2Dark is a tasteless turd of a game from Gloomywood and Bigben Interactive that shines as an example of how not to design a top-down stealth and shooter hybrid. The gameplay is neither fun nor satisfying, the mechanics are sloppy, the story tasteless, and the atmosphere empty. A poorly designed save system on top of all this makes 2Dark really too bad.
The gameplay consists of moving, sneaking, shooting, and looting. None of these activities is fun in 2Dark. Facing from the top-down view, you move the main character, Detective Smith, and may enable stealthy movement by holding the left trigger button (L2) in the PS4 version of the game. This is where user-friendliness ends, as the rest of the controls in 2Dark will cause you to fumble around needlessly.
The first annoying control scheme is for the inventory. It is displayed, in real-time, at the left-hand of the screen. You may select items while in game by using the directional buttons, and to equip an item, you press the triangle button once it is highlighted. To use weapons, you then press the right trigger (R2) button. There is a dichotomy between left-hand and right-hand items, but the game never explains this clearly. I gleaned the flashlight is a left-hand item and any weapon a right-hand item. Holding down the left or right bumper buttons (L1 and R1) brings up circular menus through which you may select an item for either hand. It was hard to discern which hand was holding what item, though, as the graphics are nondescript. Indeed, it is difficult to discern most if not all details in 2Dark.
One inventory feature is that you can combine items. To reload a gun, you must select ammo from the inventory and combine it with a weapon. A reload button or an automatic reload would have been preferable. The process of reloading is not the only needless hurdling 2Dark requires.
Using keys is another aspect that forces players to jump hoops. Once you have a key to a locked door, you must equip the key—holding it—in order to unlock the door. This means finding the key in the inventory panel, selecting it, and pressing triangle to equip it—all while enemies may be behind you about to shoot. Having keys as a separate item type to select while holding a gun or having keys automatically unlock doors would have been more convenient.
Inconvenience and annoyance in game mechanics stretches further. There is no indication of aim while firing a weapon, and it is difficult to know, when opening crates, if you have actually looted it or not. No highlights or other indicators come on-screen, and the sounds associated with looting are not distinct. There is no satisfying smash, click, or creak whereby you feel the joy of looting. In 2Dark it’s more a perfunctory “You just looted something…maybe.”
Items that go into your inventory are picked up by touching them. Objects, like the bodies of slain enemies, are picked up and carried by pressing “X”. It would be simpler if all items and objects were picked up by pressing X. I kept pressing X when I did not need to, and often wondered if what I was facing required me to press X to interact with it or if just touching it should work. The game was never clear on this. And automatically picking up items you touch may cause deep frustration. In one level, picking up a type of item sets off an alarm. As I walked through a dark area, the alarm suddenly sounded, and I had had no indication that I had been about to pick up said item. In the darkness I must have brushed up against it.
You rarely receive reasonable indications of what is going on in 2Dark. Not far in the first level, I died suddenly. With annoying death ambiance blaring through my headphones, on-screen text imparted that I had been impaled. “Impaled, you say?” I wanted to ask, as I had seen nothing to be impaled on. But a tiny, indiscernible graphic on screen, that could just as easily have been a grain of rice as a spike, had indeed impaled me. I would have appreciated some forewarning, but 2Dark cautions you as much as a “Road Closed” sign right at the point of construction.
Frequent, sudden deaths, due to impalement or falling down a pit that you cannot see, would have been remedied by a solid save system. 2Dark is too good for such a feature. Though the game menu has a “Load Game” selection, there is no “Save Game” selection. Such a setup is not unprecedented, and it does not make a game bad, but 2Dark handles saving such that there might as well have been a “Save Game” option.
To save the game you have to smoke. This means selecting either your lighter or your cigarette case in the inventory and combining the two. As Detective Smith proceeds to smoke, the game world continues in action. So as the very words “Saving Game” appear on screen, an enemy can chance by you and kill you. There is an option to cancel the save while the game is saving. Perhaps since it takes so long to save some players may give up and prefer losing their progress to waiting for Smith to finish his smoke. As there is only one save file, never choose to save at the wrong time. (But you should never choose to play this game in the first place anyway.)
This hurdle to saving is needless. In games wherein you save by interacting with objects in the game world, like in Resident Evil, there is a method to the madness as limited items, like ink ribbons, are used. In these cases, the intent of the developers is clear: whether you like it or not, ration your saves. But in 2Dark, as both cigarettes and lighter fluid are infinite, there is no rationing, and so no point to selecting inventory items and watching an on-screen animation in order to save.
There also is no auto-save. Occasionally, Detective Smith opines for a smoke, which is your only reminder to save manually. As the game’s instruction screen indicates, smoking is bad for your health, but you better light one every time Smith feels for it, or you will be restarting levels often (and likely quitting the game often, too).
So 2Dark’s gameplay and mechanics are below average. As for the story and atmosphere, both are depressing (as the game’s title implies). Darkness in theme can be done well, and when done well it works, however repulsive it may be. It is not done well in 2Dark, thus all the sordid content in the game comes off as tasteless.
The game opens with Detective Smith’s ill-fated camping trip in which his wife is murdered and children kidnapped. Years later, Smith still believes that his children are alive. A newspaper excerpt you may pick up and read reveals that Smith was dismissed from the police department, and so now he operates rogue. His quest, and the premise of each mission, is to track down kidnapped children and free them, and by proxy find the kidnappers who abducted his own children.
How this is handled in each mission feels dirty. Not far into the first mission—an abandoned carnival (yippee)—you learn, from a prompt, that you may use candy to attract children’s attention. When you pick up your first piece of candy, you learn further that candy may be used to speed up children’s movement as they follow you. True, you are the good guy, and true, kids like candy (everyone does, really), but it feels wrong equipping or throwing candy to get kids to follow you. Creepers using candy to lure children is a thing. It is a tasteless mechanic.
There is also the option to get children’s attention by yelling. Doing so over a small radius likely won’t attract enemies’ attention, but also requires you be very close to the children for them to hear. Doing so over a large radius does vice versa (think Olimar’s whistling from Pikmin). This, like candy-luring, feels creepy, as Detective Smith’s “Come on” audible could not sound more predatory. A pleasant “Let’s go” or “Follow me” would have been much better.
Note that in game the imprisoned children wail and sob. Hearing a child crying constantly as you plot a way to sneak by an enemy or pass some other obstacle (like a barred door) is not enjoyable. This point ties in with my earlier one about darkness—done well, a dark ploy such as rescuing sobbing children could work. But while grappling with the clunky mechanics of 2Dark and digesting its unsavory content, hearing a terrible crying noise is only aggravating.
Aggravating more so is some of the dialogue you will read. Some of the enemies say uncomfortable lines on child kidnapping, and the characters you encounter are mostly disgusting. In the abandoned carnival level, you meet a deranged clown who uses kidnapped children in his personal circus acts. Deranged characters like these can appropriately drive a narrative. You meet plenty of deranged people in Bioshock, but its design is of such caliber that it works. Tasteless dark content in a clunky game like 2Dark is always off-putting.
Atmospheric ambiance—essential for any game with stealth or a dark story—is either poorly done or absent in 2Dark. The ambient music is not terrible, but neither is it memorable. It also sets in and stops abruptly, causing several odd quiet moments where there is no background sound. What you will hear at almost every second is Detective Smith saying “hm”, which he does whenever he notices something. If nothing else, 2Dark likely sets a record for number of times “hm” is muttered in a game.
The visuals save nothing in 2Dark’s thematic mess. Ugly and blocky, the game is an eyesore, with no nostalgic charm in its style to merit the low quality graphics. Some of the additional visuals in the game are well below average, such as the photo you find early on of Smith and his family in a canoe that has no sense of proportion. There is no style to the game’s graphics or its hand-drawn characters—all is either drab or ugly, like an artistic vacuum.
In 2Dark clunky gameplay and mechanics, a needlessly involving save feature, and tasteless thematic material combine. In other words, it is not a game you want to play or purchase. Do yourself a favor and stay away from this one, lest it abduct your time away and leave you crying like the poor children in game.