Developer: Games Hut
Publisher: Plug In Digital/Bulkypix
Review Platform: PC (Steam)
Release Date: 12th August, 2014
Amnesia: The Dark Descent did a lot for the games industry. It went against the grain of mainstream, homogenized pseudo-horror games like the abysmal Resident Evil 6, and showed the industry that there’s a market for intense, slow burning horror games that leave players feeling vulnerable and helpless. It, and arguably Slender: The Arrival, also opened up the PC gaming market to a cavalcade of new indie horror games, for better and for worse. Unfortunately, Blinding Dark falls under the latter category, a game that fumbles with Amnesia’s core concepts without ever actually taking them anywhere; an unpolished and at times unplayable attempt at a few cheap scares.
Blinding Dark is about a man with amnesia exploring a scary house. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Despite having amnesia, this man seems to know an awful lot about demonology and spooky masks, which he reveals as he unconvincingly murmurs embarrassingly lazy shlock-horror monologues at random journal-intervals. Despite resembling a house, Blinding Dark’s setting could never have possibly been inhabited by a human being, since its cut-and-paste rooms are filled with cut-and-paste paintings of demons and torture scenes. The house’s interior designer even thought it useful to include bottomless pits and plains of floating rock platforms in his design document. This sort of shameless, lazy level design takes you right out of what little atmosphere Blinding Dark creates in the first place, and sets the tone for the rest of this laborious trudge through dankness.
Most of the game is spent moving cardboard boxes into different positions so that you can reach higher platforms and use a magical ball to teleport through mirrors. When not being exposed to such insultingly easy box “puzzles”, one spends the rest of the time looking for keys or trying to navigate Blinding Dark‘s horrendous first person controls in order to fail several times at ill-designed platforming sections. One sequence had me open a secret book case passageway by throwing a box at it, because the bookcase was too close to the wall. That’s the sort of mind-bending puzzle action on offer in Blinding Dark.
Blinding Dark throws some enemies at you, most of whom will run around in circles a few times before making their approach. Some will even stand and hack at you for hours, despite the lack of damage they appear to be doing to you. Other enemies include Sub Zero lookalikes who use the “I WILL KILL YOU” sound bite from A New Reckoning (albeit at least correctly), and some will charge at you before disappearing into thin air. Confusingly, there are numerical mana and stamina levels to inform you when you’ve used too many spells or sprinted too much (the latter of which was broken and never actually decreased for me), but health is measured via the tiresome Call of Duty jam-blood screen.
The game is poorly optimized for controllers, so you’ll need to use both a controller and a mouse/keyboard if you’re a more pad focused gamer. You can’t even access the pause menu with a game pad, a particularly puzzling fact when you consider that not every button on said pad has been assigned a function. X doesn’t seem to serve any purpose, the bumpers are used for the corner leaning action seen (and perfected) in Outlast – but since there’s never a reason to use it this feels like a waste of two inputs. Most confusingly, Left Trigger fires while Right Trigger aims, which just seems like a way to confuse anyone who has been playing games for the past 10-15 years. That’s not to say aiming matters too much though, because while it it possible to aim down iron sights, it’s impossible to actually shoot whilst doing so. That’s right, Blinding Dark requires players to aim down sights, then exit iron sights to fire.
From start to finish, Blinding Dark is ugly to behold. Everything from UI to logos to object textures feel murky, washed out and poorly put together, none of which is helped by the game’s tendency to repeat its lacklustre sub-2005 dark corridors. Objects like doors and boxes clip regularly, shadows and torch lighting effects move across the floor tile by tile, blood splatters are solid pools of bright red jam; the whole thing just feels amateurish on nearly every level.
If there’s one thing I can compliment Blinding Dark for, it’s a decent soundtrack. There are some fairly creepy tones playing across the house, as well as some jarring, peaceful tracks which, while still enjoyable, feel glaringly tone-deaf in the context of a horror game. It’s a shame then that the rest of the game’s soundscape is filled with poorly levelled screams and random gurgling noises, as well as tracks which build up to horror crescendos that never happen.
All of this results in a horror game with no atmosphere or tension. You trudge back and forth through murky corridors, reach a dull box sliding puzzle, find a key, then open a door. Every now and then a monster shows up, but not even via a cheap jump scare; enemies are so clearly visible from far away that they actually have to walk towards you to become even slightly intimidating. There’s never any reason to discover more about the game’s narrative, because what little story it has is the sort of bad B-movie horror that isn’t even fun with a few beers.
This also means that the game is tonally all over the place. Is it a silly, Doom-esque shooter about hell-spawns and demons being gunned down by a “Blessed Revolver”, or is it a subdued, quiet mansion explorer about tension and mystery? It is neither, and both, because while elements of both are present, they ultimately dilute each other to the point of pointlessness.
Blinding Dark is not in Early Access, but it almost feels like it should be. It seems as though someone at Games Hut had a reasonable idea about how to make a horror game, but they fluffed the execution considerably. It’s not as bad as A New Reckoning, but that’s hardly a compliment.