Why is vampiric stealther DARK in capitals? Nobody knows. It doesn't stand for Dracula's A Restrained Killer, even though that would be the most appropriate subtitle in the world. Apart from one fact: in this world, the killer's name is Eric Bane. Eric has awoken, footloose and memory-free, in a purple nightclub with cage dancers and blood cocktails. Only half-converted, Eric is dazzled by headaches, hallucinating angels, and if he doesn't drink the blood of his maker, he'll degrade into a mindless ghoul.
Bane narrates himself like his soundalike hero, Max Payne, and warps from place to place like Dishonored's Corvo. The chat wheels are Mass Effect, and the pretty, cel-shaded locations feel like XIII's been dragged cheering into the 2010s. Apart from the hackneyed vision of vampire nightclubs, the levels tend to be unwilling to settle for the obvious old locations. The first chapter's museum feature offices that have been built around a castle, threading glass and ancient stonework together in a way that's surprising and original. The second chapter drops a forest into a skyscraper, the whimsy of a mad billionaire.
So there's plenty to like about DARK. The cover system, while technically the same as any other, has a pleasant supernatural swish as you smoke from one hiding place to another. There's a feeling, at the beginning of the game, that Realmforge may have bottled an elusive genie, and done for modern, fwippy Vampires what Rocksteady did for Batman. It's a feeling that falls apart in the fight.
Bane has four upgradeable powers from the get-go. A short-range teleport, reminiscent of Dishonored's blink, but nowhere near as elegantly implemented. Auspex slows time and shows up items of interest in a distorted, ugly neon bloom. Killing is, well, it's the ability to kill anything with a single, purple-misted punch. Feeding is the alternative to a Kill - a slower, slurpier process that attracts nearby attention, but adds a notch of Vitae to your stores.
Vitae fuels your eight optional powers. Offensive powers are in the minority here, and are dangerously noisy until you upgrade them to be silent. The emphasis is on crowd control, and avoiding combat, because DARK wants you to play a stealthy game. The penalties for open combat are spectacularly harsh - you receive a 75% reduction in XP for kills, as well as the loss of a level XP bonus. There's also an agonisingly prolonged period of alarm, which tends to be exacerbated by the timer reset whenever anyone stumbles across another corpse.
This is a shame, because the game can be entertaining when it all kicks off - or would be, if your melee attack wasn't so deliberately clumsy, and the camera so wildly erratic, as to make it an unfair gamble. You'll spend half your time playing DARK feeling impressed at what's been achieved, and the other half lamenting the decisions that stop you enjoying it. Lament. That's a vampire word, isn't it? Totes broody.
Scamming DARK's quirks becomes more appealing than playing it properly. You'll spam the time-slowing Auspex. You'll notice that if you hide behind a box, guards will file one by one into your kill range, allowing you to leap out, deliver a death-punch, hide, regenerate, and repeat until all the guards have witlessly conga'd to their purple-fisted doom. At other times, you'll notice guards restricted to certain areas, allowing you to pick them off as they take it in turns to stand in the doorway. The AI is not, shall we say, great.