Dark Days Review
By Trenton Morgan
Developer: Parallel Studio
Publisher: Oculus Studio
Platforms: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR
Genre: Horror, Puzzle
Dark Days by Parallel Studio is a jumpy trip. That can be true in more than one way. The game follows Jade, a writer looking for inspiration, through her surreal and treacherous experience in Death Valley. It involves mysterious men, lost loved ones, running and hiding and literal death. Between the storyline, audio, emotions and screams, the game felt complete and challenging. However, there are a few distracting elements that make the journey a little more frustrating than it’s worth at times. Regardless, some heart pounding adrenaline might be enough to pick up the headset again.
Jade’s misfortune begins with her driving through a desert and reminiscing. As night falls, she takes rest at the infamous Motel 9, where a girl carrying her mother’s ashes vanished without a trace. Players are given another chance to explore their controls here as the desk keeper takes his time in assisting you. After Jade receives her room, the true story begins. Through Jade’s eyes, players seek hidden parts to traverse through five episodes. Each episode also features memories of Tara, Jade’s past love interest. As players learn more about the mystery surrounding Death Valley and Motel 9 and Jade’s struggle with loss becomes more heart wrenching, the danger of being hunted increases exponentially.
The compatibility with the Oculus Rift controllers seemed awkward as it relied mostly on the right hand. The opening menu of the game fortunately gives players a space to see and try the controls, but the diagrams didn’t cover Oculus Rift controllers. The framing and perspective jittered pretty often it seemed, and it was then hard to pinpoint selections as they are based on looking directly at an object and selecting.
Movement was also reliant on looking directly at what was needed. Moving through the scenes consisted of looking for an arrow and choosing that location to move. Even though it was a little disorientating, the load time between each jump was relatively smooth. That system of movement is understandable given the platform, but it definitely got tricky when running and hiding from a wheezing, jittery, cracking, teleporting, literally-whooshes-at-you, actually-my-worst-fear nightmare that is constantly causing paranoia throughout the game. Crouching was also a necessary part of entering hiding spots and grabbing items a lot of the time, and it can be inconvenient when running away. Other than those slight details, maneuvering seemed reasonable and just needed practice.
Visually, the game is really appropriate. Objects, characters and textures all amounted to a high attention to detail and enough realism that the game was believable. The rooms and scaling made the game feel true to size. That is a huge factor in why the game felt so immersive. The objects had weight to resemble true interaction and decorations were intricate enough to function like real things. Of course, the game isn’t the epitome of real world representation and realism, but the aesthetic of being transported into a high quality early 21st century video game just felt right.
The story and audio are the compelling immersive finish to Dark Days. Science behind audio and its effects to mood are prominent throughout each chapter. The voice acting was also well done. Jade conveys her thoughts to the player throughout the game. Her emotion and witty comments created good vibes, but impatient gamers should beware that you have to wait until narration is completely finished to interact with a new item. Under time constraints, it’s a frustrating factor. Some details are easy to miss, as a lot of narrative comes from interacting with interest points that players aren’t forced to interact with. Still, the narration composes a detailed emotional rollercoaster as Jade gives her final advice and the player is left with a sincere lesson.
When the journey concludes, players will either feel sympathy or relief. The sympathetic route came from dialogue and hopes that hit close to home for those who wish to see loved ones again or fear the unknown roads of life. Relief may come from the feeling that the anxiety and jumping is now over or from the mostly wholesome way players depart from Jade. Dark Days is a psychological thriller with an escape room feel, but it is also a narrative that aims to tell a story. That it did.
Story: 4.5/5 - The story gets bonus points for providing representation for the LGBTQ community. It has a mix of surprising moments and predictable turns, but it is absolutely easy to delve into the storyline. There is sincerity behind Jade, and it makes the connection to her even more significant.
Visuals: 4.5/5 - Although the visuals aren’t hyper realistic, they are still real enough to provide great immersion. It has that traditional video game feel and transitions are pretty smooth. There is a lot of attention to detail in the various settings even up close.
Playability: 4/5 - The controls take some time to feel natural, however, the experience is still a great time. The emotions are relatable and powerful. The frustration seems to be in jittery tracking, constant monster appearances and crouch vs. standing actions.
User Interface: 3/5 - The choice of navigation really utilizes the maneuverability of a headset. There are times where the jitteriness doesn’t mix with the precision needed to interact, however, the game does indicate options pretty clearly with the cursor.
Replay Value: 3/5 - There aren’t really different options for the story to go. It is a narrative game and so replay value is low. There could be personal goals, such as time taken or finding the hidden movie reels. Otherwise, there is no pertinent reason to replay the game. If replayed, the game mechanics do rearrange some items between hiding spots, so each play through will be slightly varied.
Overall Score: 4/5