Sleep is meant to be a relaxing and restoring part of your daily routine, but in Darq, it’s a glove of danger that repeats night after night. Set in the lucid dreams of his main character, Lloyd, Darq is creepy and disturbing; the twisted world is home to shocking figures of pure body horror. However, it’s also a world held together by some intriguing puzzles, each of which subtly builds on another to provide satisfying solutions to discover. This is our Darq Review.
Darq Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh
- Developer: Unfold Games
- Publisher: Unfold Games
- Genres: Adventure
- Release Date: August 15, 2019
Darq Review: Gameplay
Darq’s main mechanics is the ability to manipulate gravity. When you press against a flat surface, you can move gravity toward the object, turn entire rooms on their side, and let you explore a shared space from a whole new perspective. Obscure passages and interactive objects are hidden from certain angles, making it a puzzle in itself. Exploring is at the heart of Darq as you look for items you need to solve specific puzzles in the seven chapters.
Your progress through the chapters is inhibited by your ability to find the right item for the job. There are also mostly no dark solutions, which allows you to focus on the challenge of finding ways to change your perspective. For example, gear is used on machines that are missing, while a key is labeled for the object to be unlocked. Given the dream environment, there are a few cases where the items you need to solve a puzzle don’t make sense – a wristwatch grows and bridges a hole in the floor, or a hose is used to break a broken electrical circuit to fix.
However, since you never hold more than a handful of items at a time, it’s easy enough to remove items that don’t work and experiment with the rest without getting frustrated. Each chapter of Darq has a new mechanic as a theme, which is then taken to the next levels. You only have to worry about gravity shifting, but it won’t be long before you have to consider levers that spin entire rooms or switches that throw you back and forth through a further 2D plane.
Each of these is revealed with well-constructed puzzles that show you the possibilities, eventually culminating in later levels where they are all used together to create tricky riddles. Equipment that is just out of reach suggests that there should be a new mechanic with whom you can access it, for example, to eventually teach you to walk over walls without the need for self-study text. Darq isn’t extremely challenging, but after learning the ins and outs of different mechanics throughout the game, it’s satisfying to work out a puzzle that combines the principles you’ve mastered.
Navigating levels and figuring out their routes is a pleasure, but enemy encounters occasionally raid exploration. The few monsters in Darq are shocking figures with twisted appendages and bizarre experiments that can be attacked quickly and forcibly tear you apart if you get too close. Stealth is your only option in these cases, but the execution is limited. Usually, you just wait for an enemy to pass through an obvious hideout before firing at it and wait for them to come back, losing any creativity from your approach.
These sections are little more than forced frustrations, some of which you have to deal with repeatedly when going back through levels. Contrary to the thoughtful puzzles surrounding it, Darq’s stealth is disappointing. The terrifying monsters are a real threat in what is otherwise a completely made-up world, with the underlying premise of lucid dreams enabling all of the otherworldly mechanics that Darq offers. His view of the subconscious mind can easily be compared to classic Tim Burton films.
Your character has stick-like appendages and empty black eyes that go well with the bleak, gloomy world filled with oppressive shades of gray and a ubiquitous industrial revolution theme. The variation in levels, from an abandoned hospital to a coal-soaked locomotive, contributes much to the world. Darq runs on cliché creepy spaces but realizes them so well in his visual style that they feel fresh rather than cheesy.
Part of what sets each of these spaces apart is the exceptional sound design. Darq can be frighteningly quiet at times, with only your long-distance footsteps reverberating in the distance. But the silence only accentuates the quality of a creaky wheelchair moving towards you or the sharp screams of enemies alerted to your presence when you enter a room. Interactions with puzzle elements are often accompanied by loud, crisp sound effects that permeate the quiet halls of the levels in which they are located, always creating a feeling of unease as you wander around the gloomy world of Darq.
It is a pity that with all this wonderfully spooky atmosphere, there is not much else to do once Darq’s seven chapters are over, which took me just over two hours. Each stage, except the finale, contains one collectible to find out if you fancy an extra challenge, which can make return visits a little rewarding. However, Darq’s brevity is disappointing because of the potential that remains on the table.
The opening chapters are too short, and the finale breaks through the structure of each chapter before leaving Darq’s most compelling pieces in the middle. Plus, each level doesn’t get enough time to explore the breadth of its unique puzzle mechanics, bringing the ending to life just as it feels as if momentum is starting to form.
Darq Review: Conclusion
As short as it is, Darq offers well-designed puzzles that are incredibly satisfying to solve on your first playthrough, each intelligently building on the last. Darq never stumbles ultimately in frustration, even if it stands out a bit from disappointing stealth sections. But the gloomy atmosphere and exceptional sound design delight you in its dark world of dreams. Darq is full of great ideas that contribute to a sleek and short package, but it’s hard not to want more when it’s done.
Set in the lucid dreams of his main character, Lloyd, Darq is creepy and disturbing; the twisted world is home to shocking figures of pure body horror.