Set in the twisted hellscape of a lucid nightmare, DARQ Ultimate Edition blends physics-warping puzzles with a haunting atmosphere. You play as Lloyd, a silent character with a distinctly gothic design. His pale face and long limbs fit easily in the darkness of the dream world, but his relative normality is all that anchors you to the real world.
The game begins in a house, and you guide Lloyd to bed, where he begins to dream. There is no introduction or explanation of what is going on. This creates a sense of disorientation that lends itself well to the creepy atmosphere of the game.
There are distinct themes in Lloyd’s nightmares that act as clues about what trauma in his life has triggered such dark dreams. But they are subtle enough that you can project any of your own anxieties onto the grim setting or simply lose yourself in the surreal mystery of it.
DARQ Ultimate Edition is split into levels that each contain a dream from which you have to escape. You solve puzzles to traverse each world while avoiding the notice of distorted humanoid figures wrapped in bandages with lampshades and instruments for faces.
The game plays with the expected function of the 2D side-scrolling format. You can only go forwards and backwards initially, but you can also play with the physics of the world. You can step onto walls and invert gravity each time until you’re walking on the ceiling. You can propel yourself forwards and backwards onto parallel paths from your original starting point. In some levels, there are levers you can pull that shift the camera so you can face a different direction.
Each level’s approach to the mechanics of the world is slightly different. You have to readjust at the start of every one so you’ll be properly prepared to take on the puzzles. The puzzles are genuinely interesting, with additional challenge added by the chaotic world and the creepy creatures lurking in the shadows.
There are plenty of moments where a simple solution will be hidden within plain sight, if only you don’t trust what you’ve learned about the world so far. DARQ Ultimate Edition is perhaps not a game for the easily frustrated, but it is well suited to anything who relishes those moments of realisation as an achievement.
The slow pace of a lot of enemies means that there is a fair bit of waiting around, which loses some of its excitement over time. This is abruptly overturned with a puzzle that requires speed as the camera pans away from your task to a monster rapidly approaching.
DARQ Ultimate Edition comes with two DLC adventures as well as a 60-page graphic novel, which shines a line of some of the unanswered questions raised in the game. There are also collectibles scattered throughout the narrative that anyone truly invested in solving every puzzle can seek out. The bonus content goes some way to justifying the price of the game, considering the main content doesn’t take particularly long to complete.