Adventure Gamers Awards
The inventory/thought system, much to my dismay, is one of the key aspects unchanged from the original. Right-clicking opens up your inventory, in which you can view close-ups of your obtained objects in rotating 3D detail. You can also view the relevant thoughts that Howard records throughout the game, working in a style similar to a journal. My dislike of these systems comes from the need to combine thoughts and objects in a separate section of the interface by dragging them in, then clicking a combine icon. Nine times out of ten this returns a canned ‘This is wrong’ message, making it quite cumbersome to find the correct combination, especially when so many items and thoughts can be possessed at any given time.
Like its predecessor, this game also requires some heavy reading, as numerous pieces of literature littered around may need you to go over them with a fine-toothed comb in order to highlight important elements. Whilst the text can be a little overwhelming (especially by the fifth page of the second or third book in some rooms), it generally works well to slowly release more and more of the story, allowing players to piece together the mystery behind the game. On the hardest of three difficulty settings, you’ll need to mark key lines of text manually in order to proceed, though the easiest setting will highlight all the important elements automatically.
The difficulty level must be chosen at the beginning of the game, which impacts how challenging certain tasks will be. The Dark Lineage follows a far more natural progression and balanced difficulty level on the ‘Standard’ (easiest) setting than the original Darkness Within, but anyone daring to play on the harder settings will certainly feel the steep incline. No matter which level you choose, there are certainly puzzles that will challenge even the most confident detective, but some of the challenge comes from awkward design issues.
One particular example that had me completely stumped for some time was having to purchase an item from a store. In order to do this, I needed to select the item on display, which gives a generic 'This is a [insert name here]' message. Only then does a dialogue option magically become available to buy the item from the store clerk. That might be acceptable under certain circumstances, but this object was surrounded by many others, all providing the same kinds of unhelpful messages, forcing you to click through every one just to be sure, and then still not immediately knowing if it’s had any effect. A simple inclusion of the dialogue option from the start, or at least a notable comment from the protagonist upon seeing it, would have literally saved me hours of frustration, and that is only one of many minor design decisions that end up working against the player.
Even more distressing is the uncertainty about whether a puzzle is simply challenging or actually broken. There were two moments that I found myself in this predicament, where on each occasion no amount of detective work would have got me through, at least until the game decided it was time to let me. The first was a lock mechanic that simply did not function, not even after I had created graphs in order to ensure I’d tried every single permutation. It wasn’t until advancing the story a little further elsewhere that I discovered it had miraculously been enabled. Equally frustrating was the second occasion, this time a game-breaking bug. At one point the game is designed to automatically lock you inside a room with no means of escape. However, the doors close automatically when you move a certain distance away from them, so when I decided to continue my investigation without going inside, the door shut and locked, but with me on the opposite side than the game intended. It took quite a while for me to figure out what had happened, as I had no idea how to get into this mysteriously locked door. Thankfully I save regularly, so make sure you do too!
Despite the more liberating freedom of movement in general, the game sometimes takes complete control of your character. Unfortunately, this occurs at all of the key moments in the game, in which Howard is meant to be spooked by a sudden shocking scene, such as a corpse lurking around a corner or a slow turn to face a startling stranger. The effectiveness of these scenes becomes null and void as the sudden loss of control ruins all sense of immersion. If handled with more care, these moments could have been perfectly efficient in-game cutscenes, but they’re too brief and too awkward for that to be the case.
Whilst a great deal more of the Darkness Within storyline is unveiled here than in the first game, the conclusion still left me wanting to know more. While this adventure is meant to wrap up the two-game series, it almost feels like Darkness Within 2 is meant to be a stepping stone for something still grander, and reluctantly tries to tie off loose ends with the game’s finale. The premise of the story is solid enough and the method of storytelling is sufficient, but the many questions raised throughout never truly get resolved, and a few events that unfold at the close of the game add even more mysteries and confusion.
While I certainly commend the developers for the steps taken to upgrade the series technically, I can really only recommend Darkness Within 2: The Dark Lineage to existing series fans. It’s certainly not a bad game, just a flawed one that isn’t as good as it easily could have been. The new engine allows for much greater immersion, and the chilling atmosphere can definitely draw you in. Unfortunately, with some cumbersome design choices and a vague storyline that’s never adequately concluded, it’s a case of two steps forward and one step back, as the potential is clearly demonstrated before falling short and leaving you wishing for more. If you’re a fan of the original, you will likely be more than happy with the 8-10 hours of play time offered here, but others may just want to whistle past this particular darkness.