Darkiss! Wrath of the Vampire - Chapter 1: the Awakening

by Marco Vallarino

Episode 1 of Darkiss

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Number of Reviews: 4
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A classic-style parser game about a darkly humorous vampire, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: IF Comp 2015

This mid-length IFComp 2015 game is an old-school game that is surprisingly forgiving. While you need to decipher passwords and complex machinery and examine each item and location, it has an internal consistency that makes it easier. Also, on two occasions when I was wandering around stuck, the game openly said "You remember that you..." and gave me the answer.

You are a vampire that seems like he would be played by a comedic actor in a darker film (kind of like a Buffy the Vampire take on an ancient Vampire). The game gets morbid but jokes as it does so (you remember torturing people a lot, for instance, but it' s played as an enjoyable hobby. I thought it was too much at a few points, but this game is unlikely to seriously offend anyone.

If you like puzzley games, you will love this one.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
B-movie horror in a text adventure, December 5, 2015
by CMG (NYC)

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.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Strong implementation, didn't really enjoy the setting as much as others, November 20, 2015

You are a vampire who somehow survived having a stake driven through his heart, and wakes up several years later. There's a bit of amnesia going on, which serves as a justification of having the first game in your lair (to introduce the character) while still having obstacles; I don't really like amnesia, but why not.

The tropes of the vampire are there (rich, immortal, big library; and particularly the thematic of seduction, which is at the base of the vampire myth - but there's a hint of a strong female character too which I find nice), and more, since you also have (Spoiler - click to show)the Necronomicon, demons, magic spells to resurrect the dead, telepathy, talking paintings, a torture chamber, and you live in a mountain (instead of in a castle on top of it, I guess). It's kind of a mixed bag, really; but I guess the point of the game is more to be cast at an evil supernatural character and riff off of it, and about the fun of being evil, as the writing seems to emphasize with glee and sometimes over-the-top/clichéd phrasings. There are a few English mistakes too (not that I can say anything), but in this case it gives the movie a sort of B-movie texture that's actually pretty fun.

I must admit I didn't really like being that guy: he seemed like a particularly sadistic vampire, (Spoiler - click to show)torturing people with glee (with descriptions), and it didn't really make me feel really comfortable - I didn't think this was fun, but others might find it entertaining.

There's about a dozen puzzles, involving recovering your powers and getting out of your lair; the puzzles are fair, but mostly of the "get X use X don't use it again" kind. There are a few non-standard verbs, usually used in one puzzle. The implementation is excellent: I found that almost all the actions have custom responses, and there's even amusing commands to try (there's a NPC that reacts to various topics, including Zork, apparently). The parser is rather helpful and everything was very, very smooth.

The game is fun, with a B-movie-like atmosphere but I didn't like the PC; the game is also very smooth, and all in all very enjoyable.

Random comment: the fact that the vampire would take advantage of his immortality to master the art of painting intricate, beautiful ceilings struck me as a delightfully Italian thing to do.

Random comment #2: this is a game about a vampire where >count is one of the non-standard verbs. I don't think that's intentional, but it made me smile.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
In which you play the bad guy., November 18, 2015
by Wade Clarke (Sydney, Australia)
Related reviews: Inform, IFComp 2015, horror

(This is an edited version of a review I originally wrote for my 2015 IFComp blog.)

This is how I like my vampires: Solitary, dangerous and with vile motivations. (As opposed to ubiquitous, shiny and Mormonesque.)

Admittedly Martin Voigt, the anti-hero of Darkiss, isn't as powerful as a vampire usually would be, but that's because the good guys previously killed him, leaving him with the inconvenient side-effect of weakness. The player's job in this classically styled parser adventure is to get Martin back into fighting, biting shape.

Darkiss was originally released in Italian in 2011. The IFComp 2015 version is a fresh translation into English. The game is puzzly, robustly implemented and relishes the protagonist's intent of evil vengeance. As might be expected, it's also just slightly off in some of the translation, but the core translation is resilient. The off notes don't affect game mechanics or player understanding, just the ideal reading of the prose.

The game is principally set in Martin's lair, into which he's been barricaded by both magical and folkloric means. The puzzles mix magical and practical solutions. Collecting the props needed for them requires quite exhaustive examination of the room descriptions, and for this reason I was glad of the hint system.

The lair's familiarity to this long-lived creature is a good mechanism for triggering anecdotes and memories from the past. Martin moons frothingly over his torture chamber and sadistic treatment of previous victims, while less exciting stuff – like the trick to getting through a certain door – is correspondingly less easy to recall, and thus decently excused in the story.

The game's overall feel is one of a wicked romp, though it's obviously not without some seriousness, too. The scenes in which Martin recalls past loves like Lilith from the painting, or Sabrina from the white coffin, are probably the most resonant and Anne Ricey. It's unusual to have a character so plainly evil and bloodthirsty, yet strangely endearing, at the centre of an adventure, and to play from the villain's point of view in general. The anchoring of this experience in a solid parser puzzler makes it an entertaining one.

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