'The Darkness' Xbox 360 Single Player Review

May 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

Score: 4 out of 5

The Darkness starts off pretty well. It’s New York City – present day – and you play Jackie Estacado, a young button-man working for the local mafia don, your beloved Uncle Paulie. On the eve of your character’s 21st birthday, you’re sent on a mission, by your dear Uncle, to assassinate a troublesome construction foreman. Along with two other goons, who engage in trivial, humorous conversation along the way, you ride shotgun in the backseat of the car, until, that is, you’re ambushed; one guy, sticking his head out, gets it smashed against the back of a lorry, and the car flips over, trapping you and the driver underneath it.

As openings go, it’s a good one, and there are many more of these moments to follow. In fact, The Darkness is filled with dramatic moments like these.

Without spoiling the story, the game quickly turns into a clichéd tale of revenge and betrayal, and Jackie soon finds himself the willing servant of a malevolent force called “The Darkness”. Using the supernatural powers granted to him through The Darkness, Jackie intends to deliver “great vengeance and furious anger” upon those who’ve wronged him.

Awesome.

What it should be: awesome and badass.

The only caveat is that Jackie can only use these powers when in the dark, as when he is under bright lights, these powers eventually deplete, leaving him vulnerable. (Well, not quite vulnerable, seeing as he holds a range of conventional weaponry at his disposal – dual pistols, shotguns, rifles, you name it – which can picked up throughout the game.)

The central conceit of The Darkness is that you use some strategy to create a situation where you have the advantage – by shooting out the lights in the room, for example, to allow you to use your superhuman powers. Some of these powers are awesome; some just don’t work very well at all. The Black Hole or Creeping Dark powers are fun and fairly easy to use (using Creeping Dark, Jackie, can extend himself into a snake-like appendage, which you can use to reach hard to get to areas… and bite the faces off unsuspecting foes) but the Dark Tentacles – a power which allows you to reach out and impale enemies – is nigh on useless, except on specific occasions to move objects.

Jackie can also summon Darklings. These spawn of Satan come in a few different forms: a suicide Darkling, a machine-gun Darkling, and so on. Unfortunately, the Darklings suffer from bad AI and pathfinding, ignoring your orders most of the time and getting themselves killed, and so, chances are, you just won’t bother with them.

I found the gameplay mechanic of shooting out lights, one-by-one – in order to create a cloak of darkness around me, allowing me to use my powers – tedious. Often, I let my guns do the talking, instead of The Darkness. While under the cover of The Darkness, fights are made balanced against an enemy often overwhelming in numbers, but there are times in which you have no choice but to fight conventionally. Making an irritating experience worse is the lag, which is sometimes very noticeable and distracting.

The Darkness is a first-person shooter, and by the standards set by the genre, it can only be called adequate. The auto-aim pretty much takes away much of the skill in the game; just point in a general direction and shoot – you’ll probably hit something. On the other hand, the enemies, especially towards the latter half of the game, frequently outnumber you and can be quite sensitive to your position. To put it another way, they can sometimes spot you from a mile off, and before you know where the shots are coming from, you’re already dead. The combat somehow manages to be, at times, both unchallenging and frustrating.

One of the better aspects of the game is the quasi-open world it allows the player to explore. The Darkness isn’t a game short on atmosphere, and the quality of the graphics, the voice acting and the writing are all well-above average. Along with the main story, you can pick up side-quests from other NPCs, usually loitering around the place. Through completing these quests – and also through general exploration – you will be rewarded with phone numbers, which you can call via the numerous phone booths dotted around New York City, and they, in turn, unlock additional bonus content, which can be accessed through the main menu.

Aside from some fairly useless collectables, you can also unlock the original The Darkness comic books, of which this game is based. Through the transition to video game from comic book, there have been numerous changes that have been made: most noticeably, the decision to change Jackie’s character from a Ferrari-driving, suited-up, sex-machine with a streak of bad-ass, to a dorky, brooding, emo bitch, dressed in a long, black leather trench coat. His character in the game comes off as a contrived, more marketable, more boring version of the comic book’s sadistic anti-hero.

What it is: lame.

What it is: lame.

While I had no love for the protagonist, the world built around the main character kept me playing. The Darkness, while a bit of a mediocre shooter, pulls itself up and shows a fair bit of ambition in regards to the narrative: for example, as you share a brief moment of peaceful respite with your girlfriend on the sofa, in the comfort of her drafty New York apartment, watching the intro to To Kill a Mockingbird; or transporting you to the trenches of some demonic, bizzaro-world version of World War I, blanketed under a crimson-sky and choking fog, undead soldiers gunning for your head. The Darkness is pretty bold in its aspirations, and so it’s no surprise that the sum of its parts don’t quite add up. In any case, I’d rather have more games like this – daring, bold but flawed – rather than the next Gears of War clone.

Besides, it almost feels callous of me to not give anything less than four-out-of-five for managing to fit a To Kill a Mockingbird reference into a video game.

(996 words.)

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