I oft made it known how much I appreciate shorter, more succinct games these days; gone are endless hours spent in a single title. I’m also a fan of dark storytelling and visuals, simple yet effective puzzle mechanics, and games that pitch the pace well. And wouldn’t you know it, DARQ fits that exact bill.
Put simply, it is one of the finer 2 hours gaming I’ve spent this year. Originally released a while back on last gen, this is the Series S|X version I checked out, offering up the usual plethora of enhancements as well as bundling in the two DLC levels previously released. It also makes use of Smart Delivery so if you already own it now is a great time to jump back in, and if not, well, you shouldn’t miss out on it.
There’s no direct story-telling in DARQ, instead we’re left to piece things together as we play. Playdead’s Limbo and Inside are clear inspirations, and Unfold Games do an admirable job of taking what is so good about those titles – tight pacing, interesting and coherent world building, and plenty of obscure visuals – and making it their own. From the store description though we learn that we play as Lloyd, a young boy who is aware he is dreaming. These dreams waste no time in turning nightmarish, so he must traverse the scenarios to solve puzzles allowing him to escape. It’s all a bit creepy, but the sense of place is excellent despite the bizarre and sometimes horrific imagery. Some of the locales and enemies are some body-horror creations, while others are just unsettling.
It’d all be for nowt if the mechanics didn’t back it up though, and DARQ is excellent to play. While the visuals are 3D, we can only move Lloyd on a 2D plane. While this keeps things a little simpler, he also has the ability to alter gravity, letting him walk on walls and ceilings at times, opening up the areas in a fantastic way. This doesn’t just alter Lloyd as well; some puzzles need us to move him about in order to move physic objects in the background. There are also plenty of items to find that are used in the puzzles along the way, as well as switched which can change whole sections of rooms around, or raise a bridge letting us go across – and under – it.
What I liked most about DARQ’s approach to puzzle design was that despite the potential for being overwhelmed with options I only ever found myself truly stuck once, and that was an oversight on my part, not the game. They’re not the most challenging of puzzles, mostly just taking an object to the other interactive parts and seeing if it works, but the way they are laid out is smart and, most importantly, fun. Back tracking is kept to a minimum (not that the levels are overly large to begin with) and even then there’s usually something thrown in to keep things fresh. It’s tough not to spoil too much considering the brief runtime, but suffice to say I don’t see players getting frustrated or bored before reaching the credits. There is a nice variety of thigs to do as well, from simply placing objects in the right place to little logic and perspective puzzles. Each chapter last no more than 20 minutes, with this helping to stave off any chance of boredom or repetition.
The DLC levels up the ante a little, with some new twists on the mechanics and are well worth checking out after completing the campaign, though the option is there to do them first if you wish.
There’s no shortage of 2D puzzle platformers out there, but few are done with such style, pacing, and intuitiveness as DARQ. A thoroughly enjoyable 2 hours of play that knows not to try and artificially pad the runtime and dilute the experience. The fantastic audio/visual work helps suck us into the atmosphere, and combined with smart puzzle mechanics and movement these add up to make DARQ an easily recommended play.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.