Karma: The Dark World frightens us with Kafkaesque mindscapes

Previously known as The Dark World: Karma, this psychological horror game has you enter fractured mental worlds in an attempt to escape the Leviathan Corporation.

Pollard Studio

The psychological horror game Karma: The Dark World has gone through its own twists and turns. First revealed during Tokyo Game Show 2021, this first-person adventure developed by Pollard Studio and now published by Wired Productions used to go by the name The Dark World: Karma. Since then, various trailers for the game have revealed glimpses of the protagonist, an investigation officer from Roam, who delves into the minds of people throughout The Shrouded City while he tries to piece together his own fragmented memories. At a private meeting during GDC 2024, I had the chance to play through one of the game’s opening chapters, and it was a chilling, surreal experience. While I couldn’t make out what was true or not, I desperately wanted to escape the Kafkaesque nightmare nonetheless.

No one in their right mind

Karma The Dark World Yellow Office Room
After being chased by a monster, I found myself in a sickly yellow room with multiple signs to obey.

SOURCE: Pollard Studio

Like a fever dream, navigating the demo meant discarding standard logic. Similar to the internal mindscapes in Psychonauts or the twisted corridors in Layers of Fear, the level I played was connected by rooms that didn’t make common sense. They were meant to be disturbing, at times claustrophobic, other times metaphorical. Very little of the narrative was told literally, and there were no NPCs explaining what was happening. I had to use intuition to figure out why I was crawling through a vent full of Christmas lights or why I was in an office with several thin-haired black dogs that would shake their heads violently when I took a memo held in their mouths.

The demo started with a physical threat before testing me with a psychological one. I began in a dark room with pale green walls lined with desks and file cabinets as the rain pattered on the windows. I quietly turned the corner and then I saw it. A demon-like ghoul with spindly arms and a blown-out chest covered in overlapping hands let out a heart-wrenching screech. It chased me down several flights of stairs until I found a vent. Crawling through, it led me to the aforementioned office with the shaking dogs and a stack of television sets that stood like a Christmas tree in the middle of the room. Every screen showed a human face smiling contently and absently.

Much of the plot of Karma: The Dark World is about figuring out what the oppressive Leviathan Corporation has done to The Shrouded City and if the company has anything to do with your missing memories. While the demo didn’t show how players explore the city, I noted why I was delving into this nightmare in the first place. This was likely the mind of a Leviathan employee, and I was about to understand what made him go insane. Looking around the office, I saw posters telling me to work hard, scanned a memo about how work days are actually holidays, and examined a plaque with the company motto: “Work. Morality. Humanity. Sacrifice. Principle.” A narrow corridor guided me to where I was supposed to be, a tiny room with a desk and a chair just for me.

Hello? Is there anybody in there?

Karma The Dark World Closing Hallway
I ended up in this narrowing hallway full of unending doors.

SOURCE: Pollard Studio

I sat and obeyed. A giant television screen scrolled through the instructions I needed to follow. So I took a piece of paper from the pile and stamped it. And again, I took another piece of paper from the pile and stamped it. If I began to cry, if my vision began to blur from exhaustion and stress, I would swallow a pill from the blue bottle. It made me happy to stamp the next piece of paper and the next and the next. Comfortably numb, I continued to smile and stamp and swallow. Over and over. Until I couldn’t anymore.

I found myself in an unending hallway of doors. I lurched forward and scrambled through, but there was no exit. One by one, the lights went out. I turned back around down another hallway. Left and right, the doors slammed. I made a hard turn through the dark. But the passageway I found was so thin I could feel the walls upon me. I slipped my feet past. I pushed my hands against the closing corridor. I could barely move. It was going to end.

But then I woke up and ripped the headset off. I caught my breath and found myself in an interrogation room. The Leviathan employee remained imprisoned behind the glass. His mind had almost trapped me inside, but I was safe. At least for now, anyway.

That was just a snippet of the horrors that Karma: The Dark World has planned so far. The full game is scheduled to release on PlayStation 5 and PC via Steam in 2024.

This preview is based on a demo provided by the publisher during a private appointment during GDC 2024.

Contributing Editor

Once upon a time, Nick's parents confiscated his Super Nintendo because he was "playing it too much." He has secretly sworn revenge ever since. Nick is now a freelance writer for various video game sites. Powered by iced green tea, he typically plays RPGs of all kinds like Shin Megami Tensei, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout. In his spare time, he follows the latest season of Critical Role.

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