First look at the stealth title ‘Dark,’ a game where you play a very unsparkley vampire

DARK_GDC05Hopefully, the day will come when the idea of vampires as sparkly, love-sick emo kids will be nothing more than a feint memory. In pop culture, the vampire has been represented in almost every way possible. From heroes to monsters, from allies to Nicholas Cage, vampires have been there and done that. But despite a constantly changing interpretation, one thing has always remained constant: vampires have some bad ass powers. So what better protagonist for a video game?

Dark isn’t the first game to feature a vampire as a playable character, of course, far from it. But developer Realmforge Studios and publisher Kalypso Media’s third-person stealth-action game uses those vampiric abilities in a different way than typically seen. You won’t just use your preternatural strength and speed to kill your foes – instead, you will use those powers to try to avoid being seen as much as possible. At least, that is one possible way to play.

The game puts you in the role of Eric Bane, a member of the paramilitary group M17, tasked with combating supernatural elements. After a mission goes horribly wrong and your entire team is killed, you awaken to discover that you are among the undead.

DARK_GDC22You soon discover that your life as a vampire isn’t all melancholy girls pining after you or fighting plucky former cheerleaders born to slay your kind. Instead, Eric discovers that his cool new powers are a time bomb. If he can drink the blood of an elder vampire within 24 hours, he will be fine – or as fine as an undead bloodsucker can be. He will retain the vampiric powers he gained and remain himself. If he fails though, if he can’t find an elder to snack on, he will become a mindless ghoul.

The world of Dark has a slightly futuristic feel to it, somewhat akin to Blade Runner but much closer to our own level of technology. As Eric traverses the cyberpunk-like city on the hunt for an elder, he will continually run afoul of his former organization that is also hunting elders for its own reasons. M17 is one step ahead of you at all times, which means you will constantly be facing threats of near-future technology from them, as well as attacks from other vampires protecting the elders.

Eric will have allies along the way, including Rose, your new friend and guide. Her motives remain unclear, as do those of the mysterious “angel,” a being of light that appears to you and occasionally offers help. You’ll also come across plenty of other NPCs, many of whom will be key to helping you on your missions. The majority of these characters can be found in “Sanctuary,” a safe haven bar for vampires that doubles as your central hub throughout the game.

DARK_GDC16As you progress, your abilities expand based on the way you choose to play. You can level up Eric to be a killing machine, letting him tear through areas, leaving a bloody wake. If you go this route, you may be able to beat the game faster than going through it using stealth, but you will also miss out on experience points that allow you to further grow your character.

Dark won’t punish you for relying on combat, but it will reward you more for using stealth. If you take out an enemy without being seen, you will earn a bigger experience bonus than simply jumping into the mix. Eric is very strong, but he isn’t invincible. Attracting too much attention will make the game much more difficult as well. You will also receive an end of level score, which will be much higher if you manage to avoid alarms.

Going stealth isn’t the same as going non-lethal though. Eric will need to get his teeth wet in order to succeed. The vampiric powers he uses require “vitae,” the game’s version of “mana.” In order to fill your vitae meter, you will need to drink the blood of humans – and then make sure their bodies are hidden. You’ll need to do this often, as the powers at your disposal are the key to success.

DARK_GDC07The upgradable powers range from passive things like more health, to new vampiric powers like teleportation. You’ll have plenty of offensive vampire weapons at your disposal as well, including a force-like slam and a shadow attack that is a one-move execution from anywhere in range, and many more. Once you unlock a power, you can then level those powers up to make them more efficient and less likely to trigger alarms. As you reach a point where you are happy with your character’s build, you should be able to combine stealth with combat and make it through sections in a bloody blur.

DARK_GDC08Along with offensive and passive abilities, you will have several powers specifically designed to help you move through areas unseen, but those too will need to be upgraded to be more efficient. The teleport, for example, will initially cause a sound that can attract guards. If a guard looks your way, there will be a visual indicator that goes from white to red, and you’ll also see a “?” over their head to indicate that they are suspicious. You’ll need spend some experience point to eliminate the sound. Other powers, like the ability to briefly turn invisible and the ability to “persuade” enemies, will also offer significant improvements along the way.

Of all your abilities, the one you will use most often is the “blood vision.” It is becoming a familiar trope in games, and one that is often described as being like Batman’s “detective vision” from the Arkham games. In Dark, the vision allows you to see enemies by the blood in their bodies. This leaves a blind spot though. Until you upgrade it, the blood vision won’t be able to make out other undead or mechanical traps, so relying on it can prove costly.

DARK_GDC04There will be 16 powers in total, which means you will need to make choices that suit your style. You’ll have full access to your abilities via a power wheel, as well as hot key assignment to the d-pad.

DARK_GDC13Since this is a stealth based game that uses extraordinary powers, there are going to be unavoidable comparisons to the game Dishonored. Digging a little deeper shows the differences between the two, plus Dark was in development long before Dishonored was officially revealed, but there are worse titles to be compared to.

Dark’s look is based around a cell shading style that is designed to be reminiscent of a graphic novel. Color is a huge factor in this game, and the contrasts with the nighttime setting stand out thanks to the lush coloring. It is a very stylized game with a touch of noir thrown in for good measure.

Dark will be out on June 11 for PC and Xbox 360. With a little luck, it may even be able to remind us why vampires can be cool.