GENRE: Sci-fi Survival / Sandbox
PLATFORM: Microsoft Windows
To say that Minecraft didn’t prove instrumental in paving the way for what open world, sandbox experiences could amount to would be quite the fool’s statement. However, in the post-Minecraft world, there have been quite a few games that have still managed to stand out. I find that it’s worth noting what a sandbox is and what it isn’t, as well as what games fall into the same genre as Minecraft. Sandbox games have been around for quite some time, with series like Grand Theft Auto standing out as obvious examples. Even some of the less linear titles in the Legend of Zelda franchise, and games in The Elder Scrolls universe, fall into this category. But what Minecraft, Terraria, and other similar games add is an element to physically alter your world to a very great level of detail.
Many games have appeared since the popularity of Minecraft, some existing as simple clones and others standing apart in their own right. The more successful games to follow suit have been ones that took some of the elements that made Minecraft so popular and then put their own spin and setting to them. Terraria was a very popular game because it presented a 2D play on the genre, harking back to the 8 – and 16-bit era of gaming with graphics directly inspired by titles from that period (heck, even the armors look like they are right out of Final Fantasy V). Darkout is one of these innovative games that plays its cards right.
Darkout, a title currently in its beta phase for the PC, is being developed by a small studio called Allgraf. The game is set during an unspecified time in the future on the planet Illuna, a dark and hostile world of near-darkness inhabited by violent creatures and dangerous terrain. The cloud cover on the planet is so thick that even during daylight hours those on the surface will only see glimpses of light, with most of the other ambient light provided by bio-luminescent plants. Humans once tried to explore and civilize the untamed world, but after untold masses of lives were lost, the survivors met up in a spaceship shielded by one of their bases and entered stasis capsules, told that the ship would launch and soon would be heading for “Old Earth” with the warning to leave this planet alone…only the ship never made it out.
Players take the role of an unnamed survivor whose stasis pod is ejected from the human spaceship, which never managed to leave orbit of Illuna for some unknown reason, in an effort to preserve power to maintain the lives of the other thousands still in stasis above the surface. Your pod never makes it past orbit either, instead entering a decaying trajectory and crash-landing in the planet’s harsh wilderness. With nothing except some very basic tools, it’s up to you to explore, build shelter, develop tools, and find your way out of this unforgiving world.
Indeed, when your journey in Darkout begins, you’ll be sitting by the wreckage of your escape pod. The very first thing you’ll want to do while it is still daylight (e.g. a tad less dark than night) is to salvage your ship for metal scraps, cut a few trees down, and make a basic shelter. Creatures in the game are relentless and unforgiving. Having a safe place to hide is always useful. Many creatures thrive in the darkness, so one of the keys to survival is always having some kind of item with you that will produce light, either scaring them away or weakening them so that you can kill them if you have to.
One of the things that originally drew me towards wanting to try this game out was its similarity to Terraria combined with the fact that it maintains a sci-fi setting. The game also has stunning graphics. The creative team behind Darkout has done an amazing job by creating a beautifully-alien landscape that really comes to life as you explore. The environment begs you to continue past that next horizon or down the next cave shaft in order to discover what wonders (and dangers!) lurk beyond. The eerie darkness of Illuna’s surface, the strange and beautiful glowing trees and plants, the exotic creatures – they all combine to create an experience that is addicting in its own way. When combined with the game’s mesmerizing, relaxing, and exciting soundtrack (yes, it’s very well-done), the experience is very rewarding.
As of this preview piece, I am playing the game on Beta Version 1.1.5h3, and even now the game seems very promising. Yet, there seems to be a lot more in the works. Beyond expansions to the overall game engine, the team is going to add a lot more lore to the game and plans to implement an online cooperative mode so that people can enjoy the game with friends. I really believe that when the multiplayer aspect is up and running, the experience will be even more enjoyable. It really is a game that lends itself to being shared with others.
One thing I will say about the game, though, is that you are dropped into the world like a fish out of water. You really don’t have a whole lot of time to figure things out before you end up in dangerous situations. There is a tutorial that is on by default that helps you get situated and learn the basics of the game, but it takes a while to figure out the nuances of the UI and understand how to do basic things. Of course, this isn’t that much different from Minecraft or Terraria (two games that heavily influenced this one), and honestly you get far more help here than you do in either of those games. Still, it’s something that I wouldn’t mind them helping a bit more with by the time the game releases.
The game was recently green-lit for sale on Steam, but in the meanwhile, you do have the ability to pick it up on Desura. There’s no guarantee that the price you can get it for now during its beta will not go up by release, so I would certainly feel confident recommending this game if you like what you see.
It’s a great game by a dedicated team, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes!
CLOSING THOUGHTS: If you like sci-fi and survival games, and enjoyed Minecraft or Terraria, you owe it to yourself to check this one out!
CURRENT OUTLOOK: Very promising.