Congratulations, Possum House Games, I’m officially scared of the dark again.

What game was terrifying enough to turn me into a nervous wreck? Astonishingly, it’s a pixel game. A quaint little platforming shooter called Shot in the Dark. Despite its no-frills artistic style, Shot in the Dark managed to raise my pulse higher than games that require twenty times the processing speed. The idea is simple, but the execution is beautiful. You’re a gunslinger wielding only his trusty revolver against the undead as you traverse through a nightmarish labyrinth of difficult platforming and quick decision making.

Out of the darkness, and into the light

Shot in the Dark is one of those rare examples of a game that always stays close to its strongest features. The gameplay uses a black and white color scheme to its full potential. As you progress through the game, you’ll encounter monsters that you can’t even see. They’ll be black pixels on a black background. You’ll only notice them momentarily as they pass over white pixels. At other times, the entire level will be black, and the only hint you’ll have of the enemies will be their tiny red eyes.  It has to be said; however, that Shot in the Dark never gets too cheeky with this idea. The game never exploits this disadvantage in a way that feels unfair. If you die, you’re at fault. You should have been watching more carefully.

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Even if the creativity stopped there, Shot in the Dark would already be a strong contender in the platforming genre, but it doesn’t. You’ll encounter a myriad of horrors that are perfectly woven into the game’s mechanics. There are creatures that only exist as reflections and must be killed by shooting above them. There is a tall man who carries a lantern; shoot his lantern instead of him and you have an unkillable demon on your hands. Oh, and don’t be too hasty with flippantly aiming your pistol, those gargoyles are only activated by your crosshair. I’ll be honest, any time I felt like stopping from frustration, I was driven on by the promise of new and exciting encounters.

I’m your huckleberry

It’s not often as an FPS player that I get to utilize my talents in a platformer, but Shot in the Dark is anything but your average platformer. Sure, running and gunning is not a new phenomenon in platforming games, but finding targets carefully with a crosshair and picking them off is. In between the careful platforming, I almost couldn’t believe that my target acquisition skills from Counter-Strike were aiding me in wasting pixelated undead bandits. Don’t forget reloading. Any FPS player worth their salt knows that reloading at an inopportune time is a cardinal sin. This rule applies here as well. Since you’ll be battling hordes of relentless demons while avoiding enemy crosshairs, you’ll need to time your pit stops wisely. You need to keep moving, but you have to stay stocked up on bullets. After all, you only have six.

Because I was so in love with the shooting aspect of Shot in the Dark, I tried to find fault with the platforming. I couldn’t. Seriously, at all times the controls feel tight and responsive. There are no jumps that are too difficult to make, nor those that are too simple. Even in levels of total darkness—we’re talking “select black and cover the screen using the fill tool on MS Paint” levels of darkness—you can delineate the platforms via the enemies spilled blood. You always have the tools at your disposal to succeed, even if it takes you a few tries. Possum House Games must have kept a close eye on the difficulty of each level. It’s consistently fair throughout and ramps up smoothly as you learn the rules of the game.

There’s something in the air tonight

As far as atmosphere goes, Shot in the Dark is as near to perfect as a game can get. It’s all there: the rotting tombstones, the skeletal trees, the creeping fog. I felt like I was getting an injection of Halloween straight into my veins, and it’s the middle of January. Forget everything else good about this game for a second, Shot in the Dark is a remarkable achievement simply for the fact that it perfectly pairs the tension evoked by the game’s difficulty with the visuals on the screen. The game is not just horrifying because of the swooping bats and mutating demons. It’s also not just the stressful difficulty that creates the tension. It’s the pairing of the two that conjures a perfect experience for the player.

I won’t make the same mistake I usually do and overlook the already most overlooked member of the development team: the sound designer. Before I even noticed the music, I noticed the ridiculously satisfying sound effects. Go ahead, jump in, shoot a couple of zombies, and tell me you couldn’t do that a thousand times over. It never gets old. Have you ever had that experience where you’re playing a platformer and the sound effects just slowly start to grate on you? That’s not an issue here. And the music, oh my word, the music. The soundtrack is dominated by slow, ponderous themes that are absolutely dripping with dread. It’s like if you took the soundtrack from Super Castlevania 4 and stripped it down and slowed it even more. As with all great soundtracks, you won’t notice it often, but it will affect you.

Conclusion

We’re two weeks into 2021, and I’m already sure this will be one of the best games I play this year. I almost can’t believe the amount of tension they were able to pack into such an unassuming package. Shot in the Dark feels not like a marble block that has been chipped away at to reveal a masterpiece, but rather a clay sculpture that started from a unique idea and was added to with the utmost care. It stays faithful to its core mechanics and powerful heart the entire time. If you’re still debating whether or not to get it, let me make it even more clear: get it.

 

THE GOOD
Tight controls
Perfect atmosphere
Unique concept
Creative monsters
Interesting blend of shooter and platformer
THE BAD
Difficulty may be too much for some players
9.5
Superb

Review Summary

Shot in the Dark introduces an innovative mechanic and then builds perfectly on it. At all times, you are compelled forward by the promise of exploring more of the twisted, dark world that Possum House Games has created.

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