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‘Dark Days’ Review – A Creepy and Surprising Psychological Thriller

by David Jagneaux • June 23rd, 2016
Platform: Samsung Gear VR
Positives

- Believable world full of content
- Satisfying scares and creepy atmosphere
- Great voice acting and use of 3D audio
- Inventive random item placement system

Negatives

- Visually underwhelming
- Jump scares feel cheap at times
- Main character narration can be annoying

Dark Days, despite the title, begins innocently enough. You’re seated in a car driving down a long and empty road through the desert. The entire game is played from the first-person perspective with heavy narration from the main character, Jade. That perspective is what makes you the perfect prey for the series of jump scares you’ll endure in this surprising psychological thriller, the first of which happens within mere minutes of your introduction to the world.

The team at Parallel Studio opted for a location-based teleportation movement system, meaning that you can’t look at the ground and freely teleport wherever you’d like, but will instead find key points of interest to teleport to. This gives it a more classic point-and-click adventure game feeling, while still maintaining the use of 3D visual space and audio afforded by the virtual reality format.

dark days desert

Since Jade spends so much time narrating throughout the game, it provides a lot of color to every object and interaction, but does unfortunately separate the player from the experience a bit. Typically, first-person games in VR offer an incredible sense of presence, but when the main character’s thoughts constantly echo in your head instead of your own, it can sometimes feel like you’re simply viewing the world through her eyes, rather than truly immersing yourself in the world itself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – narration is used very well in Dark Days – but it’s a bit different of an approach than what most VR gamers may be used to at this point in the medium’s infancy.

That being said, the narration does feel a bit heavy-handed at times. I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary for my character to have a forced quip or witty one-liner about each and every thing in the entire world – including brochures in the motel lobby or the existence of a gun hanging on the wall. But after a few minutes, you start to get used to it and it feels almost as if you and Jade are on a journey together, with you just sitting as one small part of her mind.

It’s an interesting approach that hasn’t been explored much in VR games, since the sense of personal agency can easily be overshadowed by an overbearing main character at times.

dark days pictures wall

Throughout the story, you’re constantly stalked by this nightmarish creature that relentlessly hunts you in both your dreams and the real world. When it appears, the game takes on a pseudo-hide and seek vibe, similar to that of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but in a more accessible way. Maintaining eye contact with the beast, and as a result letting it get to you, results in a game over. This led to one of the more interesting revelations about Dark Days that really helps the game stand out from its contemporaries even more.

The entire game functions by tasking you with exploring environments and uncovering clues and items in the world – that’s not earth shattering. But if you get a game over screen and have to reload from your last checkpoint, items may move to different locations. As an early example, I had to locate a misplaced key to a briefcase in my motel room. The first time I played this scene, it was in a desk drawer. After I was caught by the creature and was forced to replay the scene, the key was actually in a cabinet- an entirely separate place from the first time.

Since games like this, Dark Days included, often rely on a trial-and-error approach to progression, mixing things up like that helps keep things a bit more interesting. Although it can feel tedious at times since some of the loading screens – which are nothing more than blank screens – feel overly long. Those are the moments that I am most acutely reminded I am in fact playing a game.

The world of Dark Days features a nice cast of characters that add flavor to the scenes and, more importantly, provide an outlet for Jade to continue her commentary. You’ll seldom go more than a minute without a witty remark filling your eardrums.

Final Score: 7/10 – Good

Dark Days does a lot of things right and provides an interesting world full of thrills and mystery to keep you uncovering secrets until the end. Visually, it leaves a bit to be desired, but it accomplishes a lot for being on the limited Gear VR platform. While Jade can feel a little annoying at times, you’ll grow to love her wit and charm as the adventure carries on. Prepare for a generous helping of jumps and scares though, as this isn’t for the faint of heart.

Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

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  • Kristoffer Groves

    You won’t grow to love her wit and charm. Jade is the most obnoxious, overly emo video game protagonist I have ever played as.