Tuesday, 27 May 2014
Darkness [C64 Review]
The C64 is the home computing platform that has captured the imagination of coders and sceners for 3 decades now and with such an expansive history and knowledge base comes technical mastery that few platforms ever get to indulge in. Most systems enjoy a ten year run of attention then fade into obscurity, coders, developers and publishers all jumping ship to peddle their wares on more relevant hardware.
Psytronik software have been publishing games since 1993, a time where the C64 platform was becoming increasing irrelevant to the constantly evolving personal computing users. The year saw the last big, if not biggest release the system ever saw - a title that provided a graphical and audible experience akin to the 16bit juggernauts it was facing off against, I am of course talking about the incredible Mayhem In Monsterland. Psytronik chose an odd time to enter the publishing game, a time where most publishers sauntered off to pastures greener. Psytronik and RGCD continue doing what they love for the fact that they love it, monetary rewards be damned.
In the present day there has been a resurgence of interest in the ageing platform, the C64 never really died but simply became niche. Recently the OG personal computer has found it's self on the forefront of peoples interest with the most recent of note being the recently successful Kickstarter by Sam Dyer. The C64 is back in the public eye and Psytronik have been here for the last 20+ years creating a library of retro-modern masterpieces... the latest of which being Darkness.
Darkness is the latest offering by Psytronik & RGCD publishing. The game design, GFX and artwork were by Trevor 'Smila' Storey, the game was programmed by Achim Volkers and the soundtrack courtesy of Linus... All lovingly brought together by scene legends Jason 'Kenz' Mackenzie, founder of Psytronik and James Monkman, founder of RGCD.
Darkness is a top down action game with a large emphasis in exploration and survival, it features over 100 lavishly detail game screens and has one of the largest game maps of any C64 title. The game takes place in the deepest and darkest jungles of Africa and you play as our hero Stan as he tracks down his lady, Megan, whilst trying to stay alive... but there is something truly terrifying in the Darkness, something that wants you dead.
Graphically the game is a powerhouse, featuring detailed environments rarely seen on the platform. Colour palettes are exciting but in keeping with the games dark undertones. The enemy sprites are clearly defined and allow you to quickly identify the threats at hand. The players sprite [Stan] is full of character and has smooth animation without compromising features. The game is treat to behold from start to finish, with lush jungles, bridges and spooky ruins to explore.
The gameplay consists of navigating Stan through the expansive jungle whilst shooting or avoiding the many vicious predators that dwell there. The game feels akin to the ZX Spectrum version of Robotron with rapid movement and intense shooting - but on a much smaller scale as you'll only be dealing with about 4 threats at a time... this does not make them a push over though as a couple of hits from them and its game over, and when you consider you'll be trekking back and forth over 100+ screens, a few hit points are not a lot to go on with. Along the way you'll find treasure chests with the various items you need to access the games final area, there are a few speed ups and hearts scattered over the landscape but often the risk to get them is questionable.
The music is beautiful and captivating, and if you held a gun to my head, I would sum it up as Zelda-like. The music for the spooky ruins is haunting, the jungle has a lively adventurer feel and without spoiling the end for you, in places it can be adrenaline inducing. The Music by Linus is top-notch here and is available in separate SID files for your auditory pleasure. Sound effects are solid, but nothing really stands out - but in a game that asks you to soak in the atmosphere this can be overlooked.
So its time for me to render my opinion of the experience as a whole, and if I were to boil it down to a box-phrase I would say 'Quality over quantity'. The game is punishing but short, once you have learnt a few tricks, such as flicking between game screens to re-randomise the enemies placement, there isn't a whole lot of challenge until the final screen... which will kick your arse mercilessly. However finding your way through the jungle is a joy and simply taking the time to explore is a reward onto its self - a lot of care has been put into this game and exploring the vast map is never confusing or dull, there are always beasties to avoid and hunting out the secret areas is a lot of fun.
After having my arse whooped for hours on end, I eventually blitzed through the game in just 25 minutes in a freak burst of competency. The re-playability will come in the guise of top scores or speed runs, something that may have limited appeal to completionists depending on personal preference. For me the game was a fantastic couple of evenings, and the feeling of beating the final boss was one of exhilaration. The 3 decades of knowledge put into effect here show that the platform can still deliver a captivating experience and Psytronik should be proud to have stuck around to see the project to fruition. The Darkness is a game that every C64 loyalist should try, it certainly has won a place in my heart and my collection.
Buy it here in Digital, tape or disc format.
Buy it here in cartridge format. [Coming soon]