Dark Train Review
Dark Train Review
I would highly recommend Dark Train to gamers who are looking to take a break from the ordinary and try something new and unique
Posted: 11/11/16 | Category: Review | Developer: Paperash Studio | Publisher: Paperash Studio | Platform: Windows, Mac

Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure
Release date: October 25, 2016

The Adventure Unfolds
 

Paperash Studio is a small group of indie developers from the Czech Republic. Their stated goal is “to create video games that offer a different experience and gameplay.” With Dark Train, they have accomplished this by combining “a variety of art and technology including hand-drawn illustrations and paper creations.”  To fully appreciate this game, one needs to spend time at the Paperash website (http://www.paperash.com/dark-train/). Specifically, you need to read the blogs regarding game mechanics and the backstory, as the developers have created an amazing amount of supporting details that aren't included in the game itself.  

At its core, Dark Train is a 2D exploratory adventure about a mechanical squid named ANN. She's chained to a train and charged with keeping it running. The game begins with the train at rest and most controls hidden from view. In the absence of any guidance on how to play, I began swinging the squid across the screen in wide sweeps to see what happened. At last, a section of the train was revealed with a control that could be operated. I clicked on it, observed a change in the train, and then went back to random sweeps until I found the next control. After much trial-and-error, the train rolled out of the station.

At some point, four boxes that resemble cargo containers were revealed. Each has an icon and a portal which leads to a unique location - a city, a forest, a church and a snowflake. When entering these portals, ANN is unchained and can move about freely. There is also a portal that allows ANN to exit the train and interact with the outside background. This is only possible when the train is at rest, and she remains chained during such jaunts.

Dark Inset

The Little Engine that Could
  

Dark Train centers around two types of activities. First, the train requires water, fire and electricity to continue running. These are managed by monitoring resource levels and collecting rain, heat and lightening. You also have the option of dispelling heat and water to respond to situations outside the train. Second, the four container icons (building, leaf, cross and snowflake) are lit intermittently. Although you can enter any portal at any time, a lit icon indicates that there is an active task to execute in that specific environment. To keep things interesting, the order in which the containers appear on the train can be changed. Portal icons may only turn on when a container is in a specific position. This makes the game non-linear in that tasks are not necessarily completed in a standard sequence. All tasks are required and some are dependent on the completion of others. But overall, your game experience will vary depending on how you arrange the containers and the order in which you respond to the lit icons.

While each environment (city, forest, and church) has an overall theme, the scenery changes dramatically with each new visit. In some cases, your actions culminate in the creation or retrieval of an object which is then stored on the train. Later, some of these objects are delivered to new environments for use in another task.

While common artwork and the passing of objects between environments provides a vague sense of connectivity between scenes, there is no real sense of story. The squid runs the train and completes tasks. When she has finished all assignments, her fate is revealed and the game ends.

The Paper Chase
 

The most striking feature of Dark Train is the presentation, which is entirely constructed from paper and then brought to life with the Unity engine. For insight into this process there's a fascinating video and a set of still pictures on the Paperash website that shows how scenes were created. The result is a unique game environment with a look and feel unlike anything I’ve played before. The use of color and light, coupled with paper shapes and stylistic artwork, results in a dark atmosphere that is strangely compelling. This is enhanced by a full environmental sound track. There is no on-screen text, no dialog, and no voice-overs. It is a simple feast for your eyes and ears.

In terms of mechanics, there are no instructions other than a page at startup showing you how to use your mouse or controller. For the most part you're moving ANN about with an occasional click on a specific spot to initiate an action. My biggest challenge was the physics of navigating ANN. A squid moves head first with legs trailing. If you're trying to maintain a head-up-and-legs-down position while trying to drift sideways or downward, it becomes very tricky. Throw in a task that requires perfect timing and all bets are off! My efforts to move her into position to use her legs to pick up an object required planning and a lot of patience.

Dark Inset 2

The other challenge of Dark Train is to figure out what action is expected in each scene. First, I swept ANN across the full face of each new area to determine which environmental objects could be interacted with. Next, I had to figure out what I was supposed to do. In some cases, this was obvious. In others, it took quite a bit of “try this and try that.” Finally, I had to physically execute each task using the squid. I lost count of how many scenes there are but my total time playing Dark Train exceeded 30 hours. Those who can do a mind meld with a squid are likely to finish in half that time! 

This Train is Bound for Glory
 

This is a game that is perfect for the adventurer with patience and curiosity. If you're a gamer who loves to explore for the sake of the journey with little concern for the destination, then you should be delighted by Dark Train. If you're looking for a story-driven adventure with characters and a logical quest, then the whimsy of this game may not be appreciated.

While patience is not one of my biggest virtues, I found Dark Train to be completely enchanting, and the wonder of unfolding each scene far outweighed my frustration with the mechanics of squid travel. No two scenes are alike, so the discovery process continues from start to finish. As most scenes are stand-alone, this is a game you can quit and come back to later without any loss of momentum. Your progress is saved regularly, so taking a break doesn't cost you anything. I admit that I took a number of time-outs as I reflected on how to accomplish difficult tasks. I would highly recommend Dark Train to gamers who are looking to take a break from the ordinary and try something new and unique.

 

Grade: A-
 
Stylized artwork combined with environmental sounds creates a compelling experience.
+ Sense of discovery maintained throughout game since no instructions are provided for anything.
+ Squid mechanics add a layer of complexity beyond the traditional point-and-click format.
 
- Those who are ‘destination driven’ or with a low tolerance for unguided exploration may want to skip this title
- The lack of instruction coupled with complex mechanics may become very frustrating
 Logo 
 
Trailer:
 

 

System Requirements
 
MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10
Processor: Dual-core Intel or AMD CPU
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: 1 GB
DirectX: Version 9.0
Storage: 4 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0 Compatible
Additional Notes: Warning: May not work on laptops with integrated graphic card. Please try fiddling with quality settings.
 
 
MINIMUM Mac:
OS: OS X Yosemite
Processor: Intel Core i5
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: Intel Iris
Storage: 4 GB available space
 
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