Review – Shot in the Dark (PC)

If there’s one thing I didn’t expect in 2021, it’s the closest I’ve come to an actual John Hex video game: a super simple retro-style platform game with only three colors in its palette. And I certainly didn’t expect this aptly named Shot in the Dark to have such interesting gameplay ideas and truly scary moments due to its limited graphical style.

I see you!

In Shot in the Dark, you take control of a nameless cowboy. You don’t know that, and you don’t know what you’re doing in this 8-bit landscape. All you know is that you have a six-shooter and you need to move on. After going through a few screens and getting some directions from talking cacti (yes, it happens), you find a church with what looks like a portal inside. Only then does the real game begin. You must complete each short level to avoid being killed by rival cowboys and the supernatural.

This is where the game’s ultra-simplified graphics make sense. A shot in the dark has three colors in its palette: Black, white and red. The demons are made up entirely of black elves, meaning they disappear into a dark background. You have to either pay attention to her eyes, which sometimes glow red, or pull her to a spot with white detail in the background so you can see her clearly. If they touch you, you’re dead. Of course, you can take a short break at the Miami Hotline at the beginning of each level, but it’s still a challenge.

You can’t kill those cute, scary ghosts. These are essentially obstacles on the platform.

There are other types of enemies, such as completely invisible monsters that can only be seen through reflections in the water, invincible ghosts that act more like obstacles on platforms, and zombie-like cowboys that can shoot at you just as you can shoot at them. Of course, you will face many other enemies during the campaign. Shot in the Dark manages to be quite scary despite its visual simplicity. You never know when you’ll be ambushed or who will ambush you. Even if the sound department is mediocre at best, the granular imagery is enough to create some tension.

The Shot in the Dark feature includes intentionally tricky commands that help create an even more disturbing scenario. Even though you’re supposed to be an evil cowboy, you’re not McCree from Overwatch: You can’t fire a gun fast or move. You can only shoot by holding down the right mouse button, which immobilizes you, then aiming at someone or something and shooting with the left button. Also, you can’t quickly fire multiple shots and reload all six shots at once. You’ll also have to slowly reload each ball by hand, which adds an extra level of difficulty and strategy, especially in the final levels.

I don’t know if it’s a boss fight or if I’m just walking into a black metal band rehearsal.

The only thing I didn’t like about Shot in the Dark’s gameplay was the weird jump physics, or lack thereof. While the levels of Ghosts ‘n Goblins are great, there is a strange lack of momentum in your movements and jumps that can make some parts of the platform quite difficult. Even the simplistic visuals didn’t bother me or make me want to die more than some parts of the platformer.

It’s afternoon… Actually, it’s not noon, it’s after midnight.

Overall, Shot in the Dark is a very simple and straightforward game, but it does what it needs to do: provide a truly scary experience with the simplest graphics and controls imaginable. This game troubled me more than many modern horror games. This may seem like the most retarded retro game of the last 30 years or so, but it’s really well done and not often unfair. Not to mention the fact that it’s actually the best John Hex game we’ve had since …. since 1995.

Shot in the Dark may seem overly simplistic, but that’s what makes it so interesting. The color palette is quite bright, and ultra-retro imaging is key to the play of light and shadow. Very simple operation with very few buttons and mouse. I love the manual reload system, which adds an extra layer of strategy and challenge. I don’t like how your character lacks momentum with every move. It remains to be seen if this was intentional or just a mistake.
The pre-8-bit aesthetic of Shots in Dark may be good for creating scary images, but the same cannot be said for the soundtrack. Shot in the Dark has many gameplay and visual limitations that make it difficult and sometimes exciting to play. It’s always good and scary, even if you see extremely stretched pixels.
Last block: 7,5

Shot in the Dark is now available for the PC.

Viewed on PC.

A copy of Shot in the Dark was provided by the publisher.

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