I made it a habit to start reviews by comically describing gameplay out of its context but I feel like it would defeat the purpose if I do it for into the dark because this game does it by itself. In fact, Into the Dark is a trash, B-videogame comedy from austria. Thats a first, I know! So how could I properly review it? Thats a good question because I have a feeling that most professional videogame reviewers (that’s a career I want to see someone explain to a girls father asking to marry his daughter) did not know how to handle this type of game. Film critics are pretty used to handling B-Movies and Trash Films because they exist for decades now. B-Movie Monstershlock started early on with phenomenal titles like „Attack of the giant squid“ etc. (Isn’t that a wonderful alternative title for a Lovecraft novella??)
…but the videogame industry does not really have much of it and certainly nothing comparable to into the dark. Just imagine there would be a syndicate that would only allow highbrowed arthouse films to be produced and suddenly said syndicate would smoke a bag of weed and release Uwe Bolls Postal movie. No one would know how to review it properly because… well to be fair… The Postal movie was something that no one should have made with images never ment to be seen. This game however isn’t as bad
I however can review this title more accurately because I witnessed the development, know the material and the source of the models and media.
So let’s get knee-deep into the dark and review it objectively. This review is also not for the easily offended because I state my honest opinion about it.
INTO THE DEVELOPMENT
Into the dark started as a one level minigame for a horrorgame contest and won even though it was not a horrorgame per se. However, it had a lot of quirky fun moments and voice acting straight out of a porndub. It was lovable. I honesty believe that Johann Peter Ivan Ertl Ertlov Brenner from Austrian Prag intended this to be nothing more at first but got good reactions from people he knew as they looked at the game. I mean come on! Errant AI’s Weapons look like something straight from an AAA Shooter and Bond1`s Monsters are well made right? Its fully 3D and everything, looked far better than most Indie 3D Shooters out there: Naturally you get a positive reaction from some dude who enters your computer room and looks over your shoulder.
Thus into the dark was born and the next homegrown games title was into development (what happened to anderson 2: the second anderson cthulhu game btw?) I go into this because I wanted you to know that Into the dark was a living room production by a hobbystudio (!) since I noticed a lot of unnecessary hatred towards this game (aswell as a lot of unnecessary praise, but we get into that later).
INTO THE RELEASE
The game got released after a message from Ertlov that it is now „the game we wanted it to be“ leaving a ton of promised modifications and features out. This is the only aspect of the game I truely disagree with. Ivan often talked about prototyping and that most of the Modelpack media displayed was a placeholder. To be honest, I would be cool with a game that uses modelpack media only if its well made but please don’t claim to be in an alpha stage working with placeholders if you release the level just the way it was in said alpha stage. Edit: And now he appears to be reeditting the game for Steam/Desura. Lets see how that goes!
I see a lot of praise for this being a commercial release available in stores. This is baffling to me because Ivan knows publishers from his job and his former homegrown-games work. What matters is the game! I never saw anyone praise an indie-movie for actually being released on DVD. Indie stuff is booming recently, especially horror games since a lot of people are unstatisfied with overpriced AAA Studio releases and since videogaming branched out a lot recently. More and more development tools are available and more and more monkeys try to make a quick buck and gaining some pseudofame via youtube by playing horrorgames with facecam and fake shock reactions. Check it out, its quite pathetic actually. I don’t mind lets players… I just mind this hipster attitude towards this flood of horrorgames recently. Anyway: To me, the fact that Ertlov actually got this out and printed is inherently funny. I recently saw Into the Dark in the local „Saturn“ and placed all the copys in the Bestseller shelve right next to the recent call of duty game. I mean: come on! The game is honest, it advertises itself as the ultimate trash experience. Like or hate it… Into the dark is a full and finished game. You can complain about its wide commercial release once you made a full game that is superior and you dont find a publisher. After all: Into the dark is superior to almost all other commercial FPSC releases. I say „almost“ because I might not know of one that is better. The russians are using FPSC too having some good results and I rarely catch up with what they do.
INTO THE GRAPHICS
Here I would like to discuss the visual quality of into the dark. Now this may be subjective because I saw a lot of different opinions on this and some where quite infuriating because they where deeply ignorant of any kind of gamedesign related knowledge. First of all: The aesthetics: This game doesn’t have any.
Come on Ivan! You know it’s the truth. For all you non-gamedesigners out there: Aesthetics are the artdesign of a game…they express themselves through the style of the models, textures and overall design of the game while graphics are seen in the way something is rendered, complex materials, shaders and resolution etc. A game can have fantastic aesthetics and lousy graphics or vice versa.
Into the Dark looks like Ivan just chose whatever available modelpacks looked the most advanced and crammed them all in his game therefore the game looks like a clusterhump of models from all over the place and certainly not like a product a couple of dedicated artists where working on. I’m also pretty sure that they used a ceiling texture on the floor of the „Into the Cabin“ chapter but I’m not going to nitpick for my own amusement in this review.
I’m not sure if it was genius, laziness or ignorance that forged the look of into the dark but Ivan and crew managed to create a game that might look a lot like an 80’s „Shot on Video“ B-movie in terms of aesthetics and color palette but also very shiny and graphically advanced for an FPSC game. The result is a game that hides its FPSCreator heritage fantastically behind a thick layer of bloom effects, specular and normalmapping. Applying normalmapping on everything around you was a well played move aswell. You see: many of you are trained to look at games and engines graphical powers by looking at how much things bump and shine. Skyrim for example is a gorgeously designed game but many people disregarded this by claiming it would look awful (!) because of its restraint in use of shadereffects and glossiness. I guess its all about whether your right or left brain is more dominant. Your analytical mind might tell you that in into the dark things have glossy effects and in most fpsc games they dont… Into the dark must look fantastic. Personally I think normalmapping has been overused and Homegrown could have used the time to tweak some textures and some leveldesign. In many levels using the Metro Theater segments, you see huge blocks of wallsegments „clipping“ with the door segments and similar offputting design bugs.
I get that this part of the review is mostly negative and trust me: I will get to the good stuff too but please indulge me as I rant on.
Another thing I would like to discuss which drives this mismatching of models from different artists to an extreme in this game is the choice of guns. Errant AI, the designer of the weapons, constantly improved during his modeling career around here so I dont like to see people mix TF341 weapons with modelpack 9 and 10 guns without removing the additional TF341 features (melee etc.). The animation styles are also different. This could be concidered geeky nitpicking by some and its not the issue here. The issue is that Ertlov mixed Errants military looking gadgety weapons with Cyborg Arts „Scary Thinker“ pack. There used to be a time in an earlier FPSC Era where kids made games mixing modelpack 5 and modelpack 9 weapons.
I never understood the thoughtprocess of a person actually doing this but it happened quite often and it just rubs me wrong that something like this made it in the largest FPSC release to date. I do however get why Ertlov did it…or lets say, I have a suspicion. You must know that the EAI Weapons look like something straight out of Call of duty, as bugsy put it so nicely. Especially since they have more muscular arms with gloves and visibe hair attached to them while the books and sheets by cyborg art have a completely different handrig. This one seems more plasticky, has no visible hair, no gloves and a different skintone. This is such a huge design flaw because the gun/HUD object is always the biggest and closest thing to the camera and you can cycle through your guns any time seeing your characters arm constantly shapeshift. The kicker however is that these guns have melee animations that Ivan did not deactivate so not only can you have a giant rubberarm punch things but also beat zombies with a piece of paper or notebook. I mean a system where you hold up books as real objects is pretty cool and with its lovecraft inspired theme into the dark could have done a lot with it…
Homegrown could have not used these models at all. After all, they take more space in the memory cap than having simple HUDs appear when you get close to a book or note… they even had a notebook system which is pretty amusing and could have saved the relevant information in there but they did decide to go with the handheld book models. Why? I think its because outside of the FPSC scene this looks very innovative. This game advertises itself to adventure players aswell where the positive (Oh! They actually make you hold and carry the book) might outweigh the negative (Thats a completely different hand than on my Assault rifle).
The choice of errants weapons is also not very fitting. This is a lighthearted trash game and the assault rifles with the grenader launchers and the laserscopes look completely out of place here. I know having some ww2 guns in context with the undead nazis would involve actual modeling but wouldnt it give the game a lot more lasting appeal than the counterstrikey guns?
To me, this game would have looked really cool in a grimey, dark comic design with the main weapon being a pump action shotgun…. but it sold well the way it was so why bother?
Now to the ignorant and infuriating comments. There is a lets play series out there by german professional (!) gamejournalists. I never red their magazine because I always figured it would be one for people without a sexlife but then again this might be prejudice, right? …And these two actually looked at the specular effect on one of the segments and claimed that „they probably stole this stuff on the wall out of some mod“. I’m not even kidding…professional gamejournalists looked at a shine effect on a wall and figured it would probably be stolen from some mod. Really!… they said the same thing about the guns where I kind of get what they ment (see above). There was also some guy…some putts…some yoyo… PRAISING Ivan for this lion mosaic texture on the floor in one of his screenshots. He actually claimed that he never saw a texture this good and high-res in any other game. This amazed me…it really did. Not only can you download said texture on Cgtextures in an exorbitant resolution and use as your desktop wallpaper if you really are so phased by it, but also do tons of games feature high resolute textures… What did this guy smoke?
Of course the game grinds all my comments in the ground with the „into the green“ level which is the worst one and really just a joke. It makes everything else look like high art and I can’t help but feel like they put it in just to screw with me
Into the Dark
You might think that I hated this game considering my review so far but I do not. I like it as much as you might like some awful flick due to sympathetic characters or story. I mean, there is a fanmovment all around Troll 2. The substandard voice recordings in austrian accent give every character a distinct personality. The bad dub enhances the games „soul“ and is much more suiting than any middle class voicestudios work (for this game and this game only). The game is filled with jokes, references and funny one-liners. These entertaining little moments and the overall ridicoulusness of the plot and situations is the payoff for the substandart gameplay. Again, don’t get me wrong! The gameplay is alright for FPSC standarts and Homegrown got creative with some puzzles. Since the game IS the biggest FPSC release to date one would hope for some more animated models and actual adventure game puzzles but all we get are the Standard key, object and object-spawning fpscreator routines. Many objects (like keys) appear once you need them which means that you can search a room but only find the key for a locked door if you find said door first…that brings in a lot of backtracking and patting which I will get to in the next segment. Homegrown put a lof of effort into masking „spawn, find, key“ puzzles into looking more complex and using the scary thinker pack. After all its FPSC and Ivan and team got a lot out of a fragile matrix. Enemie spawning is random and has no logic or pattern. In fact, Ivan often placed enemies to spawn behind you while you are looking at something of interest. This is horrorshooter routine but in this game its unpleasant because the health system displays huge bloodspurts all over your screen and engages camera staggering once you lose a few hitpoints. Which leads to:
Into the gamelength
Having a solid runtime and level length in FPSC is a nearly impossible task, If you work with standard videogame pacing you often have levels that last 2 or 3 minutes and you as a designer have to find ways to stretch it as far as you can. Into the dark takes this to an extreme not only with its health system which makes the game unplayable once you take some damage and you have to find and use a medikit. These are virtually everywhere (which is no doubt a clever joke at old school FPS games ). Using one makes a couple HUD pictures appear in the middle of the screen which takes a while…and depending on instincts and reaction time you might have to do that rather often.
The games notebook actually states that your character notices vital objects for puzzles only if he needs them… The honesty and erected middle finger in the game is another source of its charm. It is self aware and doesnt even intend to do anything good or qualitative and in itself this is exactly what makes it entertaining. Anyway, Ivan manged to create a long lasting FPSC game and thats already worth something.
You can also watch movies… and thats just awesome
Into the conclusion:
Into the dark is horrible and great at the same time. Its bad and none of the developers cared to even try making a thoroughly good title. They intentionally made something awful and awfully funny at the same time. I recommend this game and hope they make a sequel (which they will…as far as I know )
It sold well and in a world where so many people get screwed by corporations they sacrifice the better part of their lives for and run in a circle until they get boxed-in and burried 6 feet under … It feels good to know that folks like Ivan buy a couple modelpacks and assemble an fpsc game together and make some money with it. Kind of flipping all those office slaves and their view of reality off. I would rather play Into the dark then the next mean spirited call of duty murder simulation. I rate this game a yes out of no!
But if I had a magazine for teenagers and people with no sexlife it would be a 5,5 out of 10.
Whatever grammar mistakes I made can be kept.