Reviewing games is usually a very enjoyable experience for me, as it combines two activities I am especially fond of – writing and playing videogames. Unfortunately though, there are games that are so drab, unimpressive and downright mediocre in their execution, that the normally pleasurable act of writing a game review becomes a tedious chore. Oxygen Interactive’s third person action/adventure title, Darkened Skye, is one of those games.
The mediocrity is evident right from the opening story. A malevolent being by the name of Dread has stolen all the magic from the land. The character you play, a young woman named Skye, takes it upon herself to rid the world of evil and bring peace back to her home. I don’t know if the folks over at Simon & Schuster (the game’s developer) could have made the story blander if they tried. They did, however, manage to make it fairly bizarre by inserting Skittles into the plot. Yes, that’s right – Skittles. Apparently, those small, multicolored candies are critical for keeping the balance of magic in check (who would have ever known?), so you must defeat Dread to restore the Skittles rainbow across the kingdom. I find this bit of shameless advertising to be a slight turn-off, as it takes me out of the game.
Lackluster storylines are annoying, but they can be overlooked if the gameplay is compelling. Guess what? The gameplay in Darkened Skye is far from compelling. Played entirely from the third person perspective, the game is essentially a basic hack ‘n slash with annoying platforming and puzzle elements. You go from level to level swinging your staff at enemies (in limiting 1-2-3 combos), firing projectile magic spells, pushing buttons and trying not to fall to your death. It would have been nice to see some unique or exciting spells thrown in the mix, but they are all limited to uninspired rip-offs of stuff we have all seen done better before.
There are just way too many annoying aspects of Darkened Skye’s gameplay. Take the first level for example. There is one area where you are in a village trying to figure out what to do next. Ideally, you would like to check some of the doors in the town, do some poking around, etc, but this is dang near impossible because a bow and arrow wielding troll is relentlessly pelting you from a tree. There is no way to immediately kill him, so you must just try to run, blindly jumping and swerving to avoid his shots. Even then you’ll get shot in the back multiple times. My question is: why? What programmer over at S&S thought this would be even remotely fun?
Now let’s move to the second level. You are forced to jump across a series of small islands to get across a lake. This would be fairly annoying just for the fact that the collision detection and control are both sub par, but apparently that wasn’t enough for the developers. No, they had to add a swooping bird-like creature that moves so fast that it is impossible to hit with you staff or magic. How fun! Even worse, Skye loses life extremely quickly, so after only a few hits you’ll find yourself crumbled to the ground in a lifeless heap. These types of scenarios play out over and over again on every single one of the game’s many stages, and after a while you may end up smashing your keyboard in frustration. The one redeeming feature is the inclusion of quick save and load options (which you will be using very frequently), but this is not enough to make up for the annoying gameplay issues.
The puzzles in the game are simplistic, push this button to open a path, find out where to use this mysterious object, use your magic in this special place type of affairs. Most are fairly self-explanatory, but many times you’ll find yourself completely stumped. Thankfully, there is a handy log feature, which keeps track of clues and other insights that Skye has regarding the story or what to do next. There isn’t quite enough variety in puzzles to keep you interested, but every once in a while you’ll come across one that is actually thought provoking.
So the plot for Darkened Skye is mediocre, as is the gameplay. But, how about the visuals? For the sake of mixing it up, I’ll call the graphics substandard. Even with the texture quality set to high and dynamic lighting turned on, things aren’t too pretty in the land of Lynora. Cheap-looking, 2D trees border many of the environments, textures are muddled and blurry, draw-in is terrible and character animations are choppy. On the bright side (though a dim bright side, I must admit), there are some nice looking particle effects that accompany staff strikes and certain spells, and the framerate is blazing fast throughout the entire game. Basically, this looks like a five or six year old title, and that is completely inexcusable.
Now we finally get to the lone aspect of the game that I truly enjoyed – the music. Most of the tunes in Darkened Skye are upbeat melodies, but occasionally you’ll hear a slower, more commanding effort. Much of the score has a decidedly medieval and Celtic feel to it, and does a fantastic job of transporting you back to a long-forgotten time of dragons, kings, knights and wizards. Of course the game’s plot is a bit lighter and more off-the-wall then your traditional fantasy tale, but the music still fits the theme perfectly.
Let me quote a line from the features list on the back of the box, “Snappy, witty and cleverly written dialogue, an overall fantastic script.” You see, supposedly one of the game’s biggest selling points is the quality voice acting and humorous script, but for the most part it just isn’t very snappy, witty or clever. Sure, there are a few times when the banter between Skye, her sidekick Draak and various other characters is mildly amusing, but for every one memorable line there are ten that make you groan in irritation. The voice acting is good quality, but the actors just didn’t have great material to work with, so much of the dialogue comes off as annoying.
Mediocre. Substandard. Inferior. Any one of those words do well in summing up Darkened Skye. There are just too many other, better games out right now to be wasting any money, time or energy playing a game that is just plain lacking in so many areas. Yes, there are a few moments where some sharp dialogue will cause you to crack a smile. And yes, a few of the puzzles and levels in the game are worth experiencing. But, 95% of Darkened Skye just isn’t up to snuff when compared to all other third person action/adventures titles on the market right now. If you are mad collector of Skittles based products or are willing to wade through tons of ‘blah’ to get to a few moments of ‘cool,’ then by all means, pick the game up. The rest of you, spend your money on some real Skittles instead – I hear the new sour kinds are actually quite tasty.