'2Dark' Is Not Too Dark

In 2Dark, a cartoon aesthetic quickly alters the gravity of what would otherwise be some very heavy subject matter.


Developer: Gloomywood
Release Date: 2017-03-10

2Dark is about child murder.

Of course, this isn't made immediately clear from the game's description on Steam:

2Dark is a stealth adventure game developed by Frédérick Raynal, the pioneer of survival horror games and creator of Alone in the Dark®. Make your way through the lairs of psychopaths, unravel intrigue where madness mingles with horror, and, above all, save the kids!

“Child murder” is probably not an especially marketable phrase, which is fair enough. I don't recall the content of the 2008 Angelina Jolie vehicle, Changeling, being described using such a phrase either, much, perhaps, to some viewers' eventual surprise.

Curiously, I assume that most players of 2Dark wouldn't be immediately likely to describe the game using this phrase either. The game is indeed a stealth adventure game that concerns guiding a detective around various environments in order to rescue abducted children. The implication of the game is that these children will become the victims of a group of psychopaths who intend most often to kill them. However, the aesthetic of the game doesn't necessarily support the darkness of its content, making it easy to disassociate that content from this specific subject matter. This is because the game most often looks like a cartoon.

As a result, its violence is presented in an almost silly (though still macabre) manner, with retro looking 16- or 32-bit graphics supporting what would otherwise be a very grisly set of scenes if presented in some hyperrealistic fashion.

Instead, the game embraces an almost comic grotesquerie through its look and even its presentation of its characters. The villains in the game, the “level bosses”, are such excruciatingly unlikely people that it is hard to take them seriously: a clown who wants to train children to serve as an animal act in his circus, a woman who desires to collect (and transform) children into dolls, a doctor who plans to sell the organs of young children, or a gangster that wants to train children to fight one another as an absurd form of blood sport. Oh, there's your “average” hillbilly cannibals in there somewhere, too.

Such absurdity removes the game from any kind of real footing in anything close to reality, as do the cartoonishly drawn cutscenes and other images in the game that represent the psychopaths and their nefarious deeds.

What this game, and others like it (perhaps, indie classic Limbo, for example), demonstrate is the power of aesthetic presentation to shape the tone of artistic material and to unseat it from its moorings in reality. Horrific violence against animals, for instance, becomes the subject of laughs when presented within the Saturday morning stylings of the cartoon worlds of Loony Tunes. Or, perhaps, this approach to horror and violence merely reveals the roots of the kind of disassociation that comedic aesthetics, especially those found in slapstick, can provide (The Three Stooges immediately comes to mind).

I don't know if such comedy can arguably provide a form of catharsis from the real world and its evils, especially since catharsis is a term traditionally associated with tragedy. But then again, 2Dark, the grotesque, but still cartoonish and outlandish game and its world, probably plays more often like an absurd and unlikely tragedy than a slapstick comedy ever could anyway.

The game sounds sick, but it probably doesn't look that way.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.