Haven Review: I Can’t Escape: Darkness

DarknessTitleFirst up is our disclaimer. We received this game for review purposes only, and as such all opinions in this review are our own. No money has been exchanged for this review.

What happens when you cross a classic dungeon crawler with an equally classic escape-the-room puzzler? The answer is simply, I Can’t Escape: Darkness; developed and published by Fancy Fish Games.

When I first launched the game I was a bit confused. I thought I’d accidentally clicked on another title in my Steam library from a few years ago! I was presented with a first-person view inside a dungeon maze, with large-block walls and a low ceiling. Vines grow out from wall cracks and sconces dimly light the entire experience.

2016-01-30_00005 (2)After a short, but informative tutorial I began my delve into the gloom. I must say I was a bit underwhelmed. The inventory system is extremely basic; a small backpack to hold items you find. Rocks and mushrooms are pretty much it early on, and in your hands you begin with a humble wooden stick and a flashlight. Use your map often as you wander around. Without it you’ll end up going in circles; the hallways all look alike, for the most part. The map uses a “fog of war” system, so it’s easy to tell where you have and haven’t been.

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Occasionally on the walls you’ll come across large square buttons. Press these to open a new passage or reveal a secret area. If you see a pit in the floor blocking your way to a wall button, simply throw a rock from your inventory to get the job done. Another feature commonly found on walls is the red eyeball. I’m not quite sure of its significance, but if you poke it with your stick it will vanish. My guess here is that the living dungeon becomes less aware of your presence somehow if you put out its eyes. Again just a guess, but it comforts me.

2016-01-30_00017Next up are the actual puzzles. I found a room with a hanging skeleton and a broken wine bottle on the floor. At least he went happy! I still have the bottle in my inventory. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, but the first rule of dungeon games is “Keep everything until you can’t carry any more, then drop what you’re instincts tell you is least important.” Soon after, I came across an ornate door with engravings of spider webs and snakes. Of course, it’s locked and I have no key; although looking at it now, the lock is round…hmmm.

2016-01-30_00011 (2)Let’s talk briefly about denizens. Rats…there are lots of rats; some big and others small. Smack them with your stick a few times to send them packing, and don’t worry if they bite you once. You’ll be poisoned for a short time and left in a haze. Just wait for it to clear and you’ll be fine. Don’t get bitten again while you’re poisoned though, or you’ll die and have to reload from your last save point. There are other monsters around as well, including a thin wraith that looks like it hasn’t eaten anything in years; even when it was alive. It doesn’t seem to harm you at all, but it’s creepy nonetheless; especially when it floats right through you! There’s also another baddie that looks like Medusa’s head; a cluster of prickly vines that hits for a double dose of poison very fast. Just think of it as a super-rat. Try to get in the first hit with this one.

TwinsThe next thing I’d like to mention is the achievement system. There are 12 Steam achievements, but the way to unlock most of them is to die. Of course you get one by completing the game, but otherwise you must die once by any and every means possible. Fortunately, you can save your game at any point, a much welcome feature not found in many modern titles.

Finally, there’s the matter of what this game is not; namely a standard RPG. There are no player stats or levels. There are no weapon skills to master. You’re simply running down hallways, avoiding danger and hopefully getting out alive. Keep this in mind and you’ll enjoy the game a lot more. Also, the movement controls feel somewhat awkward. Strafing is a non-starter due to innumerable pit traps, so the alternative is to stand still and turn in place if you wish to change directions. While certainly not uncommon in dungeon games, here the animation is a tad slow. This is especially true when climbing or descending stairs.

2016-01-30_00009 (2)So is I Can’t Escape: Darkness worthwhile? Yes, although it’s a bit pricey. Steam charges $12 (USD) and $4 more if you wish to add the official sound track. I think the audio is great, by the way. It’s very moody and even scary at times. So if you like the idea of a room escape puzzler with a dungeon theme, I’d recommend giving this game a try. But if you’re primarily interested in a traditional dungeon RPG, you may find it a little light in the role playing department.

DarknessScale-Chris Roberts-

  • Peter Venkman

    – You can kill the rats (and any mob) without taking damage by hitting them just as they’re entering or leaving a square. The broken bottle is a weapon — you can one-shot the rats with it.

    – The freaky white ghost is not hostile and if you let it roam around, it will light the braziers on that level. That’s a very big benefit in this game.

    – Lots of those stone switches are traps that open up the floor beneath you. To avoid those traps, stand one grid away from the switches and through a rock at them.

    – And the mushrooms with the blue spotted caps are the “magic sight” mushrooms which reveal glowing runes on the walls and other things.

    That’s about all I know so far after about 2 hours with the game. I like it a lot more than I thought I would. The graphics are retro but well designed, and the sound design is awesome. All sorts of freaky noises above atmospheric music…bizarre noises, animal noises, whispering that fades in and out, strange chanting, footsteps that sound like they’re coming toward you…

    I took the game’s advice to wear headphones and play in a darkened room, and it’s fun.

    I think dungeon crawler fans will love this. The only things I’d warn people about are 1) This is not an easy game, and you’re going to die quite a bit figuring out how everything works and how to avoid traps. 2) The game is about atmosphere, puzzles and playing smart. It’s not about combat or shiny loot or leveling up.