Fear of the Dark

Author: DannyFromNewOrleans Released: April 2nd 2024


On a dark and cold winter night, Duke is on his way toward a facility focusing on researching the depths of space. However it seems the place has been recently abandoned and signs point to something horrible having occurred here. The scientists have awoken something. It lurks, deep inside the darkness, hidden beyond the stars.


Upon booting this up for the first time I had a sudden wave of nostalgia wash over me. It begins from a dark hallway with no weapons on hand, an eerie silence as you emerge outside to a winter landscape where no enemies await within sight, only a short walk remains to reach the research base. The mapping style and presentation here became reminiscent of earlier 2000’s era of mapping which was ripe for experimentations for all things unlike your typical DUKE3D experience, when levels took on a much darker ambience or leaned into horror themes. Releases such as the RED and DARK PLACE series or some of ck3D’s earlier work come to mind, levels that I would obsess over attempting to recreate similar ideas in the editor back then. XPLASMA.mid was my usual music source to help evoke those creepier vibes while sticking to the default assets, a choice Danny also takes advantage of capping off a distinct memory. I couldn’t help but then recall similarities to RED3’s slow build up setting the scene before revealing any monsters. FOTD soon diverges onto its own path however, following through with a different outcome while quite deceptive during the long run.

After grabbing a pistol and upon finding access inside the base, that initial atmosphere soon simmers down toward playing much like a relatively normal level, albeit with a couple of caveats reminding you there’s something else brewing under the surface. There’s even a fair amount of fighting involved, often pockets of enemies guarding rooms waiting upon your arrival or large reinforcements responding to progress. Sometimes these get a little rough such as the Battlelord spawn, which becomes this bombastic skirmish as his forward group soak up the damage and trying to skirt around them means bumping into other nasty foes. Holding back at the door then leads to consequences once he pushes on through. Seeking out secrets for weapons not easily acquired elsewhere really help to turn the tide to your favour during these scenarios. While some of the combat is good, sadly the core moment to moment gameplay otherwise feels too flat at times. Danny’s approach isn’t entirely wrong here as the romp itself has a solid foundation, but FOTD does suffer a little by sticking too close to a rote formula. There were moments of brilliance though like an underwater ambush or forced to fight within a pitch black room with nothing but nightvision goggles. Otherwise the journey has a certain mundane aspect being so reliant on switch and key card hunting, which could have benefited by creating an illusion of these tasks being more dynamic than their basic purpose. Earlier glimpses into its underlying ideas might have also helped to break the mould and hone more around what FOTD has been leading up to.

Environmental set dressing does well at establishing some prior events, painting a picture of distress amongst the workers who have made attempts to barricade themselves out of survival. One of these fortifications even has a camera tripod left to watch one of the long hallways obscured by darkness, as if they’re expecting something to be there. As a result of employee actions, Duke’s route then becomes a little more inconvenient and is forced to take detours, having to crawl through vents, swim underwater or trudging across snow, traversing the entire skeleton that makes up this darkly lit research base. Computer logs and wall scrawling suggest there’s more than meets the eye here and whatever that is, have led to most taking their own lives via asphyxiation, almost metaphorical to suffocation out in the depths of space. There’s always this constant nagging feeling that something is off in contrast to the action, neither aspect quite working in tandem and framing earlier situations under a different light. Part of me wants to believe that whole process of keeping things mundane is purposeful to lull me into a sense of familiarity, going through the motions if only to momentarily forget about these signs. This works from a narrative perspective but otherwise feels as if FOTD has been dragging its feet up until a specific point it needed to reach before pulling the rug from under you. Before reading any further I recommend playing to see for yourself where this journey ends up.

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Everything beyond the yellow key card door does however make up for some faults along the way and became a favourite of mine, perhaps because I love haunting and surreal places. It’s a point of no return once you decide to take the plunge into something quite unlike what’s been seen up until now. There’s some obvious influences being taken from Silent Hill here through the environmental change. This is more apparent inside certain rooms as their ceiling and floor reach beyond visible reaches with nothing but grating stopping you from a long fall and large fans as the only decorative element. It’s the same research base but now warped into something both alien and nightmarish, the halls are submerged in blood, flesh is poking out of the walls and there’s strange arrangements of spacesuits and body parts. Further up ahead is one section consisting of large stone blocks where a single lunar monitor illuminates the upper portions as the only available light source, a piece of scenery I adore because of its simplicity. The striking change of visuals makes this a memorable venture, even if basic switch hunting is still a dominant aspect only because that familiar goal feels welcoming amongst this hostile setting, especially as enemy counts escalate to drastic numbers. Massive hordes of Commanders and Octabrains shift the challenge into more difficult territory. These type of scenarios are atypical for DUKE3D combat, a flavour more akin to DOOM wads which benefit from monster infighting as a viable tactic to loosen crowds. I opted for frequent pipebomb and tripbomb usage in these moments, untrusting of the RPG with autoaim active, managing to get by without too many consequences by constantly moving and jumping around like a madman. The additional Sentry Drones and Troopers can put a small dent into formulating any pattern of attack, getting in the way at inopportune times. There’s even a mean spirited exploitation of this later when the final Battlelord spawns in and my rockets target Troopers flying above the room instead of him. It’s only a shame this change of setting and events end before they really get going, which could have crept up during regular progression much like how it’s inspirations perform and having Duke shift between the two world states. Exploring many of the same spaces with different challenges and visual twists before returning back to reality might have been an ideal way to break up the flow.


While having a good initial atmosphere, some tight action and nice environmental storytelling, FOTD had a lot of potential going for it but the mundane moment to moment gameplay drags its feet too much. Where other levels might have you blow up a reactor, restore lost power or refuel a rocket, here your only goals tend to be unlocking doors without much else outside of combat to spice it up. There’s a couple of nice ideas but not enough until the final stretches where I got really engaged in what was taking place. Had its themes and ideas been more prominent over the course of the level or more purpose and involvement behind our actions besides pressing switches, FOTD could have easily been an instant favourite of mine.