This article contains coverage of a preview build of Darkout. The opinions expressed below pertain to a piece of software in Beta (Version 1.53) state, and may deal with features which are in an incomplete or prototype form. The coverage below is intended to provide a general impression of the game in its present state, and may or may not apply to the finished game.
I’ll admit that I was bit by the Terraria bug hard. After initially dismissing it as 2D Minecraft, I quickly discovered that there was a whole lot more to it than that. When I was given the chance to preview a game called Darkout, which was described to me as “Space Terrarria,” I jumped at the chance. I apologize in advance for the number of times I compare it to Terrarria.
Rather than the colorful retro-visuals of Terrarria, Darkout went with a more modern approach to graphics. The player character and the enemies are polygonal (for the most part) while the environment is 2D. You play as a female space explorer who, for some reason, reminds me of something that Rare would have put together for one of their games. A great deal of the gameplay focuses on light versus dark, and it certainly shows. The enemies tend to be shades of dark gray, black, and purple, accented with glowing eyes and details. I spent most of my time in the preview stumbling around the “jungle” biome, which is lush with luminescent plants and towering trees. Searching can uncover ruined cities, underground caves, and even sky islands, each with their own unique looks.
Since a great deal of the game will be spent looking for special types of ore, the developers were kind enough to give it a telltale gleam that sweeps across occasionally, even when there isn’t any light. Speaking of light, it can come in a variety of forms, including a blue chemical glow or the warm orange sizzle of good old fire. The light spreads out in a realistic fashion, blocked by the environment and flavoring it with the appropriate color.
Overall, the graphics lack the charm of Terrarria, but in its place they evoke a definite feeling of tension and foreboding, teaching you to have a very reasonable fear of the dark.
It is tricky to judge a resource gathering game on its gameplay, because so much of the game depends upon blindly searching for materials and seeing what you can make with them. Until you get over that initial rough patch of having no tools and no shelter, it is a chore. Darkout actually took an interesting approach to alleviating that by having you begin the game next to the wreckage of your escape pod. You are able to loot some baseline equipment and resources from it, then bust it up for scrap. It was a great way to give the player a leg-up in the game.
The controls were hit and miss for me. There were a lot of things that I really liked about them, like the ability to look quite far away simply by moving your mouse to the edges of the screen while your inventory and other sub-windows are closed. Likewise I was impressed by the double-decker action bar. Aside from the usual sifting through it with your mouse wheel and jumping around with the number keys, the upper and lower boxes in each column are mapped to the left and right mouse buttons respectively. Even better, the first action box contains the word “auto” in it, and keeping this box highlighted means that simply by left clicking on a resource, the game will automatically equip you with the proper tool to harvest it. These are some great ideas.
Some of the control choices that gave me trouble had to do with picking up items versus operating them. Since both mouse buttons allow you to use items, you have to hold shift and click to do something besides use an item. Left click operates things, right click picks them up. Now, I realize this isn’t going to be a problem for everyone, but I can’t tell you the number of times I picked up my door rather than opening it. Nothing beats sifting through my inventory for fifteen seconds to find a door, assign it to a key, and place it again, all while being attacked by the monsters that I specifically created the door to protect me from.
Let’s talk about those monsters for a bit. Darkout decided to make combat a two stage process. Enemies need to be exposed to a light source until they reach “Whiteout” status before you can kill them with normal weapons, sort of like Alan Wake. Ideally you achieve this by filling your environment with massive amounts of bright light, but early in the game you just don’t have the resources to do that. The alternative is actually attacking them with a light source. As a result, my main weapon through much of the early game was a glow torch. I died a lot.
Fortunately, death isn’t as much of a setback in this game as in many similar ones. Rather than dropping the entire contents of your inventory, death only drops your current equipment, and it drops said equipment in a handy little box. Thus, if you’re about to die, a valid way to avoid having to slog through half the world without your fancy duds is to strip into your inventory. There are other penalties, like losing half of your health upon respawn and half of the power in any power sources, but those are small problems in comparison to the hardship of rebuilding your wardrobe.
I’d like to complain about the scarcity of certain valuable resources, like tar, but honestly, that’s the point of the game. Instead, I’ll complain about the research system. This is an innovative idea, where you need to discover the necessary components to research an item, then research it, then build it. Certain items, when first built, will unlock the next tier in research, thus allowing you to move forward to more complex things. On the surface, this is a great way to tease you forward into the game. In my case, the lack of a firm indicator of what items will open useful branches of the tech tree left me uselessly flailing about trying to find the path to enlightenment. I’d like to make sulfuric acid, but apparently I need a chem lab. I’ve researched and built everything else available to me, so presumably there is a magic resource out there which will trigger the lab or its precursors in my research screen. No idea what it is. Give me a hint!
If you can get past rough patches like this—by the way Iron was the missing ingredient—a deep game involving jet packs, hover sleds, power generators, and power management is built from scratch. Good stuff. In the end, this is like so many other similar games, it is a wiki game. Find yourself a decent wiki, plan out your progression, and suddenly the structure and fun of the game will reveal itself.
This being a beta, I’m not going to focus too much on the sound. The music is ominous and atmospheric, reminding me more than a bit of the Tron 2 soundtrack, which isn’t a bad thing. There isn’t any voice work, and the animal noises are pretty basic, sparse, and sometimes confusing. Hopefully this is an area that will be polished a bit going forward.
There’s a touch more story to this game than many in the Genre. Honestly, the very fact that you begin beside a crashed escape pod injects more story than Minecraft. On top of it you have an info module in your inventory with some background, but I’d still suggest that it isn’t the story but the exploration that will draw you forward.
There are still a few rough edges to work out in this game. The combat didn’t float my boat, the controls were a little tricky, and the route to progression is a slice obtuse, but the framework of a deep and engaging game is firmly in place in Darkout. A few tweaks here, a few hints there, and I think we’ll find ourselves with a darker, more atmospheric alternative to Terrarria.