Darkland
for C64

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LostInSpace:
Company: Psytronic
Year: 2022
Genre: Action
Theme: Horror / Unique
Language: English
Licence: Freeware
Views: 978
Review by LostInSpace (2023-02-18)
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Absorbing, thrilling action in a creepy setting by using minimalist design was another attempt Richard Bayliss tried to implement into the game Darkland with the help of the SEUCK (Shoot'Em Up Construction Kit) engine. The programmer is no stranger to this type of development environment. He has his own website on which several hundreds of his games and demos for the C64 are offered. The screenshots on the itch.io website gave me reason to hope that the creative spark leaps over to him and that the result was not just another faceless blast-the-baddies game.

The path that our unknown hero, armed with a rifle and a torch, takes on the side-scrolling screen during the approximately 20 minutes of gameplay reaches from a small village – apparently this person's home – through a forest to a bridge, along a road into a town and from there through extremely dark terrain to a *spoiler-alert* half-open door in a brightly lit house at the end of the street. His only enemies are tentacle monsters that stalk him in the shadows of darkness and occasionally spit large red (deadly) blobs through the area. The opponents are only visible in the round light beam of the torch or in the few somewhat brighter places on the screen (bushes?).

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“Gotcha!”

The best strategy seems to be moving from one bright island to the next and try to illuminate the way as best as possible. Further aiding the detection of the attackers is the graph of an oscilloscope at the bottom of the screen, which shows a more or less strong amplitude depending on the number of monsters, and the sound, which gives an acoustic signal similar to the sonar of a submarine as soon as opponents approach. If many enemies accumulate, there is sometimes a bursting crescendo of sonar sounds.

Since the ammunition is unlimited, the player tends to run with continuous fire at first. This is not very helpful, because monsters hidden in the dark that lie directly in the line of fire are not automatically hit. You do get lucky hits from time to time, but the precise elimination requires sufficient lighting. Therefore, the light cone is a critical element of the game, which is also controlled via joystick, just like the movement of the hero.

Due to this double mapping of the joystick, the flow of the game is often sort of disrupted: you want to move on further to the left and push therefore the torch-light to the left, but have to deal at the same moment with some incoming attackers further to the right. So you have to move the light beam again to the right in order to kill the enemy. Then you push the torch cone all the way to the left to move forward and in many cases more enemies appear further to the right. This back-and-forth doesn't necessarily result in a fluid run and you desperately wish for an independent torch-control. In addition to the joystick, WASD-key-mapping-controls might have been a good idea.

Furthermore the level design at the end of the game tears on the nerves: the playing field is entirely dark for a quite long distance and you are completely dependent on the light of your torch. This is a bit unfair considering the hordes of monsters. At the very end of the tunnel you finally reach the above-mentioned door and can enjoy a cynically-funny ending scene.

Despite the weak points mentioned, Darkland is a inventive game, as the situation shown can almost be considered the quintessence of the horror genre. In which film, game or book does the protagonist not find himself in this unpleasant situation at some point? This is probably why Darkland intentionally came without any background story. The reason for the tentacle invasion remains open and you are left to guess whether these are aliens or mutants or monsters bred by the government or just the creature from the swamps.

On the itch.io website, the developer restricts himself to the laconic remark: “Now they will know why they are afraid of the dark. Now they learn why they fear the night.” Thematically appropriate, the game was polished up a bit after its initial release in 2014 and given away as a Halloween-special by Psytronik in 2022.

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