I promised myself that I wouldn’t get involved with yet another sandbox game, namely because I spend more time on them than I probably should. “Minecraft” nearly filed for a divorce when it heard that I had begun playing “Terraria” and later, “Block Story”. “Darkout” is more like “Terraria” than any of the aforementioned games in that the playing field is two-dimensional, but I have to admit that it’s quite different than what I had expected. It’s almost like a cross between “Terraria”, “Alan Wake”, and “A Valley Without Wind”, if you can wrap your head around that. Before we get started with the review, I’d like to thank Derek Reeve from Plan of Attack for providing me with a free press copy.
“Darkout”, just to put things in perspective, puts players in the role of either a male or female protagonist. Your escape pod has crash landed on the planet Illuna and you must survive by any means necessary, namely through finding resources, crafting items, and fighting off hostile creatures. These hostile creatures spawn in the darkness (sort of like in “Minecraft”), so you’ll need to light up the way and build yourself a base of operations from which to thrive. Before you even get there however, you’ll be able to choose between a small, medium, or large world, name it, and even specify a seed number, if you so desire. Player customization is limited to sex and outfit color, for the most part.
Upon first glance, the art style bore a resemblance to “A Valley Without Wind”, though I found “Darkout” to be more aesthetically pleasing. The ambience is simply gorgeous and drew me in almost immediately. I had to remember at times that I was actually playing a game and that there were hostile aliens trying to kill me. Along those lines, the interface was fluid and familiar. Having spent months playing “Terraria”, I was used to the standard action bar and inventory system, though their respective locations on the UI differ. Interacting with the environment, on the other hand, was a mixed bag. The keybinds aren’t customizable, so I had to figure out when shift clicking was and wasn’t appropriate. To top that off, your action bar has two rows, one for your right mouse click and one for your left. It’s easy (at least, it was for me) to get turned around and perform actions you don’t mean to do.
The process of mining and building differ slightly from other sandbox games I’ve played. For one, you have to first refine the raw materials before you can actually “build” with it. Mining is fairly simple in that you don’t have to manually switch tools…rather, there’s an “auto” button in your action bar that will automatically use the appropriate tool depending on the resource you’ve clicked. Like “Terraria”, tiers exist as far as tools are concerned…meaning you can’t mine certain things until you have the appropriate level tool. One might find that annoying, but I find that it gives the game a sense of progression. What’s the point of owning all that shiny stuff if you didn’t work for it? Finally, it’s worth mentioning that you can toggle the number of blocks you mine from one to three, if you’re looking to mine in bulk.
Unlike “Terraria”, you won’t have access to all of the buildable items from the get go. Rather, you’ll need to unlock these craftable items through research. Research can occur any time you’d like and there’s no workbench or structure required to make use of it (unlike crafting). On the flip side, research takes time and requires research points, which can be earned by mining, crafting, building, and harvesting (mainly). Once you’ve researched something in particular, it’ll appear on your crafting menu. If you’re worried that this game won’t hold a plethora of items to craft, you needn’t…the list is quite extensive.
Combat is fairly straight-forward…when possible, stay OUT of the darkness (at least, early on). Like “Minecraft”, most monsters spawn in the dark areas, making torches and the like important to have up and functioning. As such, having a generous supply around your base and wherever you’re mining is generally a good idea. It reminds me of my “Alan Wake” days in that enemies are weaker in the light than they are in the dark. There will come a point where you’ll kick the bucket, though luckily the penalties aren’t all the severe. You’ll respawn at either your bed or starting location, depending on whether or not you have the former. Sleeping in your bed will regenerate health, though there are consumables, armor buffs, and the like that will aid you from having to do so all the time.
There are some glaring problems with the game, namely in the form of a learning curve. The tutorial leaves much to be desired, for one. I died at least five times while trying to read the instructions presented to me and to top that off, some of the important functions aren’t even mentioned. For example, you’ll be tasked with clearing flat land so that you can begin building a house…it’s kind of hard to do that if you don’t know how to switch your mining preference from the default three blocks to one. Don’t get me started on getting the door to fit the house properly…it took me a half hour to figure out that you need to build a floor first and place a door on top of it as opposed to using the natural ground. Between trying to figure out what buttons I needed to click and getting objects to interact properly, I honestly wanted to call it quits during my first hour…it’s EXTREMELY frustrating and not very user-friendly to the uninitiated. The fact that I found the controls and character movement/interaction to be a bit clunky didn’t help matters any.
It can be difficult to write a review on a game that takes months to fully appreciate. I didn’t get as far in my travels as others might have, so I’m sure some might simply chalk the above complaints up to me needing to “learn to play, noob”. The fact of the matter is, I’d love to, if the game gave me the tools I needed to succeed in the first place. Some of the tutorial message are wrong…telling you to left-click when you need to right-click and so on. When you have to Google for help on learning how to play a game, then something is seriously wrong. With that said, the art style and ambience are by far my favorite features, followed up by the depth of the research and crafting system. It’s similar to “Terraria” but isn’t, as both have their own unique quirks that require getting used to. To that end, I won’t even begin to try and determine which is better…they are two separate beasts that have qualities most fans of the genre will either love or hate. I do enjoy playing “Terraria” more, but only because it’s been out longer and has had more time to grow.
“Darkout” has the potential to be an enjoyable experience IF you have the patience to learn its ins and outs. A better tutorial and more in-game help would be most welcome. As it stands, “Darkout” is both fun and frustrating, especially when you’re actively trying to learn and accomplish something. To be fair, some gamers enjoy beating their head against a wall…I do not. If the developers can fix these issues and regularly add free content as the makers of “Terraria” have done, then “Darkout” could amass quite a following. While the game currently sports a single player only experience, there are plans to introduce multiplayer down the line. Unfortunately, there is no demo, though the game is certainly affordable at $14.99 via the official website. Further, a Steam sale takes it down to $12.74 until December 11th and Amazon has it listed for $9.99 (as of 12/4/13)…certainly worth a moment to check out, at least.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Editor’s Note: I received this email from the publisher on 12/16/13:
“Due to unforeseen circumstances the Steam code that was sent to you previously for Darkout was not the full version of the game for review. There have been a number of reviews commenting on the game’s unfinished state, which was a result of you being sent the beta build and not the commercial launch version that is currently available.”
As a result, the above score may or may not be valid. Time permitting, I’ll revisit the game and adjust my review appropriately, if it is warranted.
You can learn more about and purchase “Darkout” by visiting the following websites: