Adventure games have been around for years now and occasionally one will come out that breaks the mold and impresses us on just how good it can be. Dark Train is one of those titles. Its story is dark and hidden from the average player, the puzzles are innovative and different, and most importantly it is fun and inviting. This may not be for everyone but developer Paperash has something here that they should be proud of, and if you like puzzles, then you should give this game a chance.
Dark Train is available on Steam for $14.99.
One of the best parts of any adventure game is the sense of accomplishment you get when you solve a puzzle. The sense of wonder as you go into a new room wondering what puzzles and difficulties ahead never get old. Somehow developer Paperash flawlessly introduces this concept into play here. This is no point and click game, but rather one where you simply move your mouse around and solve puzzles. These puzzles start off simple enough and as you eventually progress further through the game you will find harder and more difficult puzzles to test your noggin out.
Every puzzle is unique in this game, this is in part to the fact that there is no point and click puzzles, you do have the ability to click on items, however, it is just to open and close doors and the like. These puzzles all have a unique sense of identity and the first puzzle really sold me on what they were trying to accomplish. You are locked in what appears to look like a claw, you actually have to swing your robotic octopus back and forth just to start the game. The developers are slowly getting you used to the different type of gameplay that you are going to have to learn. Every puzzle afterwards is constantly teaching you the rules of the game and just what types of clues to look for.
Dark Train does not have a help button, it will not point at something and your character will not talk out loud to herself,she's an octopus, there has to be a point where we say enough is enough, and a talking octopus is where they drew their line. This lack of speech or conversation means that you the player has to actually pay attention to the world and everything in it. Why do certain items light up? Why does my character disappear when I stay still in this room?, or even why am I collecting all of these items. This lack of explanation is really quite fresh when most games in today's day and age hold your hand and want to explain every little detail of the game to you.
My only gripe is that some "scripted" events would not always take place when they were supposed to. I found that I had to reset my save because something weird had happened, each time it occurred it only set me a few seconds behind, so it was only a minor inconvenience and I'm sure will be patched in the future.
Tell me a story
Some games like to tell you a 20 plus hour story with more twists and bends than you can count. Some games like to hide their story in clever ways that way players have to think about the message of the game. Dark Train is the latter. The story is never presented to you on a silver platter. You aren't told your characters name, you don't find actual letters or messages that tell you the entire plot of the game. All you get is the actions you do, what you see in the world around you and your own interpretations. I liken the type of story to something like Machinarium, they both don't have speech, but I would argue that this game is quite a bit more abstract than Machinarium.
There is some danger with this style of storytelling, though, and there are some hiccups along the way in Dark Train. There is no introduction to the character or what the Train represents, these are all unknown to you as you start the game. It is a brilliant move, however, with no explanations being given as you play, some of the harder puzzles may end up decentivizing some players and could have the opposite desired effect on some and cause them to quit playing. However, those that stick through with it will be constantly entertained and challenged.
I am not going to go into real details of the story in this review because this is a game you need to experience and as a result explaining any plot decides or types of themes that are present in the game would only ruin the experience for you, and I really don't want to do that.
Proper world building
Building a game with an aesthetic and world can be challenging, building it out of paper, now that's just crazy. That is exactly what developer Paperash did however and it the presentation and world pops so well because of it. In fact, no part of this game looks like it is made of paper, the entire game actually reminds me quite a bit of tearaway, but where tearaway is cute and fun, Dark Train is brooding and mysterious. This is what drives you while you are playing the game the entire time. The first time you suck up something and it gets placed in your nesting area, that is the best way to describe it, trust me, you are suddenly filled with questions on where this is and why it exists.
Every aspect of this game just begs you to ask more and more questions, such as why are there humans in this world? Am I just a slave? WHY AREN'T I WEARING PANTS!?!?!? Regardless of those questions, the presentation drives the story forward, because it has to. The storytelling is done through the environment and the things you pick up, there is no audio to tell you that this is a crystal, or that this is an egg. Everything you have to figure out on your own and this is no more evident than when you are actually coming face to face with a robotic squid who looks an awful lot like you. This style of presentation is inviting every second and you just want to see more of it as time goes on.
The presentation is also very well done in the way the world is shown off to you. Fires that are off in the distances, bugs/lightning bugs that glow in distance. This game may not win any awards for being the prettiest game out there, but it sure does look good no matter what kind of graphics snob you may be. The game starts you off in such a minimalist state that the game does start as a black and gray with lights making the only bright aspect of the game. Journeying through the game, however, will actually cause you to start turning on certain aspects of the train and the world itself and makes things more colorful. This introduction to color within the game world is a welcome change and as things progress you only start to feel closer to the world and your character.
I would be remised if did not mention the soundtrack, though. This soundtrack is amazing, from the rain being in the background and thunder/lightning going off, mixed with the sounds of church hymns and ambient music. This soundtrack is one they should be proud of, it only serves to build up the world and you want to listen and enjoy every second of it.
Progression through Dark Train is something of a mixed bag for me. Some of these puzzles are super difficult and require some really out of the box thinking, whereas some I could go into another room and know exactly what to do. The style of gameplay really does make a difference here. In point and click adventure games the difficulty comes from a source of intelligence. You have to think logically "or illogically in some cases" to solve a puzzle. Everything in this game makes sense, but you do have to stretch either your knowledge basis or get lucky in discovering how something works. The sense of progression in this game can make you feel great, but at times it halts you in your tracks and when you get stumped, oh boy do you feel stumped. Most of the time it was because something that was supposed to happen didn't. One famous example that happened to me was in front of a cathedral. There was an open window and I was pretty sure I was supposed to go in, I tried for about 5-6 minutes a menagerie of different things, but nothing worked. I eventually left the game, got a drink, turned it back on, and turns out one of the bugs in the game occurred and I just needed to reset it, so my big word of advice, if you can't go any further in the game try turning it off and getting a nice warm cup of coffee, then come back.
Now I don't usually talk about bugs in games, but there are a few here that I want to mention mainly so that others can actually see that one, they occur, and two, how to fix the biggest one. The first one I have talked about many times in the review, but I think it is worth noting because anything that halts your progress in a puzzle game is automatically frustrating, it is made worse however when it is the games fault, not yours. The biggest and most annoying bug I had was all of the crashings. This game crashed 12 times on me, I believe that it mainly due to Steam with all of the time I spent fixing the issue, but once I did some small fixes it worked and I didn't have any problems, other than I had to run it with the Steam client, not in the background. I found that if your put Steam in big picture mode, turn the Steam overlay off and keep Steam from updating any types of things in the background that it would keep the game from crashing, I don't know why, but some indie games tend to have this problem when it comes to the Steam overlay/UI.
Dark Train is a great game. One that as you play it you just can't help but feel pulled in by all of its mystery and charm. The storytelling is unique and makes you want to put storylines where there may not be any story lines there, but regardless you feel empowered by just how intelligent it makes you feel. The gameplay is a nice deviation from the typical point and click style games you would usually see in this genre, and best of all it is just a blast to play through. If you like puzzle games you are going to love this one, even if there are a few pesky bugs that get in the way.
|+ Great storytelling mechanics||– Game Crashes|
|+ Movement based puzzles||– Progress is halted by bugs occasionally|
|+ Fun and difficult puzzles||– Lack of dialogue or story being told could detract some gamers|
|+ Great soundtrack|