Steam is home to many, many independent games. Too many, some even say. Within this subset of games, none is more common than the first-person horror game. Often simple yet effective, it is not surprising that independent developers are attracted to this genre. Among these is Vladislav Vasilkov, who brings us DarkLast.
DarkLast surprises before it even starts. Instead of the omnipresent Unity logo, you are greeted by the emblem of Game Guru. In case you miss it, the Game Guru first-person shooter interface and basic start menu are a giveaway. The latter is, in fact, so basic that it does not allow you change the graphics settings or audio volume; that has to be done from the in-game menu.
When you begin DarkLast, you find yourself in a graveyard with more fog than Silent Hill on an autumn morning. The game controls smoothly, using standard first-person shooter controls. After dashing through the maze-like commentary for a while, you will notice one aspect that sets DarkLast apart from half its competitors: there is no stamina bar and no limit to harnessing the fruits of your protagonist’s regular cardio exercise.
‘But everything is not as simple as it might seem at first glance’ DarkLast’s description states. Unfortunately, this is not entirely accurate. For the most part, everything is exactly what you expect. There are exceptions, however, with one such exception being the swamp next to the graveyard. There is a reason why one should not bury the dead in swampy ground.
In order to reach said swamp, you have to overcome DarkLast’s antagonists, the mutants. The mutants — black-clad special operatives, apparently — lurk everywhere, ready to open fire whenever they spot you. Thankfully, the game provides you with a handgun and an immense amount of ammunition. The exact amount seems to be randomised, but on my first run, I was handed more than five hundred bullets.
Equipped with this frightening amount of firepower — and still not encumbered in the slightest — you have to engage the mutants. That is easier said than done, as every single mutant is an exceptional marksman. The only time they are open to attack at all is when they reload their guns. This sometimes happens at the beginning of a firefight — the mutants’ extraordinary aim does not line up with their gun maintenance standards.
Running away from the mutants is theoretically possible, but not recommended. You are not likely to get very far with a squad of aimbots behind you. The solution is to try to take out as many mutants as possible before they inevitably gun you down. Upon respawning, dead mutants stay dead. Thus, the struggle with the mutant marksmen becomes a war of attrition severely rigged in your favour.
Alternatively, you can simply save the game manually — which is possible at any point — and reload the save. There is a decent chance that all mutants will be frozen. They still have their idle animations, but do not react to you in any way, giving you ample opportunity to dispose of them with head shots. Not that preserving ammunition is an issue in DarkLast, mind you.
However, this method is not recommended, as it requires you reload a save game. While this is easily done, DarkLast punishes you for doing so with a loading screen so long it would embarrass the original PlayStation.
Those of you who would like to face the mutants fair and square should explore every corner to find health pickups. These do not only refill the health bar but extend it, which makes them always worth picking up. There is even more ammunition to find — just in case you burnt through the ample amounts you started with in addition to what the mutants drop.
This sums up the entire experience of DarkLast. It is, unfortunately, uninspired, not particularly spooky and suffering from technical issues. The generally smooth performance — once you get past the loading screen — is most likely a property of Game Guru, not the game itself.
Overall, DarkLast holds nothing that is not offered by the countless other first-person horror games that populate the Steam Store. It serves to demonstrate the capabilities of Game Guru at best, but ultimately does not fare well even in this particular niche.