What is “The Darkness”? Other than the title of the game which has been developed by Starbreeze who also brought us Enclave and Chronicles of Riddick Escape from Butcher Bay on Xbox. The Darkness is also the name of a popular comic series which features leading anti hero Jackie Estacado who is a fearless Mafia hitman for the Franchetti crime family. On his 21st birthday he is possessed by the terrifying and spectacular powers of The Darkness which is an evil entity that manifests itself inside of Jackie who it needs as a host to survive. You play as Jackie throughout the game and with the powers of the Darkness at your disposal, the game presents a tug of war of emotion as Jackie comes to terms with the power that could consume him and also the fact that his Mafiosi boss cousin Paulie is out to kill him due to some missing money. Mixing first person shooting with conventional arms and the powers of the Darkness; the game offers a heady mix of adventuring and intense combat.
The Darkness begins as a conventional shooter where it’s your job to carry out a hit on some construction workers. Things don’t go to plan and before you know it Jackie is up to his eyeballs in flying bullets and people determined to put him down for good. During the high action opening which introduces the player to the combative elements using things like pistols and shotguns the game really starts off on a high as you fill the shoes of this tough but vulnerable character. Controls here are a little light but after a while you get to grips with the aiming. For dual wielded pistols you have the option to shoot using the left and right triggers respectively and with a red laser dot which appears when you draw your guns you will be performing head shots in no time. The movement of the enemy is very good as they duck and weave in and out of cover and offer a real intense shootout experience. The game gradually introduces The Darkness as you play and although the story doesn’t give a very clear back-story or detail about the power itself, things do happen rather quickly to get you into the superhuman role.
The game takes on a different approach once Jackie has been fully possessed because it’s here where at will, players can switch on the Darkness. In game the Darkness is represented by two very evil looking heads that resemble snakes in appearance. These heads are present on screen at all times when The Darkness is activated and somewhat have their own personality. As players progress through the game they can devour the hearts of the fallen. Collecting hearts increases the power of The Darkness and therefore is a crucial act to perform and perhaps not one for the squeamish. The main onus of using The Darkness and as the name implies the key to success is being in the dark. Once in the dark, The Darkness absorbs power and allows you to unleash your full powers. Stand in the light and your powers diminish quickly which means you have to find the right places to fight. Luckily you can control the level of light, especially in the interior portions of the game. Here you can shoot out lights to give you the edge that’s needed in the many troublesome encounters you will have.
Other powers become available which allow you to control creatures called darklings. There are four of them and these guys will help you out when it comes to things like blowing enemies up, shooting them or jumping on their heads and laying the smackdown on them. There is even a darkling that will assist you in taking out the lights in an area. The darklings are an entertaining bunch and whilst it’s sometimes just as easy and rewarding to gun down opponents yourself they do add a small touch of comedy to game even if they don’t always do as they are told.
Playing The Darkness offers some great shootout moments as you travel around New York and various other locales at night. Rather than stick with being a shooter where you simply go through the game; The Darkness, like Chronicles of Riddick offers some minor adventuring element. By interacting with various AI characters that litter the subway stations and other places of interest you can undertake side missions. There’s not much point in doing these in terms of giving you more powers but completion not only is rewarding but unlocks bonus content. The wandering around is a great addition to the game and allows you to meander in and out of the story as you choose. I had plenty of fun simply goofing around with the civilians and being suitably impressed with how they reacted to what I was doing even begging for mercy and such like. There are plenty more distractions in the game too as there are phone numbers to hunt down and even TV shows which you can watch. I’m not talking a looped 1 minute movie either but some pretty lengthy films, music and cartoons. Ok, it might not be something that you are going to be spending much time doing but it is a rather neat feature and certainly adds to the bucket loads of atmosphere the game has.
Looking at the leading character Jackie and I must say I was very impressed. He might look a bit unusual for an Italian hit man but as the story progresses I really bonded with him and his plight. During the loading screens you are treated to some real time scenes where Jackie gives further insight into his character which I thought was a great touch. Jackie is a stereotypical no nonsense sort of anti hero but with loads of personality to go with it. Despite his mono tone delivery you get to witness the highs and lows of his betrayal which makes ripping out hearts, killing and feeling no remorse all the more satisfying. There are some minor moral choices in the game and sometimes it can be confusing as to who is friend or foe but ultimately it’s Jackie’s interactions with the other characters that really draws you into his role and the story as it unfolds. There are not so many characters that have depth in gaming at the moment and so I found it nice to be able to relate to Jackie due to the developers really working the nuances of his character from the comics.
The story and the characters within it is very dark, moody and mostly gruesome; its great that we have a more adult themed game to mess around with. This is helped by some excellent imagery and graphics. There’s a distinct gritty look to the game which portrays a very gloomy looking New York at night. Sadly the outside areas are sparsely populated but the atmosphere is definitely going to grab you by the collar and pull you inside before you realize that you’ve become totally engrossed in the game. The dynamic lighting and shadows are impressive indeed and with some excellent effects when using the dark powers you have a game that will certainly please the graphics junkies out there. With some cool physics and lots of subtle gore the graphics really immerse you into the game world and that includes popping bullets into the skulls of the dead.
The character models are of a high standard and there are some really great facial animations to provoke when interacting with random bystanders. I’m pretty sure I saw Huge Heffner (complete with white jacket) at the subway station on many occasions. The animations are also rather excellent and I had some fun merely observing what they do.
My only real complaint with the graphics would be the unstable frame rate at times which made movement and aiming not as smooth as it should be during certain moments.
The Darkness features some excellent voice acting and although at times it’s very cliché with the use of cheesy lines I found it amusing and highly entertaining. It’s great when games can employ decent actors to really give substance to the characters. The music is also very good and whilst there are moments of pumping beats and wailing guitars there are also more sullen pieces. There’s a great range of aural pleasure to be gained from The Darkness ; as an assault on the eyes and ears it has to be played loud and proud to be fully appreciated. Great Music, Great acting and exceptionally wicked sound effects provide an unbeatable mixture of sound that compliments the on screen action very well.
The Darkness offers a reasonable length story that if you take the time to have a look around will keep thrilling you for some time. However rushing through the game will hamper this but I say even if you do the game is certainly one of those that has to be played more than once. There are various achievements to hunt for and these will take a bit of time to get them all. The Darkness also offers multiplayer to mess around with which certainly adds longevity, but in my mind the focus should be on the unique single player story as it’s here where you’ll get the most kicks.
The Darkness borrows elements from Chronicles of Riddick, in fact the whole free-roaming interacting with characters is practically the same minus the fisticuffs. There’s action there’s stealth and more importantly there’s a great sense of adventure when playing despite the claustrophobic nature of the levels. I think if you are looking for a game that stands out amongst the crowd, a game which really offers a compelling entertainment experience that feels fresh and to a degree unique; then The Darkness is certainly a game you should rush out and buy immediately. There are a lot of shooters on Xbox 360 and The Darkness doesn’t stray too far from the tried and trusted formula that we’ve all become accustomed to but at the same time it does offer an experience to savor, enjoy, embrace and one that will no doubt be regarded highly amongst those that dive into its greatness. The Darkness offers an engaging story, like-able characters, high action, lots of distractions, cool powers and a mild sense of freedom, what more could you ask for? With lots of games being good but not great it’s nice to see a game that breaks the mould; your collection needs this game.