Darkout is a side scrolling, sandbox indie game in the vein of such recent hits as Minecraft and particularly Terraria, but this time with a sci fi veneer. Somewhat of a sleeper hit already, judging by the size of it’s fledgling online community (complete with wikia and forum boards) Darkout scratches that sandbox itch of exploration and building and builds upon established norms of the genre but with a few unique twists.
Darkout casts you as the survivor of a stasis pod crashed on the surface of an alien world, the player choosing the name of the character and the name of the randomly generated world. Upon arrival the tutorial instructs you on how to interact with your various menus, avoid the enemies that hide in the dark, how to salvage what is left from your escape pod, how to construct a small wooden house and set up some light to keep away the monsters in the dark. At the point the game decides to leave you to your own devices. For Darkout, you see, is part of that genre of games like Minecraft and Terraria – you are dropped into a sandbox of minerals with the only objective being “do what thou wilt”. The world is yours to expand and explore, and it is up to you to create a suitably awesome base and set of equipment to continue and explore more. There’s literally no story in Darkout apart from what you make it.
Darkout is presented in side scrolling form, so there is a fair bit of basic platforming required. The controls of your avatar are generally sharp, and there is little to no sliding, but I occasionally found myself wishing for slightly tighter controls. Darkout’s gameplay is effective, though occasionally frustrating. The real meat of Darkout’s gaming experience comes with the mining, building and crafting system. The mining system is very well done the best tool for the job is automatically selected once you choose to mine something, and that does indeed save a lot of time. You can mine or chop or harvest pretty much anything standing and there were long periods where I just dug a line straight down in the ground without any difficulty to get to my precious veins of copper and coal. The downside of this is that though the each world is randomly generated sometimes you’ll end up in a cool world with lots of stuff you like and need and other times you’ll just face a cliff you have to dig through. Digging for half an hour solid is kind of fulfilling but I also wanted more varied exploration.
Once you’ve got enough resources you can turn them into buildable materials – chopping down some trees gives you wood which you transform into…wood, but useable wood! From this wood you can build doors, floors, walls, roofs, etc. The more minerals you find the more things you can build – you can finally move out of that shabby dirt mound and into a copper fortress! My own base started out with a complete wooden cellar (to store the wine of course) and had a stony keep with copper safe room at the top (because my imagination goes to strange places). The building was really fun and satisfying, though sometimes it bugged out on me or I had to fulfil requirements which hadn’t been communicated to me – who knew you could only fill in back walls when you’d back walled the floor first (to no discernible aesthetic change)? Nonetheless I’ve checked out online other fortresses people have built and they put my little bunker to shame. With time, this game clearly rewards you.
As you dig or chop you accrue research points. You can spend these points on unlocking things (like a nice warm furnace, or some windows) to spruce up your home base and make it more effective. Once something is researched you can create it (given you have the correct materials). The game expands exponentially, as does your enjoyment. It’s a neat little skinner box of a gameplay system, and once it starts going it keeps going.
An indie game like Darkout doesn’t have the budget AAA games do to through at its graphics and music, but nonetheless it does a serviceable job. Perhaps most importantly in Darkout, light is very important. It determines which areas are safe from monsters, and of course where you can actually see. The lighting effects are really quite good, with the light shafting different ways depending on which objects are placed behind or in front of it, and having a realistic fading radius of ambience. The monster and character avatar models are quite nice as well, and the world you find yourself in was also nicely presented. The music is pleasantly ambient – reminiscent of Deus Ex Human Revolution in parts – but I found the game perhaps more relaxed listening to my own tunes while I played.
My biggest issue with Darkout was the lack of instruction. I dislike handholding in games as much as the next person, but when the tutorial stopped after I built a bed and said “okay, go and explore” without explaining the crafting system, how a generator works, how to do wiring, how to actually build protective suits etc. I felt, well, left in the dark. It took till my third game to find wooden platforms that function as proper stairs (I had instead been using walls because of reasons that I am silly). I had to turn to the online wikia a number of times as the manual only covered the controls, and not the crafting system in depth. While it doesn’t break the game in any way it is frustrating feeling ignorant knowing that you can do awesome stuff and not being given the know how to get in the right path. Though I acknowledge there is fun to be made in discovery on your own, I think a little bit more information would have made the experience that much better.
My first game of Darkout I felt, despite having read the manual and gone through the tutorial, like the monkeys at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey, banging on the computer. I was at a general loss at what to do, and how to do it. However at the start of my fifth game I had it down pat and, over the course of many more hours of figuring out what to do and refining my gameplay, I actually find myself enjoying the game quite a lot, and getting that “just one more turn” feeling as I hunted for that elusive vein of copper deep within the bowls of the alien planet. Darkout is definitely a game that takes time to get fully into, and if you don’t like these sorts of games it’s not going to convert you. But if you like a sandbox crafting/mining game with a nice sci fi and light based twist, and you’ve got the patience to wait for what is good then Darkout is worth a look. Just keep a link to the wikia open at all times.
- Addictive mechanics
- Great lighting effects
- Genuine feeling of accomplishment from exploring and building
- Digging forever can get boring
- Little to no in-game information about higher levels of crafting and research
- Building controls can be sometimes unintuitive
Written By Alex Holmes
Author’s note: The game is currently in the beta stage of development.