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The Darkness

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Starbreeze
Release Date: June 25, 2007 (US), June 29, 2007 (EU)


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Xbox 360 Review - 'The Darkness'

by Nathan Grayson on July 8, 2007 @ 6:25 a.m. PDT

Based on the best-selling Top Cow comic book, The Darkness casts players as Jackie Estacado, a fearless Mafia hitman for the Franchetti crime family who is suddenly possessed by the terrifying and spectacular powers of The Darkness. Throughout the game, players must learn to control and harness The Darkness power in order to overthrow the vicious mob boss and fulfill their destiny.

The Darkness is the latest first-person shooter/adventure from Starbreeze Studios, the makers of Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. It tells the story of Jackie Estacado, a young man in the mafia. On his 21st birthday, during a hit gone awry, Jackie discovers that an evil force known as "The Darkness" has manifested itself within him, giving him the power to command evil tentacled creatures to come out of his back and summon crazy little creatures called Darklings. Unfortunately, The Darkness isn't necessarily on Jackie's side.

The Darkness lives up to its name in that it's a very dark game. This is accomplished in two ways: the game always takes place at night, and the story is pretty downcast and depressing. Those things create a great atmosphere, and the whole mafia thing mixes well with them. As expected (Starbreeze's previous game was Riddick), the graphics are incredible. The realistic-looking characters tend to hang out in uncanny valley, but that's bearable. The environments are dank and grimy, adding even further to the atmosphere.

The music is as creepy as you'd expect for a title like this, but it's fairly forgettable. It does, however, change on the fly. For instance, when you're creeping through an old, abandoned train station, the music is unhappy but quiet. Then, when you encounter some mafia hitmen and whip out your Darkness tentacles, the score morphs into an up-tempo version of itself, with guitars blaring in the background.

The presentation is The Darkness' biggest asset, and it's the perfect example of how to tell a story in video games. The game only takes you out of the driver's seat when it has to, with most of the story development occurring while you're controlling Jackie —it's very Half-Life in that respect. Even the menus have a creepy tinge to them with the tentacles enveloping the screen whenever you pause the game. The title also subscribes to the idea that having no HUD makes the experience more cinematic. It looks like the developers were right in choosing to do that, too, since everything feels more movie-like without a bunch of bars and numbers constantly cluttering up the screen. A few things occasionally pop up, but usually in combat, and they only tell you what you need to know.

The Darkness powers rock, of course. Black holes that suck in all my enemies? Sign me up. Impaling people on spiky tentacles is morbidly satisfying; as is flinging their lifeless bodies into the air like a catapult. The most useful power, however, is the ability to send in a tentacle on its own; this can be used for reconnaissance, to reach places you couldn't normally go, or just to kill a few enemies who are pinning you down with gunfire. Conversely, the least useful power is the Darkness guns. They are powerful, but why use them when a normal gun and another Darkness power will do the job more efficiently? After all, you can only use one Darkness power at a time.

These powers don't come without a stipulation, though. If you're standing in the way of a light source, your Darkness powers will drain. How do we solve this mind-blowing problem, you ask? With violence, of course! Shooting out lights is central to the overall gameplay of The Darkness, and it actually works pretty well. Eventually, you come to instinctively prepare rooms for battles by shooting out all the lights. It adds a nice little layer of strategy to fights that are otherwise fairly straightforward. There is a minor flaw in the light-shooting gameplay mechanic, however: the lights don't stay destroyed. If you leave an area, the lights will regenerate, which is kind of irksome but doesn't really hurt the overall gameplay experience.

Being a mob hitman, evil powers from the great beyond aren't all you have to work with. And after all, what would a first person shooter be without guns? The Darkness gives you a pretty standard weapon load-out. You've got your dual John Woo-style pistols, dual submachine guns, a shotgun, and well, it all sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it? Most of those guns are interchangeable, too. It's almost as if the developers knew you were going to be focusing on the Darkness powers, and threw in guns as an afterthought.

Even worse, those guns have slippery aiming. Moving your laser sights onto an enemy doesn't feel as precise as in Halo or Gears of War, which is not to say that blowing bloody holes into your enemies isn't satisfying, because it is. Sometimes it's just overly inconvenient to do so.

Another flaw that's definitely noticeable is the enemy AI. On normal mode, enemies aren't the brightest tools in the shed, or even just slightly bright ones. They hide behind corners, but many don't really do anything from there; the only time they present a challenge is when they have numbers on their side. I also couldn't tell if enemies could see my evil death tentacles or not. Sometimes I'd hear them screaming about one, but when it was right next to them, they wouldn't budge. Then, when I was far away from a group of enemies, they'd fire directly at the tentacle as it approached

Unfortunately, The Darkness is short, with single-player mode lasting about 10 hours. It's not outrageously short, but it's not long enough to warrant a $60 price tag, either. There are side-quests, but they only reward you with "unlockables," which are behind-the-scenes items, like artwork and a few movies. You probably won't spend more than 15 minutes with them, and they provide little incentive to do the side-quests in the first place.

The multiplayer mode isn't even worth your time. You can transform into a Darkling or a mobster on the fly, but this title wasn't really made for multiplayer, and it shows. It's fraught with lag that nearly ruins the experience on its own. While morphing between human and Darkling might sound like a cool idea, it fails in execution. Your opponents might be tall or tiny, and it makes aiming difficult. The slippery aiming controls only confound the problem, causing you to die far too often. Much of the time, it won't even be because your skill is lacking, but because the two completely different sizes of opponent make things too random.

Make no mistake, though — The Darkness is excellent; if judged solely on presentation and graphics, it would be one of the greatest games of all time. Even with the gameplay flaws thrown in, it's still pretty great, since the single-player experience is wonderfully cinematic and tells an excellent story. If you're looking for a quick weekend gaming fix, The Darkness is your game.

Score: 8.5/10

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