One of the greatest benefits of being an indie developer is the ability to have complete “outside the box” creativity. Developer Unfold Games and Publisher Feardemic have done just that with DARQ: Complete Edition.
Players will immediately find themselves thrown into an adventure as Lloyd in their very own Tim Burton-esque inspired art style and macabre environments. There isn’t much-offered storywise as you progress through the very greyscale aesthetics since there is no dialogue of any kind. Rather, DARQ allows the player to interpret what is going on in the strange dream-like environments that Lloyd experiences.
As our thin, bald, and silent protagonist, your goal is to journey through each level solving intricate puzzles and avoiding enemies using the most basic of stealth mechanics. Each level has a theme and style of puzzle-solving rarely seen in many other games. Since this is mainly a puzzle-solving game, it is where it shines the darqest. Each level begins as you lay in bed, transported to another realm which is, in a sense, an escape room. Collecting items lying around, and figuring out what goes where is only part of what makes the game entertaining.
DARQ makes great use of its 3-D environments in a 2-D side-scrolling game. Lloyd can explore areas moving left and right, but also up and down walls, causing the environment to rotate and shift according to his orientation. There is even one multi-directional mechanic that I wish was used more in the game. These moments of how creative Unfold Games went into each level design are only met with more enjoyment when those “ah-hah” moments come once you find a solution to a puzzle. As you progress, each level becomes gradually more difficult and complex so that the gears in your head are always turning.
Although the main puzzle-solving mechanics work well for DARQ, others are not as polished or enjoyable. Stealth is very much a part of almost every level of the game, but it is quite basic and felt like an afterthought. The enemy designs are creepy, given the environment and mood involved, but they were more of an unwanted obstruction and slowed down the pace of the puzzle-solving rather than giving a sense of dread or survival when they appeared, especially when if you failed and got detected, the game simply fades to black and places you back into the last room entered.
This felt like there was no sense of actual caution or punishment when stealth opportunities arise. Similar to games like Limbo or Inside, stealth was as simple as hiding in a dark crevice until the enemy passes you then continue on. Some players may not help but feel like thinking “hurry up and pass me so I can continue”. Near the end of the game, some enemies return and begin to become more of a threat towards progression by causing an area or puzzle to reset.
Graphically, each environment is very well detailed and surreal. Although one player’s interpretation of each level design may differ from another, they may have a sense of either, you’re in a dream, stuck in your mind, or maybe even witnessing delusions at its finest. Each one has a theme such as the cave level, hospital-level, or dungeon/prison level. What makes sense to Lloyd’s reality in each level will not make sense to the player when you find yourself using everyday objects as tools you wouldn’t think would work the same way in the real world.
Using only one example to avoid puzzle spoilers, you find a small wristwatch and then use it as a bridge to cross a large chasm. Lloyd’s character design is just as interesting and allows the player to infer why is he so sickly and tired looking, adding more to the mystery of his story of torment. Other objects involved are severed limbs, shape-shifting keys, and the typical cogs and levers to name a few.
When it comes to game length, unfortunately, it could be completed in a day or two. DARQ is 6-8 hours long and possibly even shorter if you figure out each level’s puzzles without a second thought. The complete edition offers two extra levels which can be completed in an hour or two individually. Each one of those levels brings in a very different gameplay element that I wish was offered more in the actual game or at the very least more of in their DLC’s. They also don’t add much to the story but challenge the mind since they are much longer in length than the story mode.
DARQ leaves me wanting more, and with a small price attached, it is well worth a buy. If this were a full-priced game or even over $30, I would be highly disappointed and would say avoid it at all costs. If you like puzzle-solving, mind-bending games that help pass the time, DARQ is a must-try. Keep in mind, after completing its story and two DLC’s, there isn’t much else to accomplish. If DARQ gets enough support and recognition, we can hope Unfold Games can follow up with additional DLC, a sequel, or just something similar to whet the appetite and give us more of their creativity and imagination.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of DARQ: Complete Edition for the Nintendo Switch provided by Feardemic and Unfold Games.