Dark Light, a new game from developer Mirari&Co, was released into early access last month. With the prospect of a future console release on the Nintendo Switch and numerous content updates ahead of it, I was very interested to take look into this title and see if Dark Light had set off on it’s perilous early access journey to a promising start or whether, unfortunately, there is still a long way to go.
It’s dangerous to go alone
Dark Light transports players to a brutal yet beautiful cyberpunk world. Set after a reality-warping apocalyptic event which sent the remnants of humanity scurrying to hide underground, the player is tasked with suiting up and venturing outside to explore a dangerous world of distorted city ruins, maze-like sewer systems and hellish industrial zones.
From a visual standpoint, it’s safe to say that Dark Light is breath-taking. Every facet of the world around you positively exudes an overriding atmosphere of decay. Despite being presented from a side-on 2D perspective the environments you explore have a real feeling of depth, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of a detailed foreground which accompany the intricate backdrop sprites. Although the colour scheme may be a little drab, being comprised mainly of muddy greys and dark greens, the use of bright neon lighting throughout the otherwise dark levels helps add a nice splash of colour and throughout my playtime I often found myself stopping to soak in just how gorgeous some of my surroundings really were.
You aren’t just left to explore these lavish environments alone either, throughout the game you are accompanied by a friendly drone which, in addition to serving as vessel for the game’s tutorial, assists you by providing useful information and illuminating the path ahead through its built-in torch. The further you progress in the game, the darker environments become and the more you begin to understand the importance of this solitary light source. Some of the more powerful late game enemies are even wholly invisible outside its rays.
The majority of gameplay in Dark Light follows a consistent gameplay loop. Starting with a basic pistol and sword, you are left to explore the map, killing enemies as you go to shards and new gear. These shards are used back at the starting area to upgrade your energy and life force. Increasing your life force allows you to take more hits before going down with energy acting more like a traditional stamina system being slowly depleted when you use your attacks or abilities. Exploring is quite the challenge however and with your earned shards being immediately lost upon death it’s worth thinking twice before heading out. Luckily there are frequent “portals” which allowing the player to save or fast travel at the cost of respawning enemies, similar to the famous bonfire save points of Dark Souls.
This creates a great feeling of danger and suspense while you’re exploring, with the player constantly having to balance the risk of losing what they have earned so far with the potential rewards of the higher-level enemies which are more frequent further away from the starting area. Combat itself is enjoyable and intense, with the player juggling between dodge rolls, firearm attacks, close-range sword strikes and useful throwables like grenades or turrets. Attacks look smooth with very satisfying animations and the wide variety of available weapons, most of which substantially altering the flow of combat, helps keep the combat mechanics from becoming stale after long periods of play.
From shambling zombie-like beings controlled by strange parasites, fleshy mutants to the devastating boss fights this wide variety of weapons is accompanied by a wide variety of things to use them against. The gory death animations combined with the on-screen damage indication give fights a visceral edge and the satisfying burst of shiny collectibles spewn by corpses provide a satisfying conclusion to combat which is sure to leave eagerly anticipating your next fight. I am also glad to report that whilst each area’s final boss fight provides a monumental challenge they still manage to feel like a good test of the player’s skill rather than anything cheap or overtly unfair.
In addition to combat, gameplay also includes elements of light platforming. Although Dark Light‘s system of using double-jumps and rolls to hop between vertical or horizontally placed platforms is nothing ground-breaking, it is certainly well done and helps provide an additional challenge for players to master. As in fights, platforming is for the most part fluid and well animated with the exception of the rope-climbing animation – which unfortunately stood out due to its unnatural stiffness.
Left in the dark
On the subject of unnatural stiffness, some lines dialogue and item descriptions contain small grammatical errors or odd wording choices which break both the player’s immersion in the game world and the flow of dialogue. Similarly flow-breaking is the game’s music. Despite what music there is being of great quality and notably complements the overall atmosphere well, the frequent looping of the music and general lack of variety in the tracks lends itself to a feeling more droning and monotonous than particularly atmospheric.
There is also an issue regarding the game’s short length. Containing a good selection of weapons and enemies but only a handful of areas and end-bosses the complete package from start-to-finish took me around four hours to complete, including the time taken to complete some additional level grinding to help me more easily tackle some of the harder bosses. Considering how much I enjoyed my playtime; I was quite sad to see it end just when I was truly getting into the flow of the mechanics so a good few hours more gameplay would certainly be appreciated.
With a stunning art-direction, exciting combat mechanics and solid platforming it’s easy to get lost in the world of Dark Light. Promisingly for an early-access title all the apparent issues, at the time of writing at least, are easy to remedy. The developer has already committed to introducing new areas and bosses to pad out the runtime and the game is already frequently receiving substantial quality of life updates. Dark Light successfully captures the most important elements of the souls-like and metroid-vania genres whilst introducing just the right number of new elements to create an experience that is in equal parts pleasingly familiar and excitingly original. If you’re a fan of either genre, Dark Light is certainly one to pick up now or, at the very least, keep a good eye on until release.
Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.