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B-movie horror in a text adventure, December 5, 2015
Originally this game was written in Italian. It has been translated into English, and it shows, and it is amazing. I think people will either love it or hate it. I loved it.
You play as a vampire who's just awoken after having been killed for the second time. You're in your crypt surrounded by protective wards that the people who slayed you left behind to ensure you'd stay dead and trapped. But they didn't succeed. You have to disassemble the wards and break out again to reunite with your vampire queen mistress.
Everything about this game is neck-deep in both serious and parodic vampire lore. The environment is elaborately overwrought, with torture devices and painted bats and spiders and snakes on the walls. One sub-mission involves finding your evil vampire wardrobe and dressing in style for your comeback. What puzzles you'll find here are basic, not really pushing any envelopes, but sprinkled around in just the right places to keep you engaged. Or at least, in the right places to keep me engaged!
But what really won me over about this game was the writing. I can't judge the original Italian. My impression is that it must have been baroque, and the translated prose drips with atmosphere and character. It's decadent. But it's also unnatural, and by that I mean that a native English speaker would have never naturally written prose like this. That does not mean the translation suffers from broken English. For the most part (barring a few typos) it's grammatically sound. Rather, it has a cadence that only a non-native speaker could bring to the language. An inclination to turn phrases in unexpected ways.
In another genre, this would have surely backfired, but here the translation enhances the experience enormously. It places Darkiss into a tradition that I thought only belonged to film: schlocky yet sincere foreign horror overdubbed with out-of-sync voice acting. In fact, it's more than that: Darkiss is like the thick accent that Bela Lugosi brought to Dracula. It's inadvertent but it's perfection.
Maybe this makes it sound as though the translation is doing the game a disservice by misrepresenting the original Italian, but I don't think that's the case. You already know what tone Darkiss has in mind from the narrative and setting and characters. It loves old-fashioned vampire stories, both for their silly tropes and for the true horror that they explore, and it's taking all the classic ingredients and mixing them together into an over-the-top homage. I wouldn't be surprised if the English translation actually succeeds more than the Italian at this goal.
Finally, something else wonderful comes through the translation: earnestness. You can tell that Darkiss was written with love, and you can tell that it wants to share that love with the player. I think this is why it was such a joy for me to play even though the protagonist is so vile (because Martin Voigt is indeed a vile vampire, not a romantic one). Every new action reveals another little passage in the story, and each new passage is a delight to read.
Darkiss is probably the best self-aware horror game that I've ever played.