It's cold outside...
Terraria, Starbound, Minecraft, Infiniminer, Spelunky and more... you name it and it's been done in 2d and 3d. Darkout is the latest in a line of 2d building sandbox games that is attempting to take the 2d crown from Terraria and now Starbound. Set in space and on a planet that's packed with hostile life forms, Darkout for the PC claims it has a user friendly approach to gameplay that takes a lot of the inventory management and hassle out of the genre. Having spent some time with it, we're of the opinion that Starbound is the better of the two games due to the sheer amount of content.
When you take Darkout as-is however, there's a lot to like in the game and the developers are hard at work fixing issues quickly when they crop up.
Your ship is damaged, you crash on an alien world that seems to be uninhabited at first. Then as night falls and you look for shelter, in a rather Pitch Black style turn of events - the monsters come out to play... only light can save you (and bullets, lots of bullets). The story is told in the form of logs and other bits of information as you explore.
If you want to know more, well: http://www.darkoutgame.com/history/
Anyone who has played Terraria or the Starbound (beta) will immediately spot the style of game this one is. 2d exploration/survival sandbox on a procedurally generated world, where the terrain and features are crafted differently each game. Darkout has moved from beta itself into what the developers have termed Stage 1 and we've seen a significant change in the game, bugs removed, features added and a level of polish applied even now.
Whilst Starbound holds the edge due to a wider and more diverse universe to explore, the gameplay of Darkout is quite fun even at this stage and having less to concentrate on means you can explore this sandbox a lot deeper. From the get-go you need to quickly start constructing a shelter to keep the monsters at bay, and the game does a good job now in helping you learn the skills you'll need to do just that.
Like the other sandbox games of its kind, Darkout has a tech tree that you can slowly progress down to acquire new materials from the base materials, such as wood, various ores and so forth. The more tech you amass, the more defences and weapons you can accrue.
You'll be building quite a bit in Darkout and this core feature is a little tricky to begin with, though after a few minutes we started getting the hang of it and made our first wooden shelter before the night fell and a few minor shadow beings started to nose around. We'd collected various resources along the way and created a few small light sources, so we were safe for now.
It's the little GUI touches that make Darkout stand out amongst the crowd, with an interesting take on tool selection it's possible to set up automatic tools as long as you're using the correct slot (1) and have the tools required in your inventory. The cursor will take on the form of the tool icon that's being used and rather than endlessly switching from axe, to shovel, to pick you'll be able to concentrate on mining and having fun exploring.
The rest of the gameplay falls firmly into the Terraria mould, build, explore, dig, build and so on. With a larger and wider tech tree opening up to help survive the hostile planet. There are some neat power armours available later on and some pretty great weapons, showing that the developers have a love for nifty sci-fi designs.
It's this new and yet familiar take on this genre that makes the game interesting and a lot of fun to play, so far. There have been a few bugs where the character got stuck in some tricky situation and couldn't jump as far as we'd expected, but the developers fixed that early on and navigating the world is a lot easier now. It's even easier since we constructed a jet pack and can now zoom around like Bobba Fett in powered armour feeling like a badass.
Our base HQ is now more like a small fortress with working lifts and other functioning bits of tech, including some big lights that keep the nasties at bay.
We happen to like the art direction for Darkout, we like the big and bold colourful planet and the fact it uses 2d but 3d graphics for the character/monster art. There's a greater sense of connection in these graphics compared to the usual 2d sprite based blocky fare on offer and whilst it loses some of that 8-bit cuteness, you get a different feeling from Darkout's models. The power armour and the weapons are especially high-tech looking and with different (colour-able) armour sets you can be the most funky planetary explorer this side of the Western Spiral Arm. There's a nice light/shadow system at work here too and that's a must with a game like this where shadow and darkness plays such a huge role. It's a real treat to flick on the light and go exploring a dark cave as it slowly reveals itself. I think what we really love about this game though is the colour palette, the planet itself looks fantastic and very alien with bright and vibrant colours standing out against the ever-encroaching shadows.
Curious about Darkout's graphics? Head on over to: https://www.pinterest.com/darkoutgame/ for samples, renders and a whole lot more.
They're fluid enough and they're varied enough to be interesting. There's definitely more of an impact seeing these characters exploring than there is in the usual 2d style sprite based game. We haven't spotted any animation glitches so far.
There's the same level of physics you might expect from a Terraria-style game, with block destruction similar and gravity acting upon certain types of blocks.
The sound design for Darkout is one of the high points of the game as well. There's a lot of ambiance to the planet and exploring it outside of the safe environment of what passes for day on the planet is accompanied by various ambient effects.
The lore is fairly well written, the voice logs sound pretty decent and there's a lot of potential for some really cool Alien-esque moments/tension here.
A good solid score accompanies the game and provides a background to the exploration, action and diverse biomes of the planet. It doesn't intrude and keeps the right level of tension.
Darkout Stage 1
It's not finished yet, we know that. It's a bit rough in places and there are a few crash issues on this PC so far. They're not huge issues and we know that hardware setups are rather like procedural planets, they're all different and all have their own quirks and features. So we're content to watch Darkout unfold and the game move from strength to strength. We like where this one is going and we'll be keeping an eye on it beyond this review.