In 2Dark you play as Smith, a man with a tortured past. On a camping trip many years ago his wife was murdered and his two children kidnapped. In response to these tragic events, he dedicates his life to not only finding his own children, but also saving other kidnapped youngsters.
To this end, the game will see you sneak into various areas of a dingy town attempting to save kids who have been captured by serial killers. Each level requires you to infiltrate a labyrinthine base, find various clues to help in your investigation, and then lead the captured children out like a line of ducklings. Herein lies the game's first major problem: it isn't clear whether it's trying to be a stealth game or a horror game.
If it's trying to be a stealth game, its mechanics are too simple to be engaging. Enemies are subject to the usual stealth tropes – they have cones of vision, and will hear you if you're making a racket near them. You can hide in the dark to stop the baddies from seeing you, and also creep around slowly to stop them hearing you. However, the AI is far too simplistic to ever pose a real challenge. Indeed, performing stealth kills rarely feels tense, and there aren't enough mechanical choices for it to be interesting.
Similarly, if it's trying to be a horror game, the repetitive nature of the stealth and infiltration gameplay means that it never has enough breathing room to create a sustained atmosphere. You'll almost certainly need to backtrack within each level to find the various clues and characters you'll need to progress. A bloodstained corridor stops being scary when you've had to trudge through it fifteen times.
These bland mechanics may have been forgivable, were it not for the fact that they're presented in senselessly cryptic ways. The UI, for instance, is a profound test of patience. All the items you collect as you explore – and you collect a lot of them – are presented in a multi-column list on the left-hand side of the screen. When you attempt to switch between them, the list pops out and covers nearly half of the playing area. Maddeningly, this doesn't pause the game, forcing you to quickly scroll around hoping that nothing important happens in the meantime.
Another annoyance is the level design itself. Each area is filled with poorly signposted pits and contraptions that kill you in one hit. This would be frustrating enough in and of itself but when combined with shadow-filled levels and depleting flashlight batteries it means that you'll die a veritable cornucopia of unfair deaths. It doesn't add to the creepy atmosphere of the game, it's just irritating.
It's not all bad, though. The visuals and music do a good job of building at least a preliminary sense of atmosphere. In particular, the design of the serial killers themselves is always twisted and even comical at times. Unfortunately, these kooky designs signpost another of the title's flaws.
If you're planning to develop a game that deals with a highly sensitive topic, it's probably a good idea to treat that topic with the respect it deserves. To reiterate, this is a game about children being captured, tortured, and murdered. It's also a game that attempts to make jokes about over-eating and various other substantially less intense issues. These jokes are framed as pitch-black humour, certainly, but come off as being in poor taste given the otherwise morbid subject matter.
It's a tough balancing act, to be sure, and one that isn't helped by the game's bizarre writing. Characters speak in stilted awkward sentences, and what they're trying to convey often makes little or no sense at all. This is especially frustrating given that clues about what needs to be done to complete various puzzles are often only found in dialogue.
2Dark tries to do too many things at once. Its stealth mechanics, while occasionally satisfying, are frustrating and pedestrian. Similarly, its attempts at horror, while presented well, are undermined by bad writing and repetitive gameplay. A lack of clear signposting and a terrible UI do nothing to help this maddening experience.