The world of Darkout is not inviting. Everything is bathed in darkness, monsters roam freely, and your initial resources are scarce. Worse, though, is the initial hump you must get over just to come to grips with confusing menus, a bad tutorial, and crafting systems that aren’t explained–and all for a 2D sandbox game that feels overfamiliar.
It’s hard not to compare Darkout to Terraria when the influences are so obvious. So many of the elements, especially early on, are the same click for click. After crash-landing on a procedurally generated world, you are instructed to chop some wood and use that wood to build a shelter (complete with blocks, background walls, and a door). Then you are told to craft a bed (where you respawn if you die) and are invited to take your axe, shovel, and pickaxe to explore the world and all the resources it has to offer. Stop me if this sounds familiar, and I won’t have to go into detail about the islands floating in the sky or the fact that torches can be your best friends in caves.
The builder difficulty setting lets you build anything without worrying about resources, so your base can look really advanced really fast.
It’s tempting to simply write, “Here are the ways Darkout and Terraria are the same. Here are the ways in which they’re different.” This is because Darkout doesn’t do quite enough to differentiate itself, making it harder to discuss Darkout as its own entity. But at least it tries. Darkout is, as you might guess, a much darker game in both tone and aesthetic.
Of course, this is far from the first game to clone the success that was Terraria (which you could say was itself a 2D clone of Minecraft), but it doesn’t help that Darkout makes a bad first impression. For the first hour at least, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Darkout’s best elements were borrowed and that the game they were borrowed from did everything better. With a few wrong clicks, you can accidentally toss or squander resources that are imperative for your early survival, especially if you happen to miss the small window of tutorial text that awkwardly (and poorly) teaches you the basics. As the game teaches you how to craft items, you have to deal with inconvenient and hard-to-use menu sliders, making it difficult to choose the exact number of items you want. There isn’t even any music to properly set the mood.
The excitement of “What will I discover next?” is diminished when you know the answer is something like “More dark, rocky environments.”
Early on, you do a lot of exploring in the dark.
Fortunately, there are some elements of Darkout that immediately feel well-thought-out and well-executed, chief among them being a single item on your hotbar that automatically uses the appropriate tools when you’re exploring. With this selected, you never have to manually switch to your axe to chop a tree and then to your shovel to dig at the spot where it was. Tools are automatically used based on where your cursor is, which is a terrific time-saver.
Unlike many 2D sandbox games that leave you to your own devices (Terraria included), Darkout tries to add a sense of purpose to this formula with the introduction of a story. While exploring, you might find data logs hinting at the world’s disastrous past or warning you of danger that lurks in the dark. You might also get a few hints about what to do next, starting with deploying a distress beacon. Sadly, this story is easy to ignore, even on accident. Close a text box before looking at it closely enough, and you might spend a dozen hours not realizing there is a story at all, much less anything resembling a goal or quest. So what could have been one of Darkout’s bigger differentiators instead becomes something that doesn’t matter at all. It’s executed too poorly to make you care.
Exploring becomes much easier when your suit has lights.
So you spend hours upon hours exploring, mostly mining the same materials and fighting the same enemies wherever you go. Even on a “small” world, different environments are far apart with few things of interest in between, and many look too similar to each other. The excitement of “What will I discover next?” is diminished when you know the answer is something like “More dark, rocky environments.” And don’t bother diving deep into the large oceans you may find, because there is nothing in them. The developers say they’re planning more environments for a future update, but right now there is too little variety.
The one area where Darkout tries to innovate most is research. Beyond simply crafting materials, you can spend resources and points (earned by exploring, collecting, and crafting) on new items and technologies via a research tab. Researching new light sources is especially important, because enemies are more vulnerable to your attacks when exposed to light. Of course, advanced lights demand power, so you soon find yourself researching wires and sockets so you can power up your buildings in true high-tech fashion. Like the rest of the game, wiring can be needlessly confusing at first, but it can also be incredibly satisfying when everything comes together in a base that feels futuristic. Crafting becomes more interesting when you create objects like elevators and jetpacks.
The thing is, for as many flaws as it has and as mundane as many parts of it can be, I found myself hating the game less at hour 12 than I did at hour two. Once I had mastered the controls and gotten a grasp of the crafting and research systems, I started getting excited about what I might be able to build next. New suits were particularly enticing goals to work toward, because their ability to give off their own light made exploring below the surface much more efficient and enjoyable. I started to take more pride in my base, which was slowly being converted from a wooden shack to a sci-fi lab of copper walls and titanium doors. The more I invested, the more Darkout offered, and after 20 hours, I still haven’t built every item and read every data log. The content is there; it’s just awkwardly spaced.
Enemies are more vulnerable in the light, but their “run straight at you” approach doesn’t make them very difficult even in the dark.
But for as many hours as you can spend with (and enjoy) Darkout, too many elements are incomplete. There are even items with flavor text that simply reads “Coming soon!” It’s great to know more content is coming, but it’s needed now.
Lots of little annoyances add up to make Darkout less than than the sum of its influences, though they’re not enough to ruin the entire experience. Once you’re over the initial hump, there are things to like about the game, and it’s clear the developers are digging toward something more ambitious than is initially available. Hopefully more light can shine on the good parts in the future, because right now too much of the experience is just too dim.