The Darkness (360) – Review

The Darkness - Cover

The Darkness, based off the comic of the same name by Top Cow Productions, developed by Starbreeze Studios, and published by 2K Games, takes a unique approach to first-person shooters that reminds me of elements from Max Payne and Deus Ex. It offers a story that is integrated well with the gameplay, a detailed environment of New York City, and a set of fun powers to use as you gain levels. There are some flaws, such as a rather lackluster online component, but the game still stands out for the solo play.

Story: A

The Darkness tells the story of Jackie, a man just turning 21 and finding that his “Uncle” Paulie, leading of a large mafia ring in New York City, now wants him dead due to a traitorous act that Jackie did in the past (as laid out in the comic book series of the same name). After making sure his girlfriend Jenny is safe, he has a run-in with some of Paulie’s goons, when suddenly his body is taken over by a dark voice and uses supernatural appendages and powers to kill the goons. The voice, calling itself “The Darkness” tells Jackie that he must continue his vengeance against Paulie in order to satisfy The Darkness’ hunger. As Jackie attempts to work through the corrupt police chief (also under Paulie’s fingers) to get to Paulie, he comes to learn why The Darkness selected him, and what he must do to either give himself over to it, or to free himself from its control in order to protect the ones he cares for.

The story elements of The Darkness are all told through in-game engine cutscenes. Wisely, the game uses loading times to show Jackie talking as if being interviewed for a biography, explaining events from the past (that is, the events you’re about to undergo within the game; this really helps to keep a good deal of story in the game without bogging it down. Other story elements are presented when you talk to certain named people within the game, with a few minor talk-tree options that don’t seem to have a significant effect on gameplay. Both approaches do an excellent job of providing the strong story that this game offers. The story also takes a few interesting turns that reminds me of Max Payne, making more than just a cookie-cutter mafia story.

The Darkness - Action screenshotGameplay: A

The core element of The Darkness is a first-person shooter, and as you’d expect, you’ll find a limited selection of modern weaponry at your disposal as you work through the game. However, you quickly find that guns aren’t the best option, but instead your Darkness powers become more lethal killing machines. As you progress in the game, you’ll gain 4 such powers. The first power creates a creeping head with extremely large teeth that you can sweep along any surface to attack a foe. The second power is a huge spiked appendage that you can use to push or pull large objects out of your way, in addition to impaling foes on it. The third power is a special Darkness gun that is much more powerful than any regular weapon, able to kill most foes with a single shot. The final power is a Black Hole, creating a vortex that sucks everything in towards it, killing any persons that may get stuck in it as well. All these powers feed off the darkness, and thus it’s necessary to find a nice dark corner or create one yourself by shooting out any nearby light sources in order to create darkness to feed off of. This allows enemies late in the game to use the power of light against you; you’ll find a few firefights that are in the middle of a spotlight-lit area requiring you to strategically shoot out the spotlights to be able to access the powers in the first place. You can gain additional strength in the darkness powers by devouring the hearts of the enemies that you kill. In addition to these core powers, you also can summon imp-like Darklings from specific spots. There are four types of Darklings that you gain the ability to summon, but basically these creatures are there to do your will, fight if there are foes around, and to cause mischief (such as taking enjoyment on urinating on dead bodies); a few are used though to open up the exit to the next part of the level (for example, the Kamikaze Darkling will blow himself up next to a boarded up wall to clear the route for you). There’s no health or power HUD, you only see red if you take a lot of damage, and you can tell how much dark the Darkness has fed based on their appearance, so it takes a bit of time to be able to judge how much damage you can take before getting into long firefights.

While the main plot is a standard linear progression, the game has a very non-linear approach you can take. Most of the game takes place in New York City, and a series of levels are used to mimic a couple subway stations and nearby neighborhoods; more specific levels are present for destinations that you only need to go to once. Thus, most of the game you learn of where to go, travel by subway to get there, and then get to the location via the city streets. This allows for several non-linear elements outside of the main plot to crop up, including searching out for several collectible phone numbers that you can place at working phones, letters to post, and performing side tasks for the people that wander the city, all to unlock in-game artwork and additional content. You can also look for special outfits for the Darklings that they will randomly wear to add variety to the game. This approach to the game layout simplified much of the Grand Theft Auto 3 open world approach to a level appropriate for a first-person shooter and while the “world” that you can explore is rather small, it still gives the feeling of being more to do than just the main plot.

Most of the rest of the game is pretty straightforward. There are some dual-wield weapons like pistols and semi-automatics, as well as two-handed guns, and generally there’s enough ammo to at least shoot something but there’s always the Darkness powers to turn back to; auto-aim also helps for the console controls. Enemy AI isn’t very difficult, it’s mostly a matter of being ambushed with your Darkness powers at their weakest. There’s one section where you man a automatic machine gun but this is only for a short bit. The game may be a bit too easy; Black hole is one of those “so cheap” powers, and with the weak AI, it’s easy to continually pound it out until your foes are all down. There are three difficulty levels, and I played through it on the second level, but it doesn’t appear to get much harder beyond that.

Multiplayer is a rather weak point. The online game is the near-equivalent of standard Doom-like deathmatches and capture the flag. You cannot use any Darkness powers, but there is the option to play as Humans, Darklings (who cannot use weapons but move quick and have good melee attacks) or “Shapeshifters” where you can switch between Human and Darkling at any time. This adds a bit of strategy but not a whole lot of difference from such play, and feels like a uninspired addition to the single player game.

Value/Replayability: B

The game itself is about 10 to 12 hours long, though if you’re on a collection quest, you’ll have to add a few more hours to that. The time feels about right with pretty good pacing in how you’re introduced to all your key power. The multiplayer aspect is very weak, as noted, and really doesn’t help with extended the game play outside of the single player campaign.

The Darkness - Setting ScreenshotGraphics: A-

The game does an awesome job of capturing the flavor of New York City along with the grim and trash throughout the place, with Tons of surfaces are scrawled with graffiti. Facial expressions appear to be generated using a special engine that does a great job of bringing emotion to NPCs. Within the game, TVs can be tuned to real content, such as the full movie of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and some Popeye cartoons. There is, however, one section of the game that feels like a cop-out in terms of design compared to how well the rest of the game plays. Furthermore, there are notable slow-downs in rendering when you use the Black Hole power among other cases.

Audio: A

The voice acting is very good, with some celebrities providing the voices for the lead characters. The game uses a good dynamic soundtrack so that when major battles start, you’ve got a good rush of adrenaline to fight by. The subway stations seem pretty vibrant with people milling about, a couple of breakdancers, and the like. The color dialog by the pedestrian NPCs is pretty good too.

Overall: A-

The Darkness is definitely a good showing in its single player campaign. The way that levels are set up, the pacing of how you gain powers, and good integration of story with gameplay make it a very unique approach to delivering a plot, and there’s even more to do than just that. The game does do a reasonably good job of creating an immersive environment of New York City. Unfortunately, multiplayer feels like a quick add-on, and the game itself is not that challenging, but I still felt that the game stands out because of the strength of the story and single-player campaign.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for the review! I just purchased the game because of it. Seems to be great fun. Thanks you. Cheers, Nolio

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