DARQ is a 2019 indie horror puzzle game about a boy called Lloyd who becomes aware that he's dreaming, but now he can't wake up. Wandering through one surreal and sinister environment after another, Lloyd struggles to take control of his dreams and escape back into the waking world before the menacing creatures that lurk in his nightmares can trap him forever.
While its initial teasers had already attracted a reasonable amount of attention for the game's creepy Tim Burton-esque vibe, shortly before its release it became embroiled in a major controversy after its solo developer, Wlad Marhulets, revealed that Epic Games had offered him a deal to sell the game exclusively on the Epic Games Store, only for him to turn them down because he'd already promised the game would have a Steam release, and for Epic to subsequently refuse to carry the game at all. Marhulets unexpectedly and unintentionally found himself the public face of the gamer pushback against the Epic Games Store. Please exercise caution in discussing the DARQ/Epic controversy.
The game's first free DLC update, "The Tower", released on the 7th of March 2020, and the second and final one, "The Crypt" was released on the 4th of December that year. This also saw the release of DARQ: Complete Edition, which was ported to PS4 and Xbox One as well, with Nintendo Switch, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S ports planned for 2021. A comic book series based on the game, DARQ: Dream Journal, with art by Kelsey Haley, was announced for release in 2021 as well.
DARQ provides examples of:
- All There in the Manual: Lloyd's name is never mentioned in the game, which has no dialogue at all.
- Anomalous Art: A pair of winged statues at the start of the Crypt turn their heads to watch you as you pass.
- Body Horror: The enemies with lampshades for heads that shoot you if you walk into their light, the living disembodied limbs Lloyd has to collect, and the wheelchair-bound creature with a tuba for a head which propels itself around backwards with the force of its off-key notes, among others.
- Camera Screw: One of the scariest sequences in the game requires you to solve a fairly simple puzzle where you have to move a peg to the center of a rotating disc maze while the camera unlocks itself and constantly rotates around 360 degrees to show you the monster slowly approaching from beyond the fourth wall, making it difficult to see the puzzle for more than a few seconds at a time as well as putting you under intense pressure.
- Collapsing Lair: The final sequence of the game in the Caves level forces Lloyd to flee for his life as the entire cave system seems about to collapse on him.
- Dream Weaver: Lloyd is able to do things like walk on the walls because he's aware he's dreaming.
- Dream Within a Dream: Lloyd is never awake during the game; the bridging sequences in the apartment he returns to after completing each dream isn't the waking world, but just another dream, in which he has to fall asleep again to proceed to the next one.
- Dual-World Gameplay: The Tower features a small amount of this, with Lloyd using switches to jump from the normal Tower to a frightening Womb Level.
- Eldritch Location: The game's settings look mundane enough at first glance, if a bit creepy, but can be warped and bent like a Rubik's Cube at your will by use of oddly-placed levers and handles, and sometimes connect to each other in impossible ways (like smashing a hole in the wall of a moving train and walking through it to find yourself in a cave).
- Escape Sequence: The final dream sequence in the Caves is totally different to the rest of the game- rather than sneaking past enemies to solve mind-bending puzzles, it's a frantic flight for your life as screaming enemies pursue or shoot at you and the level collapses around you.
- Go into the Light: A non-death related example; at the end of the game, Lloyd comes to a giant pair of doors which open to reveal a shining light beyond them which he walks into, presumably leading him to wake up.
- Gravity Screw: The game's most commonly-used mechanic is Lloyd's ability to rotate the world around him, allowing him to walk up walls and onto ceilings. While the camera normally always rotates to keep the ground beneath his feet, the final escape sequence of the game sees him fleeing for his life upside-down across a collapsing ceiling.
- Jump Scare: The game has quite a few, perhaps the most startling being the screaming female monster lunging past your bed right at the start of the final dream.
- Off with His Head!: The main objective of the Tower dream is to collected severed heads, which you have to stick on platforms attached to a machine before channeling electricity through them in order to make them scream loud enough to break down the wall blocking your path to the exit. But there are only 4 heads and 5 platforms. In order to complete the puzzle, you have to gain access to the torture chamber containing a guillotine which Lloyd must use to cut off his own head, then spend the rest of the level wandering around headless.
- In the second DLC, "The Crypt", Lloyd's head is still separated from his body and is rolling around independently from it, with the player able to switch between controlling head and body to solve puzzles.
- Organ Autonomy: At two points in the game, Lloyd has to collect severed, animated limbs in order to operate the devices he needs to proceed. In the Crypt dream you also control Lloyd's severed head independantly from his body- it can't manually interact with anything, obviously, but it can roll on top of pressure-triggered switches needed to solve puzzles.
- Plague Doctor: One of them is lurking in the hospital dream, conducting inscrutable experiments. You have to sneak past it to retrieve a key item, and if it detects you it'll kill you with its telekinetic powers.
- Stealth-Based Game: In parts, as Lloyd cannot defend himself from the enemies in the game, and in several instances is forced to sneak past them or hide in cubby holes to let them pass him by instead.
- Surreal Horror: Being based on a series of inescapable nightmares, the game is loaded with it.
- Surreal Symbolic Heads: Several of the enemies in the game appear to be humans (or at least humanoids) with bizarre things in place of their heads, such as lampshades (which light up) or a tuba.
- Womb Level: The Tower contains a number of switches which let Lloyd flip between the mechanical confines of the Tower stage itself and sections of some nightmarish (well, even more nightmarish than usual) realm made of twisted flesh in order to move past obstacles in the main Tower or get from floor to ceiling.