When creating a monster-filled video game, there are certain things game designers absolutely take for granted—that are so rote they've become almost laughably stereotyped. A zombie title is bound to center on a lot of moaning, shambling and splattered brains, for instance. A werewolf game? It'll feature rage, rush and gush. And when gamemakers think vampires, they often turn to stealthy shadow-crawling.
That's certainly the direction Realmforge Studios headed with its new vampire-in-the-black-of-night actioner Dark. And if you look at the title purely as a third-person stealth action game, its slip-and-jump play has some potential. It's just that everything else in the goopy mix leaves an, uh, awful taste in your mouth.
The adventure/torturous trek begins when a guy named Eric Bane stumbles into a contemporary nightclub with blurred vision and a headache thumping louder than the pounding music. He soon finds out that the reason he's feeling so bad has something to do with the fact that his blood was just drained by a vampire in a dank alley outside the club. How does he so quickly piece this together? Well, it turns out that nearly everyone in this place is a sharp-toothed vamp. It's sort of a hipster vampire mixer, if you will.
After Eric regains his senses and makes a couple of new friends, the facts become clearer: He has indeed been bitten and transformed into a half-vampire. And if he hopes to avoid turning into something even more ghoulish he needs to find the bloodsucker who attacked him and drink that beastie's blood in return. (If Twilight taught us anything, it's that the path of the newly undead is a painful one.) Thankfully, the pretty vampire club owner, Rose, agrees to help Eric in his quest.
From there it's up to gamers to, as Eric, infiltrate the right well-guarded vampire domains—including a museum full of antiquities and a massive corporate headquarters—and share a bite, as it were, with the right elder vamp. But there's also some other mysterious plot taking place at the same time: It seems an army of seasoned troops are attacking the very places Rose has pinpointed as bloodsucker bunkers. Could this deployment somehow be related to Eric's current predicament? Hmmm.
May the Force Sneak With You
You must figure out how to maneuver Eric through large open areas while trying to avoid the automatic gunfire of scores of guards and soldiers. And as the game progresses, you gain a number of powers to help distract and elude your foes—such as the ability to Shadow Leap (quickly teleporting from place to place). Shadow Grip amounts to a Darth Vader-ish force that can grab a gunman and slam him to the ground from a distance. An ability called Auspex gives Eric super senses to see glowing red blood pumping through the veins of the many humans in any given area.
Among his collection of abilities, that last one is very important because, as you may have already guessed, Eric isn't just slipping past guards in the night, he's killing them too. And all that glowing red stuff is what gives him the "juice" to power all his fancy skills.
Does that mean things get messy? Yes, I'm afraid that's another thing gamemakers automatically equate with a vampire title.
This is a game that fully embraces a contemporary vampire ethos, for good guy and villain alike. Eric will readily grab a victim and slowly drain him of life, glugging down the crimson flow in slurpy gulps. But that's only the tip of the gory iceberg. You also encounter explosions that rip people apart; men and vampires who are locked in torture devices; ghouls that munch on the torn-open remains of the fallen; and a vampire dismembering a snared human with a butcher knife to create a grisly work of fleshy art.
Some of that latter guy's carrion art also features chunks of naked female torsos. And we see an oversized statue of two nude women in the midst of a sexual encounter. Realistic-looking vampire club dancers twist and shake, wearing nothing but g-strings and body paint. And Rose tells us of an old vampire who uses his power to control large groups of women and sell them to male customers for vile purposes.
Add in some equally vile M-rated language and you've got another dark stereotype that's not nearly so laughable.