DARQ - Worth The Price? Or Wait For A Sale?

Visually impressive and incredibly robust when it comes to its puzzles.
DARQ's stylish and intuitive puzzles may be breathtaking, and its developer a paragon for fostering a community, but is the game worth the current price tag?
DARQ's stylish and intuitive puzzles may be breathtaking, and its developer a paragon for fostering a community, but is the game worth the current price tag? Unfold Games

Think of this as an indirect review, where I take games and look at them for how they're priced. It's not so much if the game is good or not, it's just a question of whether the content it offers is worth buying at full price.

Unfold Games’ DARQ has been out on PC via Steam and GOG for a few weeks now, and the horror title has received considerable attention thanks to its unique and visceral theme, as well as its inventive and amazingly creative puzzles. Of course, while the game itself is great, much of its attention can be attributed to the developer turning down an Epic Games Store exclusivity offer.

That said, a lot of people’s interests were piqued by the indie title, although if you’re here because it looked cool, or you’ve had it on your wishlist for a while, or if the developer’s stance on Epic exclusivity brought you, there’s still one question worth answering: is DARQ worth the price of admission at $19.99? Or are you better off waiting for a sale?

The basic gist

DARQ sees you playing as a young man named Lloyd, who lives in a world that’s like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Lloyd is fully aware of the fact that he’s dreaming, which quickly becomes useful as his dreams turn into creepy nightmares filled with very creative puzzles. By bending the laws of physics and transcending basic convention, he must now try to survive these nightmares by escaping them and avoiding the monsters that roam this hellish dreamscape.

What makes DARQ really stand out from its peers is its perspective-based spatial puzzles, which work on aspects like turning rooms around and rotating street intersections. Since DARQ is played in 2D as a side-scroller, there are some puzzle pieces that are out of reach because they’re in the foreground, or on another avenue entirely. Some elements allow you to mind-bendingly warp the surroundings, giving DARQ a particularly unique feel.

Lloyd in particular can use these elements to walk on walls and ceilings, flip a switch to go from foreground to background, and crank on a contraption that turns him in the direction of a four-way intersection. It’s jarring and incredibly stylish, forcing you to think outside the realms of what you know about puzzles in video games and establishing a wider set of rules on what works and what doesn’t. I’d easily compare it to Baba Is You with how DARQ defies puzzle genre conventions and – quite literally – turns it on its head, making itself unique from other horror puzzle games you may have come across before.

Of course, the puzzles themselves aren't just flashy in their presentation – they’re quite challenging and thought-provoking as well. Across seven chapters, you guide Lloyd in a series of surreal and increasingly macabre obstacles, all designed to prevent him from reaching the nightmare’s end. However, as excellently surreal DARQ is with its gameplay, there are some parts of the puzzles that feel like a cop-out and are rather cheap. Fortunately, there’s only a few of them, but they’re really noticeable thanks to how great everything else is in comparison.

Besides solving intricate puzzles, Lloyd has to contend with nightmarish creatures that are very well-detailed and horrific. Some of them reminded me a lot of Silent Hill, in particular the women with the lampshades as heads. They provide a good amount of tension and another layer of depth to just solving puzzles, but once you’ve figured out their routines, they tend to be more of an annoyance than anything else.

The visuals are incredibly spectacular. It’s not a full-blown horror, but rather a cerebral and incredibly psychological one, where the smallest shuffles in the dark can be a terrible reminder of what’s to come. The minimalist coloring and detailed shadow and lighting work is the real stand-out, and I recommend playing on the highest graphics settings to fully appreciate the experience.

Sound design is also very good as well, and that’s saying something for a game devoid of any real accompanying music tracks. It’s just Lloyd, the never-ending darkness and the sounds of whatever he’s interacting with, be it cranks, levers, pulleys, joysticks, buttons, or something else. Then there’s the harsh screams and growls from the nightmarish monsters, which serve to warn you of their presence. Overall, the sound production is quite good, and perfectly fitting to what the developer had in mind for DARQ.

The great

DARQ is a very excellent horror puzzle title, one that manages to make good on its intentions of shying away from puzzle conventions to put on an immersive and thoroughly engaging game. It’s the kind of gem that’s most likely buried away under piles and piles of other games, but thanks to certain controversies it managed to get the attention it deserves. The visuals are spectacular, the atmosphere and tension are great, and everything about it screams quality from a very talented upcoming studio.

The not so great

While DARQ is excellent, it’s not without its flaws. The biggest issue comes with the length. DARQ’s seven chapters can be played in two to three hours, and that’s even being a bit generous. You can stretch that out to another two more hours for the achievements which require some replaying, but that only applies if players see value in playing through the game again when almost all of the puzzles are already solved.

Is it worth the full price?

DARQ is a great game, and there are obviously people out there who bought it for the developer and his stance on the Epic exclusivity. However, for the current asking price and its current state, I cannot recommend DARQ to those on the fence, despite its many great qualities. At the moment, it just doesn’t scream twenty bucks for me. For the record, I bought it, played it, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was more than happy to support a developer willing to forego a paid-for successful launch in exchange for unsure sales and grateful fans, but the price is a bit steep for the content is has now. This non-recommendation isn’t meant for those already set on buying it, though, if you’re in it to support Unfold Games.

The good news, however, is that according to Unfold Games, DARQ will be getting a free content update soon, which could technically provide a decent justification for its pricing. Let’s wait until that happens, and expect an update from me in the future.

DARQ is now available on Steam and GOG for PC.

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