I have been fairly critical of most of the horror games I’ve been tasked with reviewing at Game Industry News. Even ones I was initially excited for, like Apsulov, failed to stick the landing. Some others that I reviewed like The Beast Inside never even got off the ground. So, when DARQ was handed to me, which happened because a lot of the DLCs for it were added to the so-called complete edition and then ported to the Nintendo Switch, where I was tasked with reviewing it, I was told all about the many awards it had already won. But being skeptical and previously bitten several times by supposedly award-winning titles, I was cautious. Although not to give away too much of a spoiler this early on in the review, I ended up very much enjoying my time on the DARQ side.
DARQ begins with your character, a boy named Lloyd, waking up in bed at the start of an expansive, lucid nightmare. There is no tutorial, which seemed strange to me for a modern game, although I suppose it serves to introduce players into a game where they play a kid who does not really know what is going on. So, while strange, the lack of a tutorial was not entirely unwelcome. I have been playing older titles that don’t tell the player the controls, as was the style back in the day, and it helped me quickly master DARQ. At the very least, you have plenty of time to get used to the controls in a safe area, as opposed to say a title where you are in combat from the start.
The first thing you will notice is that DARQ offers a beautifully rendered art style that sells the psychological aspect of it. The color palette successfully uses black, white, and shades of gray to build a mood. DARQ thus provides a mind-bending adventure through the nightmares of the child who you are playing, and it seems pretty real as childhood dreams go. Everything feels almost Tim Burton inspired, which is nice for a grouchy old man like me who remembers when Nightmare Before Christmas was what every goth girl in high school wanted to watch. And unlike, say, a survival horror game or a shooter, DARQ uses puzzles as the main medium to move it forward. Before we go further, I had to ask myself if I would consider DARQ a horror game.
The answer, for me, was a soft no.
I do, however, consider it a psychological adventure. And I find myself wondering if horror is like comedy in that it can be kind of subjective. DARQ creeped me out more than, say, the agony of Pineview Drive, which also tried to do psychological horror but not nearly as well or as elegantly as DARQ.
However, there is not the same feel as P.T. or The Evil Within. While this may seem like a digression, it brings me to my final feeling after following Llyod through his nightmare. DARQ is perfect for those who want the little creepy feeling, but not enough that it keeps you from sleeping.
The main gameplay in DARQ is puzzle based, which can mean sneaking around powerful enemies and getting back into a safe area. In a lot of ways, it kind of reminds me of classic titles with similar mechanics like Little Nightmares or even a classic like Limbo, which shares its color palette. The mechanics of DARQ changes quite often too. It starts off requiring simple clicks to move around, and then gradually adds more elements, sometimes turning learned mechanics upside down or adding the need for precise timing. None of the puzzles are really difficult, but many are challenging.
Although I wanted to leave the awards out of the review, I think now is a time to bring them back in. DARQ is a great entry into the horror/psychological genre, and I love how DARQ is story focused and uses its gameplay loop to help the story instead of busy work. There is no padding to make it longer, and everything seems to be there for a reason, which is why it won so many awards, I’m sure. The following is an accolades trailer going all the way back to when the original game without any DLCs was released for the PC. And I have to say, it really has earned those awards in my opinion.
DARQ is a great game, especially the ultimate edition which is only $24.99 for the Nintendo Switch at the time of this review and includes all of the content updates that have released since DARQ launched.
I played DARQ on the Switch, and it was fun when docked or on the go with the portable screen. DARQ is by far one of the best horror-like titles that I’ve played in years, and I can see it having a wide appeal that spans both expert and casual players, and that is not something that happens too often. If you are at all interested in puzzle titles or very light horror, then DARQ has a lot to offer.