STAFF REVIEW of DARQ: Complete Edition (Xbox One)

Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

DARQ: Complete Edition Box art It’s no secret that developers borrow from one another, be it under the guise of ‘inspiration’ or not, but the ones that are able to take a known style but make it their own are usually the ones that are more memorable. If you’re a fan of Little Nightmares, Limbo or Inside, then you’re going to instantly become intrigued by what developers Unfold Games have created with DARQ. It’s obvious that those classic games were the inspiration for DARQ, but they’ve put their own flair into the mix, creating a short but unique experience that looks like it’s a creation of Tim Burton. While DARQ originally released back in December 2020, the latest DARQ: Complete Edition recently came out, boasting not only upgraded Xbox Series X|S visuals, but all the DLC as well.

While there is a narrative, it’s not told in your traditional manner. Instead, you play as Lloyd, going through his dreams that quickly turn into nightmares. When Lloyd is awake, he instantly becomes sleepy, and as soon you rest your head on that pillow he has an almost outer body-like experience as he sinks into a dark dream world.

Good dreams don’t happen here though, as Lloyd is seemingly tormented by something in his subconscious, so each dream (level) becomes creepier with each sleep. In this dream world Lloyd needs to figure out how to escape by solving numerous puzzles and finding the exit. For a puzzle game I fully expected to become stumped, resorting to having to look up a walkthrough on YouTube, but that never happened. Actually, just as I was becoming quite proficient with its gravity altering and unique puzzles, it was over. There’s no dialogue or explanation of the ending, so if you’re looking for a narrative driven experience you’re going to be disappointed. Simply come in with some expectations of solving some puzzles for an afternoon and you’ll be fine.

So if you’ve already played DARQ at its initial launch you might be wondering what’s new in this Complete Edition. You of course get the base game, but it’s been improved for next-gen if you happened to have an Xbox Series X or S. You’re given an option of ‘Performance’ or ‘Cinematic’ options, Cinematic giving you subtly better looking visuals but lower framerate, or Performance mode which runs much smoother but not quite as sharp. Of course I went with Performance, but there didn’t seem to be all that much of a graphic difference between the two from what I could tell. The Complete Edition also comes with the two DLC’s that have released since, The Tower and The Crypt. While both are quite short, you interestingly don’t need to finish the base game in order to play them if you’ve already completed DARQ previously.

As you begin Lloyd’s journey, you’re simply thrown in once the game starts. There’s no text, no dialogue, you simply start moving around and have to figure out what you’re supposed to do and what button does what. If you want some hand holding, don’t expect any whatsoever. The same goes for its puzzles, as you simply need to figure out what you’re supposed to do, what items interact with others and so on. Because of the very short length this really isn’t an issue, but at least being taught how to interact with objects or change gravity to walk on walls would have been appreciated. While the world is built in 3D, you’re constrained to a 2D linear plane. This may seem simple, but you’ll eventually be walking up walls, changing ‘worlds’ to access different areas and more. Sometimes being able to walk on a ceiling will open up a different path for you to take you were previously unable to access.

There’s also some light stealth elements involved, and while there’s a dedicated button to crouch and move silently, you only ever are required to do so two or three times throughout. As you progress from each dream to the next, the world in Lloyd’s mind wanders to become more and more strange and twisted as you go, from creepy nurses that try to grab you, mannequin heads and arms that run away and need to be found and even a man with a tuba for a head. The whole world looks like something only Tim Burton could come up with, which is an extreme compliment, making DARQ memorable in that respect.

While you’re not told what to do or where to go, you’ll explore the worlds and find puzzles that either need to be solved or an item needed to progress. While the items may seem completely random at first, you’ll generally brute force your way through, sometimes having to remember where you saw an item or where to use an object you have with some light backtracking.

The puzzles in DARQ are obviously the crux of its gameplay and experience. While the world is fantastical to admire and take in with its unique visuals, the puzzles are the bulk of your experience as you finish one dream to the next. The bulk of the puzzles are simple enough that I was generally able to do them on the first or second try, though there was one puzzle in particular where the camera would constantly rotate from what you were looking at to the nurse coming slowly to get you, forcing you to try and complete it by memory off screen. This was really the only frustrating puzzle I absolutely detested in the base game, but aside from that particular one, the complete journey only took around three hours or so to complete, never really frustrating me for the most part.

The DLC’s aren’t required to have the base game completed before attempting, so you’re welcome to dive right in should you wish. While both are quite short, lasting 15-30 minutes or so, there is some new gameplay mechanics introduced, though I much enjoyed The Tower DLC compared to The Crypt.

The Tower has Lloyd diving into another dream, though this area looks so much different than anything before. Here you have multiple floors you need to explore, finding specific objects to escape the tower. At certain spots Lloyd is able to change from the dream world to some horrifying nightmare version where you’ll need to traverse back and forth between worlds to figure the way out. The Crypt on the other hand had me so frustrated I didn’t even want to complete it, as it relied much too heavily on timed and very challenging puzzles that weren’t as intriguing if you negated the strict time restrictions on each attempt.

Aesthetically DARQ has a very unique and distinct artistic style with its grey, black and white tones that looks washed out and a little hazy, as if you were trying to remember a dream after waking. Even with the bleak visuals, it stands out given its unique visuals and dream landscape. As for its audio, there really isn’t all that much aside from the footsteps and puzzles clanging here and there. When there is some light horror elements you do get a sense of tenseness, unsure what’s around the corner, but I wish its soundtrack was a little more prominent.

While DARQ’s adventure is quite short, there are some hidden collectibles to be found for those that want to get a little more out of their purchase. Oddly enough, achievements weren’t tied to level completions, but finding the hidden collectables instead. While this adds some replayability, you won’t really care unless you’re into achievement hunting most likely.

DARQ: Complete Edition is an example of quality over quantity, as it is quite short and doesn’t offer much replayability, but it’s a unique and memorable experience with its surrealism. Just as you start getting into it though, it’s over, and while not all that challenging, it may be a little too expensive at its full price, but find a good sale and you’ll have a short but sweet time exploring Lloyd’s dream world in a single sitting.

**DARQ: Complete Edition was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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