Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words. His response, which he allegedly claimed was his best prose work, was “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” These six words give the reader everything they need to hear and leaves enough space for their imagination to play out the exact events.
Darkfate, a game from Kevin Soulas, falls from the same minimalist tree. Using scaled-back graphics and fantastic audio, it emphasizes imagination and storytelling over actual gameplay. While it successfully gets its point across, it fails to remember that it has to be played.
Players control Chris Freeman, a man suffering from a well timed bout of amnesia. Hoping that exploration will lead him back to his memories, he sets off to face whatever challenges he can find to his right. Unfortunately, there aren’t many.
It’s purely an exploration game with gravity as the sole enemy. Chris can move left or right and he can jump, and if he falls too far or down a pit he dies. Actually, that last part isn’t entirely true. Only some pits kill you.
Others lead to different paths, but the only way to discover this is to find a dead end or fall down by accident. The level designs – from a gameplay perspective – are so uninspiring that you might be tempted to throw him off the cliff yourself, and hope it kills him.
However, the game isn’t trying to win an award for mastery in design. Well, it’s trying to win an award, just not that one. This game was submitted to the Game Builder 20 event competition. This means there were certain limitations on what the designers could do with the code. Instead of focusing on the platforming portions of the game, Soulas turned his limited resources to the atmosphere and story.
This is where Darkfate’s indie charm shines. The lo-fi graphics (akin to Atari games) create a limited foundation of colors and objects made up large pixel blocks, and leaves the rest up to the player.
To help visualize, Soulas worked up a realistically haunting score composed of howling winds and dripping caverns. This combination, on top of how massive the levels are compared to Chris, emphasis the loneliness in Chris’s journey as pixels give way to wet, sprawling caverns and decrepit cities.
The story is told through a series of log books found throughout the journey. It follows in the footsteps of the movie Primer, but isn’t as scientifically powerful or well written. However, it’s interesting enough that finding the next logbook – along with the aesthetics – are enough motivation to tolerate the gameplay.
Darkfate is a short story disguised as a video game, but it doesn’t know how to act like one. The modest story told with excellent minimalist visuals are enough to endure the boring gameplay, but it isn’t enough to overlook it.
[Gamer Limit gives Darkfate a 7.0/10]
You can download Darkfate here. A warning: the site is in French and the English version is the second choice.