Review: Darkness Within

TDWbanner copyThe bed squeaks under your weight as you try to move. It’s cumbersome to breathe with the stagnant air. It’s like a weight on your chest, oppressing your ribs into your lungs. The pain is an elephant with his trunk wrapped around your neck and his tusks pinning your neck in place.

Sucking in the deepest breath you can, you muster just enough force to open your eyes. Crimson slits like rips in the fabric of the darkness stare back at you. The redness casts an unholy glow over the creature’s features. His skin looks too tightly pulled over the exaggerated skull. He opens his mouth and the smell of rotting eggs pours out. It’s so thick you can see it escape through his teeth.

Before you can scream, he lunges forward, mouth agape.

You feel as if you’re floating, alone, drifting along with the numerous stars in the universe.

Everything is falling.

Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder (2007) and Darkness Within: The Dark Lineage Director’s Cut (2010) are first person, action-adventure, puzzle-type games. Both were developed by Zoetrope Interactive and published by Iceberg Interactive. They borrow heavily from Lovecraftian style horror with their use of strange occult themes, heavy atmosphere, and a creepy psychological story line. Most of the story centers around Detective Howard Loreid’s descent into madness trying to solve a missing person’s case and then figuring out how he fits into the bizarre chain of events.

Side note: I was originally going to review both games at the same time. I have finished playing the first game completely, although not up to my complete satisfaction. I have yet to finish the second game. I’ll explain why below.

Ratings

The game didn’t get very high reviews from critics. Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder got a “mediocre” rating of 5.1 from IGN (or 2.5/5), Metacritic rated it at 2.5/5 also, and Gamespot gave it a 3.5/10. Players, on the other hand, have rated the game much higher. On Steam it’s a 4.5/5 (or a 9/10, the review system tends to change a lot as it’s completely user-based) and on Metacritic, it’s at a 7.1/10.

Darkness Within: The Dark Lineage had a similar situation; it was rated a 5/10 by Worthplaying, and a 2.5/5 by Adventure Gamers. User reviews on Metacritic rated it a 7/10, on IGN it was an 8.7/10, Steam has it at “mostly positive” with 3.5/5 stars, and on Gamespot, it was a 7/10. I found fewer reviews on the second game than on the first so I couldn’t do a complete side-by-side comparison.

In Pursuit of Loath Nolder

Graphics and Atmosphere

Darkness Within: In Pursuit of Loath Nolder was released in 2007. I know it’s 2017 – a decade later – but the game’s graphics really look dated when it comes to the people, even for a game of it’s time. The inanimate objects aren’t as bad, however. There are a few options you can tweak to change the gamma correction, glow, noise, and such. That helped to stop some of the strange graphical nuances. That noise effect over everything really hurt my eyes and when turned off didn’t seem to change the atmosphere any.

Speaking of the atmosphere, it was really odd, but in a good way. It fit very well into how I see Lovecraft’s portrayal of his universe. Cemeteries were old and creepy. Houses were living with the number of secrets they held. What little of the outside world that was shown tended to be dark and gloomy. Nothing was happy and everything felt oppressive.

Loreid’s descent into madness was interesting. There were clues everywhere that showed what was happening to him. Some I didn’t realize until after the fact, like seeing a picture in his apartment entitled The Nightmare. Some of what he was experiencing could easily be explained away by psychologists as a nervous breakdown. He became paranoid, slept a lot, seemed to hallucinate, didn’t sleep well when he slept, had nightmares, and had high anxiety.

Game Mechanics

The game is a point and click type, where you move around by clicking on an arrow and click on certain objects to interact with them. This didn’t really take away from game play as everything you need to solve the game is logically put where you can interact, but it was a bit hard to get used to after playing so many open-world games lately.

Puzzles in this game are a bit…different. I did enjoy having to read a lot of excerpts from books, case files, journals, and the like. Loreid makes use of a system where you can underline information and if it’s what he’s looking for, he can use it to solve clues and puzzles. This did get frustrating a few times as you have to underline a ton to get just a few pieces of information. Sometimes, information that I would want to know to put some theories together Loreid didn’t seem to care about. This sort of made me want to bang my head on my desk a few times as I felt like the answers to his questions were right there on the page and he didn’t even see them. It made me work through more books to gather what he felt was enough to solve something. It felt tedious at times, but I did like the back stories.

One thing I didn’t like was that to get some information you had to combine “thoughts” that appeared in your inventory after you found out something. The problem I kept running into was the thoughts I felt should be related, weren’t. While the thoughts were a good way to go back and remember something I might have forgotten, I felt combining them to progress in certain areas was annoying. Again, I could figure things out more quickly than Loreid. It was like I was always steps ahead of the character and was holding his hand.

Another thing I was fed up with after the first time I experienced it was how after some major revelations at a scene Loreid would want to go back home. I would have rather stayed and tried to gather as much evidence as I could, but some major plot points couldn’t be accessed and therefore some clues couldn’t be found until after Loreid had slept and had a “nightmare.” I did think the nightmares were a good way to show how he was slowly cracking, however. They were imaginative. It was just annoying to go back and forth so much. This also made me have to pull out a walk through from time to time. I kept getting stuck because I couldn’t always figure out the specific way the developers wanted me to go.

The Dark Lineage

The second game was very similar to the first in terms of graphics, although I think the people got uglier. I still am really intrigued by the story, but as of right now I cannot even force myself to pick up the second game. It felt too laborious. I have other things I can do with my time that are less back and forth.

Conclusion

I really wanted to like both games. In a way I do, but not for the game play aspect really. There was a lot left to be desired in how the story was handled in both games simply because of how you were forced to play. Because of the mechanics and how slow it made the story progress, I couldn’t finish the second game, The Dark Lineage. It’s a shame as I really thought it would be interesting. I might go back later and try to finish it.

I’m also not liking the fact that some of the achievements* are apparently impossible to get. It’s fun to have Easter Eggs in games, especially in these where they address where their inspiration came from, but being docked for not needing every piece of a puzzle to be solved to find a solution is very irritating. It’s not like there are any quests besides the main quest of the game. Plus, there are still people commenting in forums today (2017!) that they are trying to figure out how to get all the achievements.

What I do like about the games is the story. I think it could have been executed better in another platform, though, or with a company who had more time and money to work on the games. If the story of Detective Loreid was written down in a series of short stories or in maybe two novels, it would have worked better. There would be more detail to submerge yourself in. The way Loreid constantly notes things could be better shown. There’d be a lot more backstory of the major characters and maybe I’d just give a damn about them more.

Overall, don’t get this game unless you’re really looking for something Lovecraftian. The mechanics are not worth dealing with.

2/10, 1/5, 1.5 stars, whatever fits your fancy.

*Achievements are things on gaming platforms that show how you’ve advanced, where you’ve been, or special things you’ve done – meaningless trophies for us gamers, basically. Lol.
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