In the fall of 2019, 'Unfold Games' released a 2.5D puzzle-platform based psychological horror. Lloyd, the protagonist, finds himself in the middle of a lucid dream called 'DARQ' that surpassed my expectations. You can read about it here in my initial game release article from September 2019. It has now been six months since the initial release. DARQ made headlines that lead up to its launch last year after the Unfold Games turned down an Epic Games Store exclusive deal. Unfold Games released the news of the free DLC (downloadable content) for DARQ, called 'The Tower', on October 6th as an added 'Thank you' to us DARQ fans that supported the game during its release. A trailer followed not long after that you can watch here. For those that do not know much about DARQ yet, it profoundly borrows concepts from other games, such as 'Little Nightmares' and 'Limbo.' If you enjoyed those games, just as much as I did, then there is no better time than now to purchase DARQ and receive the free DLC. The DLC was pushed back from its initial release of December 2019 to March 6th, 2020. Was DARQ– 'The Tower' worth the wait? Let's find out.
Late Release and Updates
Throughout the past 6 months, I have been speaking with the principal developer, Wlad Marhulets, as often as I can to find out updates on 'The Tower' release. I have been excited to find out the status of the 'The Tower' DLC for some time now; but you know what they say, “all good things come to those who wait”.
On January 4th, a week after the supposed initial release of 'The Tower', Wlad Marhulets was transparent with his DARQ supporters, sharing that due to an unexpected family emergency, the release was postponed. Wlad has been very open and direct in keeping his fans in the loop via Steam and social media. It's evident that he genuinely does care about his supporters; and that is why the developer stated, "This free DLC is our way of saying "Thank You" to the fans who supported us throughout the development and the turbulent yet successful launch." And it shows. He added his sincere apologies to those who were looking forward to playing the first DLC in winter of 2019, now postponed until 2020 and stated that this new content requires his full attention to be as good as it can be for his loyal fans.
Additionally, Wlad mentioned, "I'll be trying to release the first DLC ‘The Tower’ around March, and the second one shortly after. As promised before, both DLC’s will be free.". As promised, it was released on March 6th, 2020.
DARQ has a new update 1.2.1 that must be downloaded to play the new DLC. The new update fixed a couple of issues that weren't a deal-breaker for me in the original release, but a nuisance, nevertheless. The patch fixed a few issues which allows Xbox One or Xbox 360 (both wired and wireless) to work correctly along with the Steam controller. The primary issue for me during gameplay, when DARQ was first released, was the use of movement with the arrow keys. I still remember trying to find out how to change the keyboard hotkeys; I was a little turned off when I realized I couldn’t but stuck it out anyhow. Now, for us keyboard users you can navigate the pause menu and play with either ASWD + E or with the arrows + Enter, regardless of what control scheme is currently chosen. The one issue I continuously run into still is the use of the inventory mechanics from the initial game release. It was not made clear that I had to click an empty slot in order to exit my inventory. At least when you use a controller, you can exit the inventory with the B button or simply by clicking Select. Additionally, it wouldn't be a DLC without a few more achievements. 'The Tower' has added on four new achievements that are somewhat difficult to achieve from the initial run-through of ‘The Tower’.
Lanky teenage protagonist Lloyd is back, and this time he is stuck in an atmospheric and gravity-defying dark tower. Desperate to escape, Lloyd must withstand the many obstacles of his mind to return to the waking world. Once again, he is bending the laws of physics to manipulate the dream world through a 2.5D level dream interpretation journey. Users are challenged from beginning to end while they manipulate the monochromatic dream world to survive and progress, while solving various puzzles. Except this time, there aren’t any enemies to slow you down. Unless you count the severed heads that are seen chomping through various levels waiting to be obtained. Now, I am not going to write another article based around the monochromic artwork, game design, sound effects, and music. Again, you can read all about the beautiful aesthetic and overall gameplay that DARQ possesses here. However, let’s go ahead and unpack what this new chapter brought to the table.
Earlier this week, I was able to receive the Beta version from Wlad’s newly released free DLC. This brings us the latest eerie chapter with a variety of new puzzles and achievements to gain. Like the main game, you are immediately jumped into the experience without a title screen, except this time you are stuck in a hair-raising tower with 5 floors. The user must explore while choosing to run about chaotically or to enjoy a pleasant stroll, taking in the artwork and monochromatic atmosphere. Within the first seconds, you are given the only option to press a standstill button, which changes the atmosphere into what appears to be either a demonic underworld or some inners of a beast. It was a new experience and an excellent component to the beginning of the DLC that wasn’t seen in the preceding main game. The change of the atmosphere was a prime example of what I love about DARQ. The game keeps you continuously guessing on what is happening within Lloyd’s mind, and I can’t get enough; it must be the psych major in me. Throughout ‘The Tower,’ you are picking up various objects to complete tasks. For example, extension cords to solve electrifying puzzles; as well as wheels and belts to activate hatches, doorways, and elevators throughout the tiered map.
This new chapter brings us a variety of puzzles that each had their level of difficulty and style. This diversity wasn’t so much seen during the main game. Your objective while in the tower is to pick up 5 severed, howling heads from 5 levels throughout the tower. There is a hitch, however (spoiler alert coming up). During one of the last stages in the tower, while searching for the 5th head, you will find a guillotine, which leaves the only option for solving the serenading severed heads objective. You guessed it; Lloyd needs to cut off his own head. Immediately, I felt a sense of awe that Lloyd truly does know he’s in a dream, as he seemed not to hesitate and take full advantage of the situation. His head rolled away; he picked it up and ran to the finish line. Once again, Lloyd took advantage of his lucid dream, using it to his leverage. Once all 5 severed heads have been collected, you must attach them to mechanical rods attached to a switch, turn it on, and they all begin “serenading” - OK, more like screaming at you, hauntingly. The screams cause the wall to fall apart and blowup, revealing an escape from the eerie tower. Additionally, throughout the game, I tried hard to hear if Lloyd himself a voice had but was unable to.
Since it was a DLC, I was kind of hoping there might have been a cinematic before it dived into the game itself. Ever since Lloyd walked into the light during the ending scene of the main game, I was curious to know where precisely the setting was then or where ‘The Tower’ was meant to take place now. Would it be an add-on to a new beginning for Lloyd? Did he not escape his dream world? Or, would it even tie into the original story at all? Maybe these were just personal issues because I am so inquisitive about Lloyd’s life. You really can find yourself genuinely caring for Lloyd’s well being. As I mentioned in my previous review, the replayability of DARQ is limited. And yet even after acquiring all the achievements and being left with not much else to do, it still hooks you.
Last but not least, it has always been important to me that players, such as myself, support independent developers, and their small companies’ growth. I want to make it known that Unfold Games does have an online store to purchase merchandise, which you can find here. I genuinely hope that one day, DARQ becomes much more than just a game. Maybe a clay animation movie? (hint, hint) Until then, I look forward to the upcoming DLC that will be released later this year.
‘The Tower’ is artistically haunting and succeeds in creating an unsettling atmosphere that was gratifying having the user interpret their thoughts in the story that feels required from the very first second of the gameplay begins until the very end. You advance through the tower to escape Lloyd’s dreamscape but this time, you feel Lloyd is in full control. As my mom would say, “my little boy is growing up!”. The gameplay is short-lived with only 30 minutes. To all my future “DARQie” fans out there, do not let the time frame of 30 minutes discourage you. It’s well worth it. You can even receive an achievement for completing it in under six minutes. The puzzles were, again, intuitive, not overly discouraging to solve them - even when timed.
DARQ and its DLC counterpart, were created almost entirely by the first-time solo developer, Wlad Marhulets, along with a few talented contractors that now make up the independent gaming company, ‘Unfold Games’. Again, I would like to thank ‘Unfold Games’ and Wlad for keeping their promise of releasing it in March and for creating ‘The Tower’. Another spectacular job - bravo. It was worth the wait! I couldn’t recommend it more than I already have and not just because it’s free!
DARQ won the ‘Audience Choice Award’ at Game Audio Awards 2020, ‘Best Art’ at Dreamhack 2019, and Best Game at MIX/Pax West 2018. DARQ landed on the front page of Reddit multiple times, becoming one of the most upvoted posts of all time. DARQ was one of the most wish-listed titles on Steam as of August 5th, 2019 and currently supports over 19 different languages.
As of now, DARQ is $19.99 and still includes the ‘The Tower’ for free but keep a look out for future sales. Wlad promised another upcoming free DLC later this year to all DARQ’s supporters. It went even into production two weeks ago, so keep an eye out for any updates soon! I will be looking forward to the next DLC released by ‘Unfold Games’ with great interest!
Today, April 2nd, the review release of DARQ ‘The Tower’, marks the 3rd anniversary of the death of Wlad Marhulets father. DARQ fans, you all might have seen his father’s name in the ending credit roll that was dedicated in his memory.
I would like to dedicate this review in the memory of Alex Marhulets.
Wlad’s proudest supporter and earliest believer in DARQ. I am positive that he would be very proud of all that you have created and the bright future that is ahead of you and Unfold Games.
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Publisher: Unfold Games
Gameplay - 5/5
Aesthetics & Design - 5/5
Sound Effects & Soundtrack -4/5
Performance - 5/5 - I am currently using the AMD Radeon VII
Game length - 4/5 - I beat it in about 30 minutes.
Overall Rating – 4.5/5
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.