2Dark review review title screen

Before Resident Evil took the world by storm, Alone in the Dark was the best known survival horror game. Creator Frédérick Raynal is back with a new horror adventure for consoles and PC, 2Dark. In this truly dark game, players must rescue children from kidnappers and serial killers, lest they suffer gruesome fates.

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Dark beginnings

2Dark for Xbox One

As 2Dark's introduction begins, we meet police officer Smith on a camping trip with his wife and kids during the 1960s. The rest of the family goes out to look for firewood while Smith stays behind setting up their tents.

Soon, a scream rings out from the forest. Smith runs over to discover his wife's decapitated corpse. Ouch, man! Meanwhile a truck drives away with his screaming kids locked in the back. On foot, Smith has no chance to stop the truck. His whole family is lost in one fateful night.

2Dark for Xbox One

The game itself picks up seven years later, in 1975. Smith never stopped looking for his stolen children, but the search has taken a toll on him. He lost his job and he's behind on his bills. But more kidnappings keep happening. If our hero can just get to the bottom of those, he might finally discover what happened to his own kids. The story is dark, pulpy, and fairly intriguing.

A unique perspective on horror

2Dark for Xbox One

2Dark is a stealth horror adventure game. It plays quite a lot like Resident Evil 7, if that game had a greater emphasis on stealth. But one huge difference is perspective. Rather than a first-person view, 2Dark uses a top-down overhead view. The environments are 2D, whereas the characters come to life via a unique 3D technology known as Soft Voxels. The characters have a distinct style that looks extremely smooth in motion.

The overhead view helps immensely with the stealth aspects, providing much greater environmental awareness than a first-person view ever could. It also keeps some of the morbid things you see (like people getting decapitated or eaten by lions) at a distance, making them a bit more palatable for squeamish gamers. Still, things do get bloody – and few games dare to put children in such grave danger.

Following a trail fraught with frustration

2Dark for Xbox One

The game begins outside of Smith's house at night. You'll have to search around outside for his house key, and then explore his large but disheveled home. Besides a tutorial area, Smith's place also serves as a hub between levels. Whenever our hero learns of a new kidnapping, that becomes the next level of the adventure. Levels can be replayed, as it turns out, from the Challenges menu.

The goal in each level is to rescue a group of kidnapped children and find all pertinent clues relating to their abductions. In the first level, these kidnappings have happened near an abandoned amusement park. Upon his arrival, our lead discovers a bearded lady protecting a lost child in her rundown shack. Other kids haven't been so lucky. After they're taken into the funhouse, they never come out.

2Dark for Xbox One

Inside of the funhouse, you'll have to be extremely careful. The place is filled with instakill deathtraps and pits that will quickly end our hero's journey. This is a terrible design mechanic that totally clashes with the low visibility of the level. Later levels have far less one-hit kills, so the game actually gets better and more fun as you go along. But starting out with an unpleasantly difficult level is not a smart tactic on developer Gloomywood's part.

Most environments are extremely dark, with many areas pitch black unless you equip a light source. Smith's cigarette lighter never runs out, but its radius is too limited to reveal traps before falling prey to them. The flashlight will serve you much better, though it requires batteries to operate. Don't worry, you'll find more batteries than you could possibly need – I beat the level perfectly with only one battery consumed.

Stay out of sight and save the children

2Dark for Xbox One

Enemies will discover you in brightly lit areas, so you'll often have to turn off your light before they get too close. Each one has a circle indicating his current radius of awareness, which helps. They can also detect the noise you make, so you'll need to hold the tip-toe button (Left Trigger on Xbox One) when trying to sneak past or behind someone. Get behind someone unawares and you can perform a one-hit melee kill. Stealth kills are invaluable, because Smith doesn't stand a chance in an open fight, and pistol ammunition is scarce too.

2Dark for Xbox One

Killing everyone isn't strictly necessary, though it can be fun to pick off foes and hide their bodies. The one thing you have to do is find all of the kids. Once you get near a child, they'll usually follow automatically. Sometimes you have to lure them over or down from somewhere by throwing candy to them. The mechanic makes sense, but it's also strange given the history of real-life kidnappings involving candy.

Smith can call children over to him or ask them to stay put. You'll sometimes want to park them out of the way, because they can be killed by enemies or attract them with a random scream. You can also pick up and carry a single child, which is much faster than waiting for the tot to follow you around. All you need to do is get one or all of them to the safe spot at the beginning of the level, and they'll escape.

Smoke and save

2Dark for Xbox One

Like many classic adventure games, 2Dark allows players to save at will. Considering how quickly things can go south for our hero, that's a good thing. But the actual save mechanic might cause some controversy. How does Smith save his game? He lights a cigarette.

Yes, you play a smoker in this game. In fact, Smith will often confess (via text) that he could go for a cigarette during gameplay. This is a clever way to remind players to save. But on the other hand, smoking is far from socially acceptable in many parts of the world. 2Dark is not a kids' game, but the individual player's tolerance for the smoking mechanic might vary.

Achievements

2Dark for Xbox One

The Xbox One version of 2Dark has 15 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. The first four levels all have an optional Achievement for killing a boss a certain way. In the first level, you'll want to beat the evil clown by locking him in a cage with lions; in the third level you'll trap a killer in a gas chamber, etc.

Less fun is the Achievement for beating a level without saving – that took me numerous tries on the first level. Finally, you have to find two different types of collectibles. Hopefully someone will write a guide for those before too long.

Overall Impression

2Dark for Xbox One

2Dark makes the mistake of not putting its best foot forward, starting out with a level filled with unfair death traps. In fact, I was prepared to give the game a lower rating each time I fell into a pit or stepped on a spike trap. But persevere and learn the level, and you'll eventually be able to beat it. From there, the game gets better. You just have to get over the hump first.

If you're in the mood for a challenging and dark adventure, you could do worse than 2Dark. The pulpy subject matter and tone are different from the average horror game. The unique perspective and art style actually serve the material quite well, too. Despite the rough edges, horror fans should give 2Dark a chance.

Pros:

  • Dark, pulpy plot
  • Best kid rescuing game since Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
  • Unique art style that blends cuteness with grotesquery

Cons:

  • Instant death traps are frustrating and unfair
  • Enemy AI sometimes behaves erratically
  • More voice acting would improve immersion

Good

3.5/5

2Dark is a digital exclusive in North America, priced at $29.99. If you prefer a more collectible version, publisher Bigben Interactive also sells a steelbook physical edition with soundtrack from Amazon UK. Amazon will ship it to North America.

See on the Xbox Store

Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.