As the story came to a close and the credits began to role I came to a realization; games and cinema are slowly bridging the gap between them. I am not necessarily referring to great storytelling, conveyed emotions, or even outstanding performances from actors (of which The Darkness has all three); I am more referring to the fact that you really can expect certain things from certain developers. Starbreeze, the company behind the critically acclaimed, yet highly underappreciated Riddick for the original Xbox, has returned with a game that captures everything that made the aforementioned title great and ramping it up for the next-generation of consoles.
Based on the top-selling comic series from Top Cow, The Darkness follows the Jackie Estacado as he enters his journey with an evil power that slowly consumes him after his uncle tries to have him expelled from the family tree, permanently. This tale begins on the even of Jackie’s 21st birthday as he sets out to perform a hit for his mobbed-up uncle. What he doesn’t realize is that Paulie has more in store for him when arrives, thus paving the way for the dark and twisted ride through this incredibly engaging FPS that combines solid gunplay, demonic powers, and a storyline that keeps you glued to the set all the way to its climax.
At its core The Darkness is a typical FPS game, but if you have played the developers previous effort you know that they always manage to break up the monotony with a unique twist. As you can imagine if you read the comics or know anything about the story that the hook here is an eternal battle between the light and the dark. Keeping your protagonist in the shadows is what fuels his demonic powers which are crucial as it gives you more abilities to dispose of foes and it allows you to absorb more damage. This is achieved by capping every light source you come across in the game, and while it sounds tedious it actually isn’t nearly as intrusive as you would imagine.
Speaking of powers The Darkness introduces some inventive ways to dispose of your enemies thanks to supernatural powers given to you by consuming victims’ hearts throughout the game. Yes it sounds morbid and honestly it really is I mean the game is rated “M” and it never shies away from it. That withstanding obtaining these powers gives you new ways to tackle different situations for instance early in the game you will obtain Creeping Dark, which allows you to extend your tentacle arms around corners, through small openings, and even through windows to either open doorways or to clear the room before entering. This effect is executed near flawlessly and adds a nice layer of strategy, especially when playing the game on Hard. The other powers are just as cool and include the Demon Arm for impaling foes, the Black Hole to wipe out entire rooms of enemies and even helicopters in one fell swoop, and finally the Darkness Guns which act as normal weapons with unlimited ammunition granted you stay in the shadows.
To compliment these powers you also have a collection of underlings at your disposal known as Darklings. Throughout the game you will obtain four different types (Berserker, Kamikaze, Gunner, and Lightkiller) that all offer different traits and advantages. The Berserker will attack anything in front of it without hesitation, the Gunner will setup a flurry of bullets to spray oncoming baddies, the Lighkiller will take out annoying illumination and the Kamikaze will run full speed into just about anything and self-detonate. While these are all cool aspects I found myself utilizing the Berserker most of the time simply because he was the most effective. The other three have serious AI issues that make them more of a hindrance a majority of the time. For instance the Lightkiller will stand under street lights at times without taking them out and the Gunner would sometimes setup shop in front of a wall or worse in my path thus spraying me with bullets.
Even with the minor annoyances these small additions add a lot to the game including some raunchy humor including, but not limited to, urinating on dead enemies and continuously kicking their dead bodies. Couples both of these aspects with the severe amount of firepower the game offers and you have a complete set of destruction tools to rip through any of the game’s foes.
What really separates this game from other “me-too” shooters though is its pacing. While there are certainly plenty of fast-paced action sequences, you can also spend an ample amount of time just wandering the subway helping out those in need. The subway system is your centralized hub that the game uses to deliver missions. Here you can check maps, make phone calls (which unlock new content in the game) and even take some time to enjoy all the subtle details the developers decided to throw into the game like the mock movie posters on the wall. You can also roam freely through the city streets, but unfortunately they are mostly limited to a few square blocks. Regardless the game sports some absolutely amazing attention to detail that is worth checking out instead of simply blazing through the game.
Probably the most interesting locale though is set during two separate sections of the game. Think of it as a twisted rendition of hell where World War I is never-ending. Soldiers are resurrected and forced to fight eternally and the environments are dark and dreary permeating with death. It is also here where you will visit the game’s representation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, though it won’t be in the traditional sense. It would have been nice to be able to revisit these levels outside of chapter checkpoints but as they are they are easily the highlight of the single-player campaign.
Speaking of the single-player as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, The Darkness sets a new standard for the way stories should be told in a videogame. Outside of the surprisingly disappointing finale the game delivers a narrative that keeps you interested from start to finish. Almost every character in the game is appealing, whether you want to hug them or shove a cold bullet down their throat, and the plot works on several levels to entice the player to keep pushing forward. This is of course complimented by the amazing voice-over work which features Kirk Acevedo of HBO’s OZ fame voicing Jackie. From start to finish you can blast through the core game in less than ten hours, but with addition of side quests and of course the multi-player mode the game has more than enough to warrant a purchase.
Now let’s talk about the multi-player; quite frankly the only disappointing feature in the game. Don’t get me wrong though it is far from atrocious, it just feels hackneyed and tacked on. The modes are your standard fare with deathmatch and capture the flag being the highlights, but it does have a nice take on the traditional formula. The online mode allows players the ability to switch between human and darkling mode on the fly. While it comes across as highly unbalanced, if you don’t take it too seriously it can be a lot of fun. The same cannot be said for the maps unfortunately as most of them give off a very claustrophobic vibe; add that to the fact that the game only supports up to eight combatants and is laggy at that and you have a mode that feels more rushed and tacked on than anything else.
When all is said and done The Darkness is a fantastic game with an engaging story that only manages to slip up towards the end. The unforgiving amounts of violence are enjoyable and the demonic powers more than make up for its lack of innovation in the gunplay department. While the multi-player is certainly not up to the standards most gamers have come to expect it is a nice diversion from the rest of the game. Anyone looking for a great experience and one of the best virtual stories ever told need not look any further than Starbreeze’s latest opus. And let this be a lesson to those who passed on Riddick that buying great games only spawns more of this caliber.