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By PeterChi29-01-2014
MrJenssen (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)

The Defence

Action, Adventure, Indie
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8600
AMD equivalent
2 GB
3 GB

The Case

Darkout, the adventure game from indie developers Allgraf, was released on Steam on the 4th of December, which, unfortunately for Allgraf and any other game released on that day, was the same day as the somewhat similar Starbound’s Early Access program began. Starbound took off, selling like yummy bananas, while Darkout hasn't done quite as crazily well. Is Darkout really good enough to justify it being another addition to the increasing crowded genre of mine/build/survive-em-ups - or should we just forget about it altogether?

The Trial

Both Darkout and Starbound have very similar concepts on the surface. You're fleeing the destruction of Earth and somehow end up crash-landing on an alien planet. To make the place a little more habitable, you must collect materials and gradually build yourself into an unstoppable alien ganking machine who laughs at how easy it is to mine iron ore, and spits in the face of crafting a longsword. This is where Darkout begins to feel like something you haven't played before, and this is where it really comes into its own.

Darkout separates itself from most 2D adventure games by introducing both a coherent story to drive the gameplay forward, and an innovative technology research system. It's surprising how much of a difference these two elements can make when well implemented.

Never trust a flying jellyfish.

Never trust a flying jellyfish.

The story begins with you standing in a strange place beside a burning escape pod. Your PDA’s artificial intelligence comes online and tells you to salvage your pod and guides you in the preparation of a shelter to help you survive the night. From there, the AI helps you set up the antenna from your pod in the hopes of getting in contact with someone. The AI then proceeds by giving you quests like "craft ten pieces of leather," then "craft some leather armour" and so on. This leads you into the game beautifully, making learning how the different crafting systems work easy and memorable. It is important for Darkout to make sure the player grasps and remembers the basics of the crafting, because there are a lot of things to craft, and there are often other variables to consider as well. If you want to make some sulphur, for example, you'll need to be close to your Chemistry lab. If you want to make a laser gun (yes, a frickin laser gun!) you'll need to be close to your Moulder.

The tutorial system works as part of a story that develops as you play, revealing bits of information about where you are, why the planet is the way it is, and what's going on. Another avenue Allgraf take to tell Darkout's story is through data tubes that are randomly dropped by monsters, or found when looting chests left behind by other poor souls who happened to land on the planet. Each data tube can be decrypted and then added to your logs; some revealing text logs while others are voice acted well enough to make games like X: Rebirth hang themselves in shame.

I'm not sure that will fly again.

I'm not sure that will fly again.

Research is also a big part of Darkout. Every time you collect a new element from mining, chopping down trees, or catching something in a glass jar, you gain research points and your little avatar starts thinking of what they could possible do with it. This causes research projects to become available in the research screen for you to develop into actual working items. Find and smelt a lump of iron ore and your character is able to research how to build iron doors, metal arrows or an iron pickaxe. Do the same with copper and you can figure out how to make electric wires and circuitry. Additional items to research can also be found in data tubes, which sometimes reveal a vital missing piece of the crafting puzzle. Each item you research costs research points that can be earned by killing monsters, mining, chopping trees and exploring new areas. The use of research points also means that you have added impetus to go out and kill things or explore, aside from just to gather materials, but you will rarely find yourself too strapped for RP either.

The amount of stuff you can actually research and craft is mind-boggling by the time you get to the later technology tiers. Crafting a grenade launcher requires a crazy amount of individual components, for example. The game does a good job keeping you informed of what's missing from your attempted combination so you're never left too baffled. On the down side, there are so many things to craft that the lists can be quite hard to navigate despite being decently laid out. Oftentimes, you will want to craft an item that requires a chain of combined items. For instance, to make one of the later items, the Sonic Drill, you will need carbon fiber, which requires carbon and a platinum bar. A platinum bar requires two gold bars and some sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid requires a bucket of water and some sulphur. Sulphur can be made with a bucket of tar. That's a lot of gathering and crafting, not to mention that this is the string of items required to craft only one of the components of the Sonic Drill.

Honey, have you seen my wallet?

Honey, have you seen my wallet?

It's great to have such a massive amount of useful stuff to make, and it's also great to have an intricate system of combinations that scale up into the sky. But, the menus that you have to navigate to make things, can bog down the gameplay. This aspect of the game would be greatly improved with a quick crafting tree for each item so that you don't have to leave the screen of the item you want to create to be able to make all the components that go into its creation. Often, you'll spend so much time crafting so many different items that you'll forget what it was you were crafting them for in the first place.

Graphically, Darkout stands alone in the mine/build/survive-em-up genre (seriously, there's no name for these yet?). A lot of the game revolves around generating light to keep the darkness at bay, and the visuals make something as simple as placing a lantern a joy. The differently coloured lights you can create, pierce and filter out into the unending darkness, and it's really something to behold. The glowing alien vegetation looks great in all its varying colours, shapes and sizes, dramatically highlighting just how dark it really is, even during the day. The monsters, made of the darkness itself, are well realised and actually pretty scary when they come running at you. Especially when you're a mile underground and you've just run out of torches.

Everyone should know how to make jetboots.

Everyone should know how to make jetboots.

The sci-fi atmosphere is tied together well by Darkout's soundtrack, which is made up of some really great haunting electronic tracks reminiscent of something like Mass Effect. Different music plays depending on which biome you're in. The Sewers have this great track for when you're creeping along with a torch, hoping the next thing you light up isn't some weird werewolf thing that wants to eat your hands off.

Darkout is naturally not without the odd glitch, and could do with some tweaking in areas like inventory management, which can cause a headache due to the repetition of having to click and drag each item into a cupboard. Darkout has been regularly patched and updated since release, with most of the major bugs already being a thing of the past, so still remaining minor foibles will most likely be ironed out over time. A development plan on Darkout’s Steam page outlines what Allgraf plan to introduce in the future. They refer to the current state of Darkout as “Stage 1” of a four part development plan that promises more biomes, story, weapons, bunkers, labs and multiplayer amongst other features. So, while Darkout is on full release, it’s really a quasi early-access game. The good thing is that it very rarely feels like early access.

The Verdict

Darkout is a great game that deserves way more credit than it has garnered thus far. With their innovations on the standard fare of dig, build, dig more, build more style of gameplay, Allgraf stand to be reinventing the genre that Minecraft often is credited for having started. That isn’t to say there’s no room for improvement, but as Darkout stands right now, it is definitely a worthy addition to your game library. Did I mention that you can build a jetpack?

Case Review

  • Nice and New: A fresh take on the highly populated genre that feels like it stands alone.
  • Pretty Lights: Fantastic visuals and great contrasts between darkness and light.
  • Exquisite Ambience: Great soundtrack that enhances the gameplay.
  • Full of Stuff: Ridiculous amount to do and build which means there’s plenty of playtime here.
  • Things to Squish: Some minor bugs still remain like items dropping when you drag them.
  • Lost in Menus: Crafting menus can be quite a trawl when you need to find something.
Score: 4.5/5
There’s much more to Darkout than meets the eye at first glance.


Comments (3)
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Posts: 1548

This being story driven makes me somewhat interested.

Posts: 28

Likewise. It makes a big difference to the whole feel of the game.

Posts: 1317

Ah finally, a 2D game like this that isn't voxel/pixellated, but has a PROPER art style that actually required PROPER work from the devs. I salute them for this effort!