Until The Darkness came along, I honestly thought that I was going to go through life without ever knowing what it would be like for John Romero (circa 1999) to inherit demonic powers and live life speaking and acting like Steven Seagal. Thank the lord for small wonders.
Itís not that those gentlemen are ridiculous, itís that those gentlemen combined into a supposed 21-year-old goomba is ridiculous. Well, that and the fact that in a revenge story based in New York City, Jackie, our hero, will run across about 50 people. Actually, the number is higher, but Iím estimating the number of actual models that will be either shooting at you or going about their daily activities, primarily in one of the cityís two subway stations.
A lot of The Darkness doesnít make much sense. Why is Jackie so nonchalant about being possessed? Why is the darkness entity throwing its weight around within the first fifteen minutes of the game, but then it forces you to play through 11 hours to regain the abilities it first displayed? Why do you go through great lengths to master and contain the darkness, only to succumb to it? Why do I even have to succumb to it, given the fact that the game presents me with that very choice in one of several pseudo moments of freedom? And where does Jackie carry all those guns?!
Somehow with those thoughts, and several glaring flaws, prominent throughout, it is still easy to get lost within the world. When you hear Mike Pattonís voice calling you a puppet, and willingly, as Jackie and as the player, go along with such an aggravating arrangement to get a bloody and horrific revenge, inconsistencies and technical hiccups fall by the wayside.
As Jackie, you will spend the game seeking out your uncle Paulie for retribution. Unfortunately, Paulie is a notorious member of one of the local mafia families, with a number of henchmen and police on his payroll. Throughout the often desolate streets of several New York neighborhoods, Jackie will dual wield pistols and sub machine guns, with each independent of the other (controlled by the triggers), shotguns, and machine guns, various types of each with varying ammo counts and strengths, to cleave a way to Paulie. Guns arenít enough though. Inheriting the darkness entity, Jackie will slowly have it evolve through him, gaining the ability to provide extra protection, summon a variety of darklings (little demons that open locks, beat people around, or let loose with their mounted machine guns), unleash a creeper (think the tongue from the Aliensí aliens), special darkness guns, and the power to create a void to toss nearby objects .
The darkness power canít simply be unleashed though, it needs Ė you guessed it Ė darkness. Much of the game is spent shooting out lights so that the powers, stronger the darker it is, are more effective and so that the surrounding darkness can be eaten by the entity to regenerate itself. The extra protection provided by the darkness entity means that it will often be in use, resulting in the necessity of annihilating all nearby sources of light. This is pretty time consuming and not terribly fun, but it does provide a means to convey a sense of vulnerability in that this unearthly demonic power also needs to be babied to a great extent. Thanks to a generous auto aim, shooting out the lights is rarely difficult, with the problem of the rukus made be doing so later negated when a power allows for a tentacle to silently whip out and bust out light sources. This is certainly going to test the patience of many though.
The fact that the population of New York favors the equally pretty yet dingier subway stations over anywhere else in the city is explained in the fact that the darkness doesnít like it when there are a lot of people around with all their lights. See? If there were too many people on the streets, the darkness wouldnít allow itself to be used. Design-wise, that makes a lot of sense; but in terms of gameplay it makes the world a bizarre place to be in. Thatís how it is, though, so you will spend a good deal of time in the subway stations talking to old friends and meeting new people, helping them out with side missions if you so desire. Assisting the populace Ė i.e. completing a lot of fetch quests - will often result in one of the gameís numerous collectibles, which are phone numbers that need to be called for the goodies be unlocked. The calls can be skipped after a few seconds, but it is a bit much to have to sit and skip through several accumulated numbers at a time. Aside from the fact that listening to the calls makes you curious as to just how many lines of weird dialogue were recorded for the game Ė thereís an awesome conversation between two friends about hover cars towards the end Ė the unlockables are more than worth it with standard concept art fare alongside full, readable comics.
New York isnít the only location Jackie will be visiting. There is a portion of the game that takes place in a World War I Hell scenario. ďHunsĒ are demonic beings with mangled features, sprawled about a no manís land, complete with random eerie scenery. The British have been cut apart and sewn back together. All of the characters are either oblivious to their situation or going crazy, begging to die. This portion can be slightly difficult to navigate through, which is odd considering how helpful the journal and maps elsewhere are, but itís all so strange and genuinely creepy that I really enjoyed it.
As you run here and there, the game will treat you to some of the strangest loading screens you will ever see. Resident Evil pioneered the approach of distracting gamers with something while it loaded the next portion, but doors opening these arenít. Instead, Jackie will either be talking to his girlfriend Jenny, himself, you, checking the sites of his guns, talking about the location heís entering, or just tell a weird joke. Itís often surreal as heís just standing under a dim spotlight in the middle of darkness, rambling on or preparing himself. There is also a surprising amount of humor mixed in here and within the rest of the game as well. There is also the loading bar every now and then, but the majority of the time itís far from conventional.
But The Darkness just does things differently. The gunplay is by most first-person shooter standards a combination of generic and archaic with the only true abilities being ducking, shooting, and zooming in. There is no seeking cover, blind firing, peeking around corners, itís just running into a room and Commando-ing it up. Thatís okay Ė though not so much in multiplayer Ė because there are the darkness powers that need to be used, but sine they canít always be used the guns remain necessary throughout; itís an interesting blend.
The game also takes its time in setting things up. The fact that you take trips to hang out with Jackieís girlfriend, and are given the chance to watch a (very small) version of To Kill a Mockingbird with her, helps to set the tone that there is a life outside of the running and shooting. Okay, so a few moments of conversation doesnít exactly mean that Jackieís life is played-out in gross detail, but they help. It can be frustrating trying to interact with objects though, even being a few inches away and facing an item wonít bring up the note to hit A to interact with it, which can take you out of the world for a brief moment; but interacting with them, like in Chronicles of Riddick, does play a small but important role in building up the world around Jackie. Following street and subway signs to find a destination, or watching a darkling run up a wall and toss someone outside a window, it gives a sense of a world outside of whatís seen.
The darkness is always a constant as well, whether itís through taunts or the swirling demon-faced tentacles that swarm around the screen whenever the power is enacted. The power itself goes beyond a mere bullet point. Instead of just being a source of great power, it is a problem and a threat, but one that is tolerated as creepers are used to scale walls and open doors; tentacles used toeat out the hearts of your victims to replenish health and gain a new darkness level; and vortexes opened to dispatch groups of thugs. Seeing the tentacles fight with each other after a fresh heart and gulp it down, or stare menacingly at you, provides a great sense of the entity being both independent and dependent; itís a relationship that both parties need at the time, but both are eager to conquer as soon as possible. I really would have liked to have had a more tangible demon attack sooner though; the creeper and darklings are cool, but I didnít want to have to wait so long to whip barrels and thugs around with a giant tentacle being a demonic badass.
Overall: 8.5/10The Darkness doesnít succeed because of the gunplay, the powers, the characters, or the story. I donít think anyone will tell you with a straight face that itís a first-person shooter of any measure; though certainly serviceable, itís far from being on par with a Call of Duty 2 or Rainbow 6: Vegas. The powers go from being underwhelming to overpowering shortly, and the characters are about as typical as the story. No, The Darkness succeeds because all of the elements intertwine so well: the gunplay is good for what itís needed to be; the powers ramp up and become strong because the darkness is getting too powerful to control; the characters manage to squeeze out a bit of personality in the middle of the often hammy dialogue; and the story takes the kinds of twists and turns that you would expect and want from a game featuring a possessed protagonist. I didnít play for just one element, but I played to see how everything would unfold. Itís a wild, and often gorgeous, ride that doesnít let go once it has you.