Darkness isn't what it used to be. What was once an inky wall hovering before you has been reduced to normal light. The march towards realism has robbed darkness of its poetry. Darkness used to be awesome. It curled around you like a hand when graphics were less detailed. When you could see the pixels that also meant you could see the darkness.
It's unfortunate to be a 90s 3D video game nowadays, and perhaps forever. Unlike 2D pixel art, which has comfortably grown into being recognized as its own aesthetic, the comparably lo-fi visuals of early 3D tickle people's uncanny valley bone too much. To the modern eye they register as failed modern games, not successful retro games.
This why darkness, in all its poetic terror, may be lost. Most would agree that Silent Hill 2 has better visuals than Silent Hill 1, but Silent Hill 1 has better darkness. It has some of the best darkness ever, a darkness that would be much harder to achieve on modern tech. Silent Hill 1 is a grainy and pixelated game, but this means you can literally see the darkness creeping around corners, condensing like water droplets on walls and floors. Because the Playstation 1 could not do subtle lighting effects, its darkness is the most unsubtle thing imaginable, a black abyss that stares right back into you.
Silent Hill 1 was one of the last games to portray darkness this way, coming right at the end of the 90s, in the twilight of early 3D experimentation. With the advent of dedicated graphics cards, this kind of in-your-face unsubtle darkness disappeared almost overnight. And what's worse... no one quite seemed to realize it was there to begin with, or how effective it was.
Just look at the difference between Ultima Underworld, the very game that pioneered immersive 3D graphics to begin with, and Arx Fatalis, released almost a decade later. Underworld's darkness is the juicy kind, the kind the creeps, each massive pixel a finger. I was thrilled when heard Arx Fatalis was going to be a spiritual successor to Underworld, but I remember being strangely disappointed when the game only offered you a hazy green-ish cloud as your draw distance. In many ways Arx was a good imitation of Underworld, finding a lot of its rhythms and quirks, but its lighting - of all things - drained my enthusiasm.
Some games post-3D revolution do darkness well. Thief is one notable example, as is Doom III or Chronicles of Riddick, and several others. These are games where darkness is an important part of gameplay, not just atmosphere, so it's unsurprising they did it well. However, with ever-depressing emphasis on advancing computer graphics, light and shadow have been more or less claimed as a simulation element, an aspect of realism, not a poetic substance to be conceived and tailored for expressive impact.
Darkness is one of the oldest concepts in the human imagination, the thing we've all been afraid of for the past several thousand years. There was a brief era in video game graphics when, because they lacked subtelty, these poetics were brought to the surface through a fortuitous collision of technology and subject matter.
Now, if developers wish to leverage this awesome power, they will have to do it on purpose.