out of the industry since the original game made its debut in 1992, and indie studio Gloomywood being his latest venture.
The developer’s first title, 2Dark, looks to recapture that eerie, lo-fi vibe of the nineties, with its top down camera and stylised voxel graphics. While it succeeds in doing so, 2Dark’s cumbersome trial and error gameplay leaves much to be desired from this throwback thriller.
A camping trip quickly goes horribly wrong when Smith hears the distant screams of his family, only to discover the mutilated body of his wife while their two children being hauled away in a van. These events clearly take their toll on him, as we’re reintroduced to a haggard and somewhat unhinged Smith moments later. There’s a Punisher-esque quality to his character, as illustrated by the the makeshift shooting range in his garage and a secret basement, the walls of which are plastered with potential leads as to his children’s whereabouts. With kids being snatched off the streets, Smith takes the law into his own hands.
It’s a brilliant set-up and one that waste no time on needless exposition. The actual game itself, however, isn’t as clutter-free or inventive. Most of the survival horror trappings are definitely there – stealth, exploration, puzzle solving – though they mesh together in a way that feels clumsy, mechanical, and ultimately unwholesome.
Each level has you navigating a series of hazards while attempting to find, corral, and extract a group of kidnapped young children. Whether set upon by circus lions, impaled on a spike, or battered to death by patrolling guards, 2Dark can be surprisingly hardcore with no autosaves or checkpoints whatsoever. Smith’s limited field of view, which is often dependent on having a candle, lighter, or torch in hand, also adds a frustrating layer of unpredictability.
Some players may relish the challenge, but even they will find it hard to overlook some of the game’s glaring faults. Smith’s loud and sluggish movements make any attempt at stealth a joyless exercise of repeated trial and error. Direct combat is certainly an option, though lacks any sort of dynamism or room for tactical play. While guns offer a quick and effective solution, ammo is scarce and enemies soak up a ton of damage. Most melee weapons are severely underpowered, and there’s no way to dodge or block incoming attacks. On top of that, 2Dark is further hampered by awkward controls and a befuddling inventory system.
Although you can bypass most patrols, leaving any guard alive will only create problems once you’ve managed to locate and rally the captive children. Prone to noisy outbursts, they’ll often give your position away unless you spend ages carefully planning an escape route. It’s clearly not the way 2Dark was meant to be played, but the only way I could reliably make any sort of progress was to systematically kill every hostile threat, saving between each kill.
Visually and thematically, 2Dark succeeds in paying homage to its forebears. Everything else, however, is desperately lacking. Alone in the Dark had twenty years in which to rise and fall but Raynal’s latest stab at survival horror barely gets twenty minutes.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro