What happens when you combine the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, F.E.A.R and the movie The Crow? Apart from the mother of all law suits you get a rip-roaring first person shooter titled, “The Darkness”. Based on an international best selling comic of the same name, The Darkness puts you in the boots of a young mafia hitman named Jackie Estacado. Being a cold-hearted assassin on the streets of New York is dangerous enough, but on the eve of his 21st birthday things take a turn for the worst. Double-crossed by the mob and with his girl in mortal peril, he finds himself possessed by an evil entity - a demonic presence known as the Darkness which gives him supernatural powers with which to destroy his enemies, but which also starts to consume his very soul. With every passing moment the Darkness grows stronger and the voices inside Jackie’s head get louder. Should he trust the Darkness? And how long can he control its terrible wrath before it consumes him and all he loves?
It sounds like an awful lot to get into a first-person shooter and the only way to describe the experience is cinematic on an epic level. Each cut-scene is amazingly rendered and slots seamlessly in between gameplay. The first opening ten minutes of the game had me begging for more. The voice acting is perfect and this game genuinely has a brilliant story to tell – one that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. The reason for the initial comparisons is that this title takes little bits from many games but puts them together to create a totally new experience altogether. Meeting new characters, doing side-missions for the Mafia and taking the subway train are all reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto titles. But when the action takes place the game is an intense first-person shooter along the lines of F.E.A.R or Half-Life 2. Add to this a supernatural and romantic theme from the Crow (along with the main character’s long black hair and trench-coat) and you will start to get an idea of what this game is like. With your demonic visitor dwelling inside you, the game throws in plenty of horror as well. Fans of the adult comic will be pleased to see dead rotting corpses scattered in the lands of the afterlife, ruthless power-drill interrogation scenes and more swearing than an episode of Deadwood.
Jackie is a well trained professional killer. So in the game you can expect to find guns. Lots of guns. Many of the weapons come in pairs so you’ll be running around with dual pistols or uzis. They can be fired using the triggers (left trigger for left hand and vice-versa). However, as you progress through the game you’ll start to unleash the horrific talents of the Darkness. When utilising this power, you actually change form and grow serpent-like tentacles from your back. These cute piranha-like buddies can be controlled in various ways and the first ability they possess is known as the Creeping Dark. This allows you to control one of the demon heads and slither along the ground or climb walls for either a stealthy kill or to access small vents or holes that Jackie can’t fit through. Armed with needle-like teeth you can bite heads in two or unlock doors from the other side.
Later on your powers become a lot more devastating and include the ability to spear a man with your tentacle and throw them three stories into the air, or even create a black hole which sucks everything near it into a temporary vortex. Both these attacks are a spectacle to behold thanks to the stunning graphics and life-like rag-doll physics of your enemies. However, to use the Darkness powers, you have to treat them right. For starters they hate the light so you must stay in the shadows wherever possible. They also have a nasty appetite. Human hearts seem to be their preferred snack and with every kill you make you will be able to command your newly found friends to rip out and devour their heart. Basically if you’re a hot-blooded male you should already own this game. You get the chance to be a merciless killing machine with long black “heavy-metal” hair, and you have demonic growths coming out of your back that rip hearts out of your victims. It doesn’t get much more manly than this. In fact if we threw in some naked whores and lumberjacks we’d be near a perfect 10 on the Chuck Norris scale, although you are called “Jackie”, so perhaps drop a couple of points for having a sissy girl name.
Getting back to the actual game however; the visuals in The Darkness are amazing, and although each environment or map is fairly small between loading times, the attention to detail in each one is incredible. Televisions can be turned on and channels changed. Public pay-phones are around for when you need to contact someone. Dozens of framed photos hang in apartments and subway walls are covered in graffiti and posters. Every character you meet will interact with you and just about every object can be used or destroyed whichever way you want. A lot of the time you will find yourself shooting out lights to cover your path in darkness and the lighting effects in the game play a large part.
Like more and more FPS games, there is no HUD in The Darkness but ammo is displayed when in combat. Health is measured simply by a glowing red haze across your screen and a slow-down of your reflexes to indicate you’ve nearly carked it. What surprised me was that there isn’t even a Darkness meter, but once in the game I realised this was a great decision. If you go to unleash your powers but hear a cry of pain or discomfort it is telling you that you are in too much light for it to handle. It made the Darkness seem more alive and actually a part of you rather than just a weapon or special attack on your beckon and call.
And the Darkness is definitely very much a part of you. Every thing you do affects it and whether or not this thing is on your side is still a question that you need to answer. Through it you can also communicate with the demonic world from whence it came. Portals to the Otherworld are scattered around each level and you can summon Darklings – little goblin-type guys with unique abilities of their own who can help you out from time to time. There are four types in total and include a basic scout, a gun wielding maniac, a kamikaze-like explosives “expert” and an electricity hound who takes out lights around you to help you gain power from the shadows. Only every now and then do you have to summon Darklings, and their cute and sometimes amusing nature is just another dimension to keep this game entertaining and diverse.
It is difficult to go into depth with the storyline without spoiling a lot of the twists in the rather complex plot. Being a young member of the Franchetti family means that a lot has been going on without your knowledge, thanks to the elders of the Mafia. Eventually it catches up with you and your powerful Uncle Paulie has done the dirty on you, leaving the love of your life in serious jeopardy. You need to get revenge with the help of the Darkness, but these new powers could well end up being more of a curse. The story even goes into your family history and explains the dark secrets behind your condition. You may have to go through life and death and back again before your quest is complete. Fans of the comic will be fairly prepared for everything and Starbreeze Studios worked closely with Top Cow Productions to get the final formula just right.
In addition to the single-player mode, there are also Xbox Live features that give you the basic first-person shooter modes like deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag. Each mode is decent and with the supernatural themes offers a fair amount of entertainment but compared to the effort in the single-player, it is lacking somewhat. Unfortunately no co-op mode is included, but considering the depth of the story and RPG elements this would’ve been nearly impossible. This aside however, The Darkness was definitely one of the more enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had in recent memory.