Darkout places you in the shoes of a space explorer stranded on an unknown planet. With only a few basic supplies from the wreckage of your ship, you have to survive the deadly night cycle of an alien world. You'll achieve this via extreme amounts of digging, a lot of scavenging, and a surprising amount of capturing fireflies in glass jars. I'll explain that last one in a bit. There are good ideas here, and a pretty, vibrant sci-fi setting that encourages exploration and construction in the Minecraft mode. Unfortunately this underlying potential is hampered by awkward mechanics, an unwieldy user interface and a general lack of polish.
Light is an important factor in Darkout . The world you're stranded on has a lopsided day/night cycle, with the brief daylight hours quickly giving way to a twilight in which the local predators thrive. To survive the long night you have to create your own light sources from whatever comes to hand; torches, glowing organs harvested from floating jellyfish creatures, and the afore-mentioned fireflies. Venturing underground only increases the importance of light, as shadow creatures lurk in the darkness for unwary travellers.
The annual underground swim-suit competition came to a violent conclusion
Lighting your home base up like a Christmas tree goes some way to keeping these aggressive creatures at bay, although they don't seem quite as averse to this as the game suggests; there were several times that shadowy enemies infiltrated my gaudy bunker despite its impressive lighting display. Why are they able to do this, when the game assured me that they avoid light sources? I never found out. This is one example of the game's lack of clarity, a recurring problem that makes getting to grips with it more of a hassle than it should be.
Darkout does a phenomenally bad job of settling new players in. There's an extremely brief tutorial that covers the very, very basic mechanics; digging, mining, lumberjacking and such, before you're let loose in the wild. Important topics like the awkward teleport mechanics, which kick in after you die and return you to a previously placed beacon, are never adequately explained, which leaves you scratching your head in confusion while you rummage through the myriad items in your inventory. It's a clumsy start, and it will be the rare player that pushes through the dull and frustrating opening to find the good stuff hidden deeper within.
Once you've gathered a few resources, you can use the construction menu to forge them into new items. These items can be used to create a huge array of different bits of kit. From crude short swords and bows you'll advance your research until you're capable of building handy futuristic items, from grav carts that carry excess mined resources to power generators and elevators. The focus on more advanced construction is welcome, changing the pace of development nicely and gaining you access to several fun items. Exploring a hostile planet is much more enjoyable when you're toting a plasma gun and a powered combat suit. You earn research points through collecting and mining for various materials, then spend it on unlocking steadily more useful and flashier gear.
Exploring Darkout's pretty environments, ready to shoot any local wildlife right in the head
There are some issues with the research and building elements. Fire arrows, one of the earlier inventions you'll come up with, are apparently more effective against the local shadow creatures because of their additional fire damage. In actual fact, however, they're markedly less effective than your regular arrows. Something as simple as picking items up and moving them around in your inventory is cumbersome and irritating, due to a cluttered and fiddly interface - it took me far longer than it should have done to work out how to drop and place items, because there was nothing in place to tell me how to do it. Likewise, there are too many moments when you can't click on an item to use it, because the interaction highlight from another object is blocking you from clicking on it.
Most frustrating of all are the resource gathering mechanics, which make the endless mining and digging required a chore. Each material you gather requires a specific tool to collect; picks for ore, axes for wood and plant matter, spades for dirt. When you're excavating a tunnel you'll find yourself constantly having to change implement, as using the wrong tool severely slows down the speed of excavation. It's a shame that such a key mechanic feels so awkward and unsatisfying, especially as the world the developers have built aches to be explored.
In terms of its atmosphere and aesthetics, Darkout is far more assured. The bizarre, neon jungle you initially land in gives way to foreboding woods, colourful crystal caves and pitch-black tunnels occasionally lit by the phosphorescent glow of a dangling vine. It's all very pretty to look at, especially when you're zooming about on a jet-pack, plasma gun blaring away at an onrushing alien beserker. Enemy creature designs aren't particularly memorable, but one or two of the more advanced creatures stand out, such as the charging goliaths you occasionally encounter. It's easy to die and lose your gear in Darkout, so these more aggressive enemies, when combined with frequent excursions in poorly lit underground caverns, make for the occasional, and welcome, bout of panic.
Derek loses the already fragile grip on his sanity after crafting his 36,609th mud brick
Tonally, Darkout feels much more cohesive than similar crafting games. The sci-fi setting feels more appropriate to the build-em-up genre, justifying the swift advances in research and construction and giving players plenty of cool toys to play with. Your jetpack, when you finally manage to craft it, is great fun to use, removing the drudgery of constant travel and giving you access to resource rich areas of the map that were previously unreachable. The addition of advanced weaponry like laser guns and combat suits livens up the combat aspects too, although fuzzy hit detection and erratic enemy behaviour occasionally rear their ugly heads. Overall though, combat and exploration is handled well. There's even a very basic story to be discovered, in the form of several audio logs you find on your travels – these gradually reveal more about the planet you're on, and what makes it the hazardous twilight world that it is.
Despite occasional moments of quality however, Darkout never really does enough to distinguish itself from its more illustrious cousins. Both Terraria and Minecraft handle the basic mechanics of crafting and resource gathering better, and aside from an intriguing and visually enticing setting, there’s nothing here that really makes Darkout stand out. It borrows mechanics without refining and sufficiently improving them, bogging the player down with unnecessary inventory management and clunky mechanics. If you’re a fan of sandbox construction games there is fun to be had in this dangerous, pitch-black world, but frustrating design choices, an untidy interface and frequent glitches mean that you’re better off waiting a few months to see if developers Desura can tidy things up, fix some of the outstanding issues and improve the accessibility of their game.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Zooming into the clouds in search of floating crystal islands on your newly crafted jetpack, armed with a variety of plasma gun weaponry.