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Darkout Review | Despairia

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Allgraf, PC, PC games, Sandbox games, Survival

Darkout Review | Despairia

Platform: PC

Developer: Allgraf

Publisher: KISS Ltd

Darkout creates atmosphere better than any crafting sandbox game I've ever played.

Though heavily influenced by Terraria and Minecraft, this new procedural indie effort swaps lurid voxels for dense backgrounds and a rich colour palette, stranding us on a twilight forest world where shadowy predators hunt us through rippling bioluminescent foliage. Our unlucky astronaut is forced to subsist from the most primitive basics, crafting primitive shelters and tools from whatever they can find before eventually bringing outrageous future technology to bear, all while desperately trying to keep the lights on. There's a sense of real purpose, of threat, despair and desperation, that you rarely get from a procedural craft'em up.

Darkout Review | Despairia

Mind you, the player character model sticks out like a sore thumb: a clunky cutesy cartoon caricature who undoes almost all of Allgraf's good work in an instant. They've promised to improve the art assets across the board, but I'm afraid that this is a symptom of Darkout's biggest flaw.

Despite not being an Early Access title, it's neither complete nor fully ready yet.

Once your eyes adjust to the dark alluring colour palette, Darkout's first impression quickly slides from impressive to awful thanks to a limp tutorial, an interface that's barely fit for task and a creeping sense of deja vu. Calling it a Terraria clone is absolutely unfair (all creative projects have their influences, and the developers were up-front about Terraria's impact), but Allgraf haven't done themselves any favours, instead emulating mechanics wholesale without making any effort to improve, refine or streamline them.

Darkout Review | Despairia

Even though we're told that survival is the main goal, keeping horrible nocturnal creatures at bay with light sources while gradually building a base and exploring more of the planet, we'll spend more time looking at menus than the gorgeous artwork, navigating a UI designed to flummox and irritate and every turn. Juggling even the most basic of tools and building materials is time-consuming and unintuitive (not to mention an infuriatingly fiddly crafting system), and detracts from the atmosphere Allgraf strived to create.

As does the busywork. Much like any crafting game, much of your time is spent collecting raw materials - wood, stone, dirt, ores, tar and more exotic substances derived from slain creatures - in order to build shelters and useful items. It's a vital part of the process, but it's also incredibly tedious and leads to a horrible first few hours. Coupled with hopelessly cumbersome animations (your character looks like a Team America reject no matter what gender you choose) and hilariously basic enemy AI, many players would be entirely forgiven for quitting less than two hours in.

Darkout Review | Despairia

Don't despair, though, since Darkout's unique atmosphere brings new challenges to overcome. Disgusting extraterrestial predators attack with impunity during the lengthy night-time hours, forcing you to drive them back by crafting light sources, and building ever more elaborate fortifications. Superb lighting effects and areas of pitch-darkness makes for a genuinely tense experience where every few metres of progress is nervy and exhilarating. The thrill and satisfaction of painstakingly creating your own safe havens is fantastic, perhaps even more so than the games that inspired it since we have a real purpose to accomplish, to survive rather than to just play about in a sandpit.

Indeed, Darkout's core premise is fantastic - surviving in a lush yet deadly environment, using light to push back the oppressive darkness and constantly running from nightmarish alien animals - but it often takes a back seat behind generic sandbox crafting. Going forward, Allgraf needs to seriously streamline their mechanics to put the focus on survival, tension and atmosphere, making sure that we spend the bulk of our time either nervously exploring, escaping in blind terror or creating our little beacon of civilisation rather than faffing about with the UI.

Darkout Review | Despairia

However. HOWEVER. Darkout rewards saintly patience by gradually unlocking new equipment and technology via a research system. Flaming arrows. More advanced building materials. Guns. Plasma guns. Now we're talking! Once you've researched wiring and other more advanced tech, Darkout suddenly feels like a completely different game with its own unique identity. The days of tedious manual labour become a thing of the past as you boost through the forests with a jetpack, a hovering dolly on hand to carry your spare resources, blasting all and sundry with exotic future weaponry. Elaborate bases and fortresses can be constructed and wired up, a time-consuming yet fulfilling endeavour that's like meticulously building your own Sci-Fi dollhouse. Plus, more advanced armour lets us cover our avatar's uncanny, weird, jarring faces.

It takes an age to get to this point, but when it does, Darkout becomes really rather excellent.

Sadly, right now, it's also undeniably unfinished. We're in stage one of four; awaiting more story resolution, more biomes, more environments, survivors, treasures and an endgame. Placeholder assets, spelling mistakes and other rough edges abound, making Darkout feel very much like an Early Access work in progress. In fact, it really should have launched as an early access game.

Darkout has clear potential, and I'd love to see where Allgraf take it, but I can't award it a higher score or wholeheartedly recommend spending £10 on it with a clear conscience. Not yet, anyway.

Pros:

  • Tense atmosphere, superb art design and rich backgrounds
  • Seriously cool futuristic technology and weaponry peps up the mid-to-late game
  • Versatile crafting; nervy and exhilarating exploration

Cons:

  • Horrible UI and tedious busywork a go-go
  • Numerous features not implemented at launch: from assets to end-game content
  • Feels derivative; cribs mechanics without meaningful streamlining or refinement
  • Embarrassing character models undermine tone and atmosphere

The Short Version: Darkout has obvious potential as an atmospheric and focused survival game with crafting elements, especially if future updates can streamline and refine its core mechanics.

But it probably should have released as an Early Access work-in-progress. Too many unfinished elements and rough edges remain to recommend Darkout at this stage, unless you're willing to take a punt invest. I'll aim to revisit it down the line, so watch this space.

Darkout Review | Despairia

Add a comment2 comments
DesG  Dec. 11, 2013 at 21:37

Windows only, no Mac or Linux.


Might keep an eye on it, it looks damn nice!

JonLester  Dec. 16, 2013 at 22:41

UPDATE: according to Darkout's PR team, incomplete beta builds were mistakenly dispatched to all reviewers instead of content-complete review builds. This is odd since Steam usually allows games to be patched to the latest version automatically, but not impossible.

I'll take a look at the new/updated/correct (?) build and decide what action to take once I'm back in the office.

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