Welcome to Mechanically Beautiful, where we look into the widely debated topic, “Are Video Games Art?” I am here to say that yes, I do believe video games are a form of art and I’m going to give you readers amazing examples of why I believe this. If you are not a believer of this idea, then maybe these articles will change your mind. But even if they don’t, you will get a chance to hear about and maybe look into some beautiful games in the industry. Today we are talking about the dark, gritty, dungeon-crawling rage-generator know as “Darkest Dungeon.”
“Darkest Dungeon” is an indie dungeon- crawler game made by Red Hook Studios that took the Twitch scene by storm, with tons of streamers loving this game and naming their heroes after subscribers to only see them get horribly murdered. The game has you set in a sword and sorcery era where you are in a town with a giant, creepy castle looming overhead. The narrator of the game wants you to try and win back his castle by slaying all the horrible beasts and monsters that have taken it over. You play as some sort of omnipotent being (I think) that controls these various heroes and sends them through the castle to battle in the darkest of dungeons. This game has got to be one of the most interesting-looking, dark and gritty art styles I have ever seen. I have looked at quite a few gritty-style games and am a big fan of what they do, but this one takes the cake, and it is mostly certainly not a lie. (That was a horrible joke. Moving on.) The game has a very high-quality, heavy outline, mute color style with an interesting way of doing animations and some very cool enemy designs.
I can’t make a comparison to any sort of art styles of the years for this game. What I would say is this game looks like if you took the inking, heavy-outline style of Marvel and DC and then made it really intense. There are thick, black, heavy outlines with very extreme contour details being made from them for things like eyes, which you never actually see because huge, black shadow-shapes cover them up to make that sense of hopelessness. Black, thick lines mark things like forehead wrinkles, skin marks, and clothing folds. These thick outlines of pure black push the sense of dread that the game has going on. The color palette, which is very focused, also adds to the dread sense. You will basically never see cheery-looking vibrant blues, greens, or oranges. The game uses black, brown, red, and some drab swamp green or muted blue. Everything is held together very nicely by this use of a controlled color palette. Something you get taught in the art world is that using every color under the sun is actually a bad idea. “Darkest Dungeon” understands this concept well. The few times you might get some hints of nice color are when spells go off, but these are short lived. This makes it so that spells really stand out and make you feel some momentary hope or joy, but then smack back into the darkness you go. The idea was to make a sense of foreboding and the game did that very well. A part to the game I was particularly intrigued by was the way the animation was done.
-This game doesn’t have fluid moving or elegant-looking attacks; really there is not very much animation at all. The game shows actions and moving through a sort of stop motion animation system. When you go to attack or pick something up, the camera does a dramatic zoom on the character and then has a still shot of them doing the action. When you go attack an enemy, the camera zooms in and then shows the character and enemy in a dramatic pose and make the streak of the sword swing or the impact of bullets. It is the first time I have ever seen this technique used in a video game like this, and I must say, it looks very cool. Normally I would say full animations are always the best, but the way this game jumps in and makes every action feel very dramatic and intense is really awesome. I don’t how they came up with the idea, but it really fits into the feel of the whole game. If the characters did a “Final Fantasy” style jump in and swing, it wouldn’t have fit in quite as well. The zoom in and nicely hard drawn attacking poses make that dark feeling just that much more. It feels like every attack counts, and the moment of slowdown when the damage numbers appear are super crucial. Seeing the dramatic strike and then a “Miss” above an enemy’s head is a pretty big gutwrencher, especially if things are getting bad. Lastly, the creepy and evil-looking enemies you face really put the nail in the coffin on the feeling of pure dread.
Skeleton warriors covered in beat up armor, bandits with shabby clothes and strange weapons, weird fungus beasts covered in gross, pus-looking spots; the enemies just get weirder and weirder as you move through the game. Every enemy in the game looks like if you took the Dungeons and Dragons crawling monsters and just cranked up the gross and awful meters. Every enemy is covered in blood and looks disheveled, much like your heroes. The weird, spell casting freaks covered in scars and ritual looking clothing make you feel uneasy. The skeletal warriors with giant weapons and armor make you fearful. Every enemy is unnerving and really looks like they belong in some demon pits or underworld realm. Even the giant maggots you come across make you want to leave the place. There is even a boss that is a giant pig king with his organs and flesh popping out. Speaking of bosses, this game has one of the coolest versions of a necromancer I have ever seen; a tall looking creature (who may or may not be human) with a long, dark red cloak wearing chains and metal on him with a strange hood covering his face. He takes the idea of a necromancer to that extra step. Every enemy makes you both curious to see more and afraid to keep going at the same time; it’s a pretty great combination.
“Darkest Dungeon” is one of the coolest looking games I have seen in a long time. It really gives the feeling of complete despair it wanted to convey. I personally have not played the game because it is in Early Access on Steam, and I do not buy Early Access games on principal, but if you really want to do some dark and creepy RPG dungeon crawling and don’t mind Early Access, then I would definitely say it is worth it. This game is an excellent piece of artwork and something other games looking to be dark and gritty should study hard.