Darkout (Beta): hands-on preview of 2D sandbox

I recently got to preview the beta release of independent studio Allgraf’s game, DarkoutDarkout is a sci-fi, 2D side-scrolling, sandbox video game – inspired by other open-world games such as Minecraft and Terraria – that incorporates elements from RPG, survival, and strategy genres in order to provide a unique and entertaining experience.  It was greenlit on Steam about a year ago and the team has been working hard since then to put out a quality game.

In Darkout, you start out crash landed on a foreign world and must quickly adapt to your new surroundings in order to build a shelter and protect yourself from the dangers of this new planet.  These dangers only get worse as daylight fades, and night brings to life a variety of strange shadow creatures: terrifying enemies that can spawn in any amount of darkness and only shy away from copious amounts of light.  Exploration of the world is key to find different resources and craft better equipment, but progression into new areas also brings the threat of bigger and badder enemies.  Only by crafting and utilizing light sources can you remove darkness from the world and discover more of the landscape.

Like typical sandbox games, you have access to vast amounts resources and tools that allow you to manipulate the environment however you like.  One cool aspect to the game is all the worlds you start up are randomly generated, so no two experiences will be alike.  You can make the world small-, medium, or large-sized giving you a little or a lot to explore.  As you find new resources throughout the world you can research new materials and tools to help you build better items and facilities.  I loved the environments of the game; the atmosphere gave the world a sense very similar to that found in Metroid games, and there was this feeling of isolation that really made me want to help the character continue exploring.  There are a multitude of different biomes that you can come across, starting with jungle and cave settings, but stretching beyond to ruined cities, deep underground lava pits, and even floating islands found up in the sky. It is really very pretty visually, with backgrounds of beautiful landscapes and mesmerizing colors.  The devs also breathe very cool life into this world with the addition of bio-luminescent flora.  These plants give off light to keep the darkness at bay, but you can also harvest them for particular resources as well.

As you research more facilities you have to increase the size of your base of operations, and the beauty here is you can build in any direction you’d prefer: out along the horizon (left/right), up into the sky, or down into the caves below you.  I had a lot of fun mining caves and turning them into more of my base as I went along.  When expanding your shelter, you must make sure to keep it all very well lit or else the shadow creatures will have an opportunity to spawn inside and give you trouble.  I found myself putting up doors everywhere and making sure to close them after I went through so that I wouldn’t be followed.  While it can be fun to go out and get resources (finding new areas and meeting new baddies), setting up your building is really where your creativity shines here.  It was very cool for me to have saved a game with a partial wood/partial dirt floor, only to come back the next day and find that the areas with dirt flooring were now growing some of those gorgeous glowing bushes.

There are definitely some rough edges on the game right now.  The learning curve in the game is very steep, almost frustratingly so.  The controls, while they make sense in the context of the game, are not immediately intuitive and take some time to adjust to.  I initially had a hard time in the game figuring out how to get a proper shelter up before the creatures would come around, causing early frustrations and multiple deaths.  This was also in part due to a lack of a really detailed tutorial.  There is a text-based tutorial that helps you along to start your initial building, but at some points it was still hard to figure out what to do action-wise, especially if you tried to start playing the game without reading the supplied manual (which, admittedly, I did).  The controls definitely were’t intuitive, but the manual did help and it makes a lot more sense after reading them.

I also did occasionally come across glitches, particularly with the shadow monsters.  They tended to get stuck in corners and just accumulate there.  While this was helpful for me as a player to dispatch them quickly, I don’t think that’s actually an intended occurrence.  On the side of story and plot, there really isn’t much of one to drive your exploration.  According to the website, the shadow creatures that you encounter drove out the previous inhabitants of the planet who were technologically advanced peoples.  I think it would be fun and make for a more compelling game if you could come across items that add to the mythology of the world as you play.  But as of right now, there doesn’t seem to be an end game or any real goals except for survive and build cool stuff in a neat little sci-fi world (which is still pretty fun though).  Hopefully these things will be ironed out in future patches to make for a fun and entertaining take on the increasingly popular genre.

All in all, I found the game very addicting.  I wanted to keep going and find more things, and I definitely intend to keep playing it in my free time.  The combination of combat and construction here really builds tension and adds to this desire to stay safe but also to find more resources and keep researching better items.  There seems to be a good-sized community for the game already, some who are putting up videos of their custom shelters and even their own tutorials. There are definitely many people in seeing the game succeed, devs and players alike, and I think it really shows that the devs have put their passion and love into the game.  This is the first sandbox-style game that I’ve really put time and effort into, and it really is strangely addictive.  I’m looking forward to seeing it completed.

Verdict: 8/10