Dark Odds is a game that I wanted to love. The hand-drawn visuals are clearly a labor of love, and the story is terrifying to play through on a cold, dreary November night. Unfortunately, the haunting graphics can’t make up for the lackluster gameplay experience, one that is bogged down by a clunky choice-selection mechanic and decisions that often hold little value.
The game’s premise is simple enough – you wake up in a dark forest, unsure of how you got there. You look down, and you’re tightly bound to a tree. From there, you’ll swipe the screen left or right to make decisions. Do you pick up the phone in your pocket, or do you leave it alone? Call out for help, or keep silent? The choices are basic to begin with yet become increasingly tense as the story goes on.
However, too often these choices don’t mean much. I was often asked to search for a weapon – only to find one and then never be given the option to use it. The game manages to stay simple and accessible to a wide audience by only giving you two choices at any given time, but that leaves much to be desired in the realm of player choice. For example, several times I was able to pick up a hammer, but, despite playing through the game numerous times, I was never able to use it as a weapon. I’m sure there’s a reason you’d want to pick up the weapon, but it seems like it has such as limited use that the choice loses much of its meaning.
That feeling of frivolity goes for a lot of the choices you’ll make. Often choices will loop, too – you’ll select one option, run through a few more selections, hit a dead end, then be back at the decision that started the entire loop. Dark Odds has over 280 unique states, 560 decisions, and more than 130 visual frames – but many of these have such a limited use that you’ll wonder how people will ever stumble upon them or why they were included at all.
Making these choices isn’t mechanically easy, either. On paper it sounds like a great system – simply swipe left or right to make a choice. But when implemented, it’s not so smooth. You’ll need to drag your finger halfway across the screen just to see one of the options, then repeat that in the other direction to see your alterative. Then, you’ll swipe your finger all the way to the edge of the screen to make your selection. In turn, that means an average of two to three swipes to make one simple choice. The game would move much faster, and be less tedious, if you could simply see what your choices were right away, or at least give you an options screen to select your gameplay preference.
It would also be nice if, once you’ve completed a run-through, you could go back to certain decisions and rework your answers. But that’s not the case – you’re forced to start every single run at the beginning of the game. There are a few conveniences built into Dark Odds that let you skip past a couple early decisions, but I found myself dreading the first few minutes of every new run, as I knew what I’d be doing and saying well before it popped up on screen.
Dark Odds has a wonderful concept and disturbingly beautiful graphics, but leaves much to be desired in terms of gameplay. Its one mechanic – sliding your finger to make decisions – is a bit more cumbersome than it needs to be but, with a few quality of life improvements, it could be a terrifyingly great mobile game.