Feardemic’s DARQ: Complete Edition is a hidden gem, one that somehow hits almost every note right and sets itself apart from the rest. Find out why in our review for DARQ: Complete Edition.
+Uniquely designed puzzles that require players to think outside the box
+Artistic designs bring forth a very beautiful and familiar Burton-esque vibe
+The use of small encapsulated areas within a 2D environment works rather well
+Room changing mechanics make puzzles complex and rather fun.
-Stealth segments feel underplayed and could have been expanded on
-Can be rather difficult to navigate at times for newer gamers
For years, I’ve found puzzle games boring, or less than ideal as someone who can figure them out with unsurprising ease (the last real challenge for me was The 7th Guest back in the 90s) and at times, I find them hard to enjoy. Little Nightmares, Tiny Brains, and The Talos Principle are only a few of the puzzle games in modern times that have given me some form of challenge.
Then here comes DARQ: Complete Edition, a title I’d only heard of in passing from some of my gaming pals over on Discord. The first thing that comes out is rather clear: DARQ: Complete Edition, had to be or seemingly be, inspired by the works of Tim Burton. The game comes with the tone of titles like Little Nightmares and the aesthetic of Tim Burton’s Coraline and Franken Weenie.
The tone is all-too-similar, but also, the art style is hard to ignore. It’s a telling of a boy who somehow breaches the world of nightmares and is haunted by those very elements of his life. But, as someone who appreciates surrealist elements of both art and interactive mediums, it was hard not to notice this: It’s about mental health, quite possibly PTSD. Though, due to how little story there is, this is something you will have to interpret yourself as you explore the world.
DARQ: Complete Edition is filled with little nightmares and the puzzles that bring them to life
In DARQ: Complete Edition, you will find that introductions are not so simple, at least not at first. This is a game that comes in at you with a minimalist approach and asks you to explore what it has to offer. This means it won’t hold your hands with hints, tutorials, or give you any form of way to ease yourself in.
Your opening seconds are learning how to navigate Lloyd’s room, moving to his bed, hitting the action button (square on PlayStation consoles), and then watch him be whisked away into the nightmares that haunt his sleepless nights. The first puzzle is rather simple. You’ll learn how to turn the rooms, use items, and manipulate the layout of the rooms.
Upon learning these baser mechanics, the game begins to open up rather quickly, having you learn how to crouch so that you can sneak past threatening NPCs that will begin to fill the world with each new puzzle. It’s not as threatening as it seems due to how rare each of those stealth-like encounters actually are. The game will force you to think outside the box as you progress. It’s necessary as each puzzle isn’t designed in a 2D mindset, but rather, a 3D one using a 2D approach to design. If you’ve played FEZ, you’ll be right at home.
Due to how simple, yet complex, the game actually is, you’ll find that the game is incredibly dark and that each area (puzzle) you do, is as creepy as the next, and that the game itself is a darkly beautiful tale.
The art style sets the game apart from many others, but also, so do its mechanics that help tell the story
What sets DARQ: Complete Edition apart from the rest is that while it is rather short – it took me 6 hours to beat the base game of six levels plus the DLC puzzles – its complexity is astounding. Much of this comes in the shape of the overall art style itself, which believe it or not, is extremely important due to how many elements of it, including the name, hinge on remaining a dark and foreboding experience.
The art style is rather complex in the fact it’s almost claymation-like, each piece of it feeling as if it was perfectly sculpted out of real-world materials with clay-like characters running about, some only being hidden in the background or foreground spaces. The world itself, however, is where things take a unique twist.
Since the game is designed in a 2D element, do not be surprised that you will need to manipulate the world in multiple ways. You’ll have to spin it by walking up to some walls, pressing X (PlayStation controls only), and letting the world spin. As you do, this will open up new set pieces themselves, allowing you to see things you hadn’t seen before due to those elements having been inaccessible or out of view at the time.
Some of these puzzles include manipulating the view of the world, twisting it in some cases with the use of handles in the center of the level, making it so you spin the world and view each path from a different angle. This becomes a centerpiece for many of the late-game puzzles, making you have to memorize patterns, pathways, and the layouts of each of the rooms.
You’ll even have to familiarize your way through some of the puzzles as you will have to sometimes change the layouts, manipulating the layout of a corridor so that the corresponding pieces match and allow for the puzzle to open up. It’s unique and honestly, it makes it so that you’ll wish other games took a note from these very elements themselves.
However, you may need to adjust your brightness as the game is purely in a greyscale tone (sepia on some occasions), which can make it a bit difficult at times to spot out pieces you’ll need in order to complete your puzzles.
The survival-horror elements do exist and they will make that very clear as you proceed through the game
The survival-horror elements of this title do exist for those of you who are wondering. DARQ: Complete Edition isn’t shy that it’s going to try and scare the crap out of you when it can and it will when you least expect it. The jump scares, as few as there are, aren’t overused or recycled in any way. They’re unique to each level and they will distill a sense of anxiety when they happen.
You will feel that urgency that Lloyd does when they begin to pursue him, chasing him or jumping out at him when they must, and doing so in quite the fashion. This is where the psychological effect outside of level design comes into play. You see, for me, this game became a title about mental health struggles through surrealistic designs.
Some elements included the nightmares Lloyd would have, or the nature of each puzzle itself, giving us an idea of what Lloyd had gone through and why he would rather sleep the night away. These very elements come into play with both stealth and non-stealth segments rather quickly.
It’s a very foreboding feeling and one that is almost trigger-inducing as it could hit rather home to those who can relate to the story that each level tells. It’s quite unique and really gives the idea that the developers wanted each experience to play out differently for every other person as the story itself, in many ways, is up to self-interpretation.
But there are moments where, for me as a person, I felt sadness, despair, loneliness, and even at times – pure anxiety due to the atmosphere of the story and the feelings that the levels gave off through their artistic designs. It’s something that once you think about – it’s rather impressive as very few games attempt to do such things.
Sound-design really, really, sets the game apart from other puzzle titles for quite a few reasons
Now, one thing we have to talk about: Sound design. We all know that the art design is extremely unique to video games and it works heavily in the developer’s favor. Except, for me, there was one thing that stood out a bit more: Sound.
The sound design here is haunting and it was a puzzle game I couldn’t actually play while in a party chat with my pals. The reason? Everything really comes together when your headphones are on full blast and you are completely immersed in the experience you will have while helping Lloyd navigate through each of his nightmare-filled nights.
Whether it’s the roaring of trains as they zoom past you or the soft creaking of the wood floors of the train as he walks across them. Sometimes it’s the soft zapping of a wire nearby or the generator’s gears in the room you just left. Perhaps even the soft pattering of feet from somewhere out of sight.
It’s these elements that are always coming to life, causing players to have to consider and pay attention to the finer details of the game. Each one plays a massive role and the largest comes in the shape of sound as each level will stand out, each one will pop differently from the other, and each element comes together in one unique and cohesive experience.
But, as we come to the conclusion to this review, I want to make this clear: I don’t normally experience games like this. To me, this one was not one I could just write in some super professional tone: It’s just that unique. It’s a title that spoke on levels not seen before and really, really, brought home that feeling of mental health struggles, anxiety, and survival-horror-induced enjoyment.
DARQ: Complete Edition
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch
Versions Reviewed: PlayStation 5
Publisher: Unfold Games
Release Date: Available Now
With that being said, this is one that will prod your brain. DARQ: Complete Edition will make you play it time and time again, hunting down secret encounters, secret items, and hoping you’ve somehow managed to survive along the way for the best experience yet. For what it’s worth, this is one of those few in the sea of many, that somehow slid under the radar and deserves the chance you’ll give it if you haven’t yet.
Our review is based upon a retail version of the game provided to us by the publisher for the review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native video game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook today.