DARQ: Complete Edition Review – Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

    Title: DARQ: Complete Edition
    Developer: Unfold Games
    Release Date: March 23, 2021
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Unfold Games
    Genre: Puzzle Adventure

Horror isn’t about scaring people; it’s about atmosphere. And if there was a game that nailed it wordlessly, it was DARQ. Originally released in 2019 for PC via Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, DARQ has now arrived on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X as DARQ: Complete Edition, which comes packed with the two DLC levels included.

DARQ is a stylistic horror puzzle game about a boy named Lloyd. He is asleep and trapped in strange nightmares during the game that he’ll need to navigate to escape. This is the entirety of the story. There are no plot beats, no characters, and no dialogue besides gasps, screams, and yells. DARQ operates almost exclusively on gameplay and aesthetics.

The formula of DARQ is simple. Go to bed, wake up in a nightmare, search the nightmare for the tools you need and then use them to get out. The only tool that remains with you throughout the expedition is the ability to walk up flat walls, essentially rotating the stage.

This puzzle game may be a 2.5D Sidescroller, not just because it’s a two-dimensional sidescroller rendered in 3D, but also because it sometimes likes utilizing the third dimension within its stages whenever it feels like it. There are few internal consistencies, and the game plays by its own rules. Your job is to figure them out.

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Visually, DARQ is stunning. It’s essentially monochrome, with the lighting going a long way to making what’s important standout, which adds to the horror atmosphere. It’s not an oppressive horror, but it’s enough to be unnerving.

Lloyd’s lanky yet extremely smooth animations as he climbs, walks, runs, and interacts with objects feel almost puppet-like, and they contribute heavily to the title’s unique aesthetic. The way Lloyd can traverse walls only compliments this as the world revolves around you is dreamlike and almost relaxing. Which then contrasts later stages with more sudden and shocking alterations, driving up the unease.

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As this title is a horror game, you may be wondering if there are jump scares. Well, there are. A couple of jump scares, at least. They’re not on the level of something like Five Nights at Freddy’s, but they exist just enough to give a blind player the idea that there could be more at any time. And then the game doesn’t.

These not in your face either. For example, the first major one occurs when something charges towards you under a bridge as you walk across it with a scream and a bang. It’s enough to make you jump, but without stopping the gameplay.

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When you find an interactable object, your prompt is simply a small icon. When you pick it up, you get a little splash screen with ‘[item] acquired.’ This, the standard options menu and the item’s name recurring in your inventory wheel is the extent of the text within the game. This minimalism is great.

The way levels are designed, based entirely around the player working out the strange and bizarre methods you’ll need to utilize items to progress, actually makes for a lot of fun. Each puzzle has a logical solution, and even players who aren’t good with puzzles would have some fun piecing things together. The bar of entry is shallow.

On the flip side, this means a novice could easily complete all the levels within this game in under four hours. Since it lacks any emotional climax, the experience can ultimately feel somewhat empty, more comparable to an edgy crossword book than a full experience.

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If you can appreciate a unique art style and want to try your hand at some creative puzzles, then DARQ: Complete Edition is a game you’ll adore. However, there’s very little in the way of narrative build-up that makes your connection to this world and the character flimsy. This is only hurt further by its short runtime, but it still manages to provide an exceptional experience.

Score:
8/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jacob Kavanagh

Staff Writer - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so he can buy more murder mysteries. @JacobPFZE on twitter