The Darkness review
Always keep a gem in the dark...
Publisher: 2K Games
The Darkness may not have done much for most people... but for those it has affected, it stands out as one of the finest games this generation has to offer. At first, I didn't know what to make of it - a first person shooter with the ability to use special powers based on a comic book series. It doesn't necessarily scream "I'M DELICIOUS". However, once you start playing the game, you'll find yourself eating those words. In fact, you may find yourself falling in love with this game. If it's not the refreshingly good gameplay, it's the captivating and very well written story that will win you over. The Darkness is a game that knows exactly what it's doing, and does a very good job of doing what it does.
It's Jackie Estacado's 21st birthday! What does he get from his uncle, Paulie? A job - that is, to whack some guy. Oh yeah, Jackie, our main protagonist, is a mobster. However, it turns out to be a set up as the mobsters driving him basically suicide bomb themselves, ensuring that Jackie doesn't get to live past 21. But then, in a dramatic turn of events, he's alive without a scratch... physically, anyway, although mentally speaking, he has a few screws loose, as he starts hearing dark voices. Eventually, he learns that he has control of an entity known as The Darkness, and from there, it turns into an intriguing tale of romance, revenge and even the paranormal, although if I was to spoil anything beyond what I said, I'd just ruin the game for you guys. There is never a dull moment. Whether it's from the pacing to the dialogue, it's a roller coaster ride, full of bullets and F-bombs to accentuate the fact that a life of crime is not pretty, especially if you're trying to get out of it, and even more so when you have dark powers. To put it simply, this story is excellent.
Now, at first glance, this may appear to be yet another first person shooter. Just what we need, right? Don't worry, this game tackles things a little differently. Yes, you still need to shoot some goons with dual pistols or uzis, although there's this awesome thing where, when you get close to an enemy and have them trying to recover from a shot, you execute a kill shot by pressing the on screen button. Whether it involves putting a gun in their mouth and pulling to trigger to blow their brains out, or just shooting them a lot, I don't know, it just looks cool and encourages close quarter combat, just to see how many of these you can execute. Having said that, the shooting is like many other shooters - find some goons and shoot them in the head before they kill you.
It does a good job of this, as the AI is at least competent enough to shoot you when you're in their sights and may go after you unless you hide yourself. Although you're able to heal like Wolverine (that is to say, if you hide and don't get hit for a little while), it can still be tricky as Jackie can only take only a few shots before dying (unless you're playing on easy, but why would you). Thankfully, it's not a scripted event palooza, and you can carry more than 2 weapons... this WAS before it became okay for every game to have regenerating health, more scripted events than gameplay and 2 weapon restrictions, on top of on-rails level designs...
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that The Darkness is a semi-open ended game. The levels are linear, but they tend to have some diverging paths, particularly the city areas that act like almost lifeless sandboxes - not saying that's a bad thing, because it's night time and with everything going on, I'd probably stay indoors too... just in case some mobsters shoot me. But this means that, unless you partake in the various side missions you may get in the subways from random people, the levels' only purposes are to give you more bad guys to kill while you reach Point B, which is still all in good fun, but it just feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity because the only motivation to explore may be in some collectibles for trophies. Meh.
But that's just when Jackie's exposed to light - when you're in the darkness, that's when things get interesting. See, when you're in the darkness, you're able to harness dark powers. You start off with the ability to move these dark snakes around, which can be useful if you want to play it stealthily. The only issue is when you're trying to climb up walls - sometimes, the control can be skewered, making for treks that can be a pain in the ass, but thankfully, you can retract them.
Eventually - and I do mean eventually, considering that it takes about 3-4 hours to get it - you'll gain access to a power where you can violently lunge dark tentacles to either destroy lights or impale your enemies, usually known as the Demon Arm. Next up are the Darkness Guns... and honestly, while both of these powers manage to do their jobs, the Darkness Guns feel useless unless you don't have much ammo left for your other guns, and the Demon Arm requires getting close, which is okay against stunned enemies, but not necessarily against enemies that can fire rapid shots at you. The Darkness may allow you to take a few more hits than you could as just Jackie, but not quite enough in some cases.. Moving on - The final power is a black hole... I'm not kidding. This entity eventually ends up so powerful, that it can conjure up a black hole, and pretty much kill everyone within the vicinity of it. It's almost game breaking, but thankfully, for the sake of balance, you'll be required to wait quite a while before it's back to full strength.
That's just one set of advantages; now for the other set, which comes in the form of these little imps known as Darklings. The first one you can summon are Berserkers, which basically attack enemies. Then you can summon Gunners, Kamikazes and Lightkillers... I really hope the names speak for themselves, otherwise, I suggest that you see a doctor. Mild joking aside, these little critters can be very helpful on the higher difficulty settings and in situations that Jackie can't do alone. That, and they're just really amusing to watch and hear. They're so gleeful, bathing in their psychopathy... just keep them in the dark, or they'll fizzle out..
In fact, the only crime The Darkness really commits is its lack of longevity. The campaign is fantastic the first couple of times, but like many other things, it's not something you can play thousands of times and still enjoy the hell out of it, unless it's been years since your last playthrough. Adding onto this, there aren't a lot of people left online anymore... curse you Call Of Duty and Battlefield! But yeah, even though The Darkness's campaign may last between 8-10 hours and does warrant at least a second playthrough, either to re-experience awesomeness incarnate or to just get those offline trophies, it doesn't get much more life than those two playthroughs... at least, not anymore, unless you're lucky enough to find lots of people playing this online.. though given that it contains the usual “deathmatch” and “capture the flag” modes with some mediocre map designs that just feel bland and uninspired... it's neat that you can turn into a Darkling, but it's still easy to see why multiplayer is like a ghost town...
The graphics are brilliant. Not just the best seen in a game made in 2007, but also probably some of the best in the generation. If it's not the attention to detail paid on the surroundings, it's the designs of the supernatural stuff. The Darklings look funny, but still like they mean business... the snakes by your sides, on the other hand, look very sinister, like they could just bite your head off if you *bleep* about with them. Not to mention, the lighting is second to only a few... made after this. It's all very definitive, yet the transitions from light to dark are smooth, just like in real life. Very helpful, considering the fact that you need darkness to charge your Darkness powers.
The sound design is top notch. Each song played here knows what it's doing. Combining metal riffs with an orchestra, it's fast and furious when you're in a firefight, but then slows to a subtle little crawl when you're just moving around, making for a soundtrack that's both memorable and ambient, which is usually tricky to pull off correctly. The voice acting, however, is what gives the story its legs. Everybody is voiced fantastically. From minor characters to Jackie and the Darkness, man, it's all good. In fact, Jackie and the Darkness have the best voices. Jackie's voice is like that of a seasoned hitman's, who is detached and not exactly full of emotion, though it just makes those times where he puts emotion into his voice that much more, well, let's just say hard hitting. As for the Darkness, it's as sinister as its design, so it's something that you'd expect from an evil entity.
It's quite sad that it doesn't have much replay value anymore, because it's a very, very good game. I mean it; this game kicks ass! Despite whatever gripes I have with this game, it's all a case of the pros far outweighing the cons. Each of the cons are minor at best. Sure, the AI isn't the best in the world, some of the more open levels aren't used to their full potential, and the Darkness Guns aren't much better than the regular guns. After experiencing a very compelling story and top notch voice acting with a side helping of excellent gameplay, it's like “so what if it has these problems”, because they don't interfere with the fun, atmosphere and everything else!
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