DOS - 1995
Description of Darker
Got this comment from Janet, who sent the game map:
Darker is a game that I don't think many people care about, but I played it a lot when I was a kid so it has a special home in the back of my brain.
The thing is, the game originally came packaged with a map of the city in which all gameplay takes place; if you don't have the map, it's pretty much impossible to play. The city is huge and there are no in-game objective markers, just a compass and current coordinate indicator; mission briefings and in-game comms use names of landmarks and suburbs to refer to objective locations, which can then be looked up on the map to find their grid reference.
This system seems like a form of copy protection, but the map doesn't have any photocopying countermeasures so it's rather unsophisticated for a 1995 game.
It's pretty funny how Underdogs clearly wasn't aware that a map even existed when they wrote their review. I suspect they would've hated the game a lot less otherwise!
Darker is a very atmospheric spaceflight simulator that, ironically, pays too much attention to atmosphere at the expense of playability.
You are the Delphi, one of two races on a curious planet where one side is perpetually in daylight and the other is perpetually in darkness. Your task is to fight the Halon, the race which is in control of the light side of the planet, to wrestle controls from them. The problem is, your race is hopelessly behind in the technological race, so your shuttle is very slow and rickety at best...
The graphics in Darker is much better than most games of its time. The city you're defending is nicely realised, with convincingly varied scenery and attention to detail, like the clock tower which chimes as you putter past. Once you get over the "oooh" effect, though, you'll quickly find that Darker is far from a walk in the park. Your shuttle is rickety, and I do mean it: fire too many shots in a row, for example, and the power drain causes you to fall out of the sky. It's so much of a struggle just keeping your shuttle in the air, that when you finally shoot down hordes of menacing enemy fighters with unguided missiles, it feels like a real triumph. Your engineers are constantly striving to invent slightly better craft and weaponry, and the sense of urgency as you grimly try to hold on against the growing threat of the Halons comes across very effectively.
But atmosphere can only carry a game so far. All that you get to do most of the time is launch your ship, fly around at random looking for some enemies (you're told they're "near the canoe factory" or whatever, but not where the damn thing actually is), shoot them down and fly back to base and start again. Now and then you'll get a new weapon thanks to your engineers, and a new type of enemies to try it against, but basically you're just doing the same thing over and over against ever-increasing odds, and it gets very frustrating very quickly, even though you do have unlimited lives.
At first, the damage system makes for an exciting addition to the game, as bursts of dogfighting are interspersed with lulls as you fly off to recuperate. But as enemies become more numerous, it rapidly becomes frustratingly and absurdly difficult, especially since the Halon's guided missiles are very difficult to avoid and cause irreparable damage. Worse still, you can't return to base for repairs - they won't let you back in until you've completed a mission, so if you take a couple of hits early in a mission you might as well crash into the ground and start again.
All in all, Darker is a good-looking game that requires a superhuman effort, skill, and patience to finish. The game does try to liven up the gameplay in later missions, such as some tanks that serve as ground targets, and underground tunnels you can fly in. Unfortunately, most players will give up long before they see those new elements.
Recommended, but only to the masochistic pilots and hotshots who scoff at the "hard" level of X-Wing.
Review By HOTUD
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
Janet Computerface 2020-05-19 0 point
As I said in the comment that MyAbandonware have very kindly included in the description, the Underdogs review for this game was written from the POV of someone trying to play it without using the map. Don't do this, it completely breaks the game! Make sure you grab the map file below and either print it out, put it up on your second monitor or copy it to another device so you can refer to it while playing.
They're right about one thing, though: this game is incredibly difficult. Importantly, however, it's not difficult due to poor design - it's difficult because the developers wanted to capture the feeling of being a member of a race of pacifists who have been forced into war by technologically superior aggressors. The exceptions to this are the tunnel levels, which are needlessly unforgiving. I recommend using the brake key (backspace) and DOSBox cpu throttling to get past these.
Speaking of DOSBox, this runs very smoothly at anything over 20,000 cycles. Being a flightsim, setting up a joystick or controller is a great idea. From the screenshots you can see that the game's entirely-3D graphics are visually similar to early virtual reality demos, and I believe that this is because it was developed to support contemporary VR headsets like the VFX1. I'm not familiar with DOSBox's handling of current-generation VR, but if possible I'm sure it would be interesting to experience 1995 VR on modern tech.
One final note: there are no tutorials or training missions in this game - it's from the era when the manual was required reading, so you'll also need to download that below! It includes some interesting worldbuilding and is definitely worthwhile, I promise ;-)
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Various files to help you run Darker, apply patches, fixes, maps or miscellaneous utilities.