Puzzle games are a dime a dozen, even puzzle games with unique twists are rather common. Yet somehow DARQ: Complete Edition manages to carve out a niche of its own with unique gameplay, inventive puzzles, creative level design, and a truly creepy atmosphere that oozes out of every nook and cranny of its black and white dream world.
Though no story is ever provided through in-game text or dialogue as to who you are or why you’re inhabiting these horrifying vistas, enough is shown that we at least understand that we are a young man named Lloyd who continually finds himself in a lucid dream state, upon which he must escape his nightmares in order to wake up. The simple set up is effective and allows players to fully focus on the bizarre world, rather than questioning its origins or realism.
DARQ‘s puzzles revolve mainly around gravity or using various objects scattered throughout the world in unpredictable ways, with each level containing new gimmicks that players must figure out without help from tutorials or even in game explanations. The focus of the game is to simply experiment and explore. By pulling various switches, turning knobs, and placing objects you’ll slowly figure out what the level is asking from you. Players can only move in a 2 dimensional frame, either left or right, so many levels require the use of levers or handles that flip the world or throw you to another world plane, allowing you to explore previously unreachable areas. The first ability you gain is also the most prominent throughout; the ability to walk up or down walls and to traverse the ceiling. While a simple mechanic, it is extensively used and it is amazing how often you’ll simply forget you have the ability and hit a dead end, until you learn how to recognize when the ability is necessary.
There is no combat, although there are a few enemies you must either sneak past, block, or otherwise escape. These moments lend much needed tension to an otherwise relatively calm – albeit creepy – game. There is one section involving a nurse in a wheelchair quickly approaching you, a puzzle involving a spinning camera which forces you to complete the puzzle almost solely without seeing the object that you are manipulating, and incredibly dramatic music as your very short period of time to escape dwindles – it is a magnificent set piece and a stand out moment in the game. Sadly, none of the other scenes quite match that moment, although the game does remain fresh throughout its rather short run time.
Included in DARQ: Complete Edition are the two DLC’s previously released: The Tower and The Crypt. Of these, The Crypt is the most rewarding, featuring a large area filled with creative puzzles which must be solved to progress, and a new gimmick involving the use of a severed head that you can control to access new areas. It is a wonderfully thought out level that took me nearly 45 minutes to complete, compared to the two or so hours it took me to complete the base game. The Tower, while also longer than previous chapters, sticks relatively close to the base game’s formula, although the multi-level structure did involve quite a few unique challenges to overcome and new puzzles to figure out, but it just did not stand on its own as well as The Crypt. Still, both DLC levels are worth completing.
I appreciate DARQ for its creepy style and creative use of level design. I was constantly enthralled by the game and wanted to push forward, to see the next area, to figure out the next puzzle. It has been quite a while since I’ve played a game as unique and filled with ideas as DARQ and, if I had any complaints, it would only be that there just isn’t enough of DARQ, even in the complete edition package. I desperately wanted more time to explore it’s dark world. I can only hope that the success of DARQ: Complete Edition will lead to an expanded sequel which will hopefully maintain the same standard of gameplay seen in this first release.
Grab DARQ: Complete Edition, turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and experience one of the best – and certainly the most unique – puzzle games in recent memory.
DARQ: Complete Edition is available now on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Steam, and GOG. Special thanks to Feardemic / Unfold Games for providing Fandomize with a review code.