The Darkness
by Kazlo

You ever play The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay? If you're on this site, I'm gonna say it's about a 50 percent chance, so let's take a little refresher course. Butcher Bay was released in 2004 by little-known Swedish developer Starbreeze Studios, to critical acclaim but average sales. I know you're thinking to yourself, so what, another licensed game, and by a bunch of nobodies, no less. But lemme tell you, it was something else. It told a new chapter in the Riddick franchise rather than following the plot of any of the movies, and the variety of stealth, brawling, and shooting action puts almost any other licensed game before or since to shame. On top of that, the game set (in my opinion) new standards for story, characters, voice acting, and atmosphere that haven't even been matched by titles like MGS3. And before you flame me to a well-done crisp, I loved MGS3 too.

Anyway, Starbreeze Studios is at it again, ready to turn shit (well, okay, a mediocre franchise) into gold. And while it has a few flaws, The Darkness is beautiful, fun, and a hell of a ride.

The Darkness stars pretty-boy Jackie Estacado and his incredible hair which he apparently conditions and mousses during load times. Not that I'm fucking jealous or anything. Adopted from an orphanage into a mafia family at a young age, Jackie has established himself as the best hitman and eventual candidate for don. Paulie, the current don, isn't a big fan of the idea, however, and when Jackie is accidentally involved in stealing money from the family, it's all the reason Paulie needs to take him down. Fortunately, it's Jackie's 21st birthday, and a dark power in the family Estacado is about to give him a heck of a present. It's not a six-pack and a hangover, either!

The first thing you'll notice as the game opens with an amazing car-chase setpiece is that it is goddamn gorgeous. Screenshots or even videos can't capture how great and how real the world of The Darkness looks. The streets and subways of New York glow with depth and sharpness, and, as with Riddick, Starbreeze knows how to make medium-poly characters look good. Hell, which you'll visit a few times over the course of the game, does not look quite as good, but has it's own charms and filthy, freaky beauty. One interesting note: it's gotta be the only darkness-heavy game I've been able to play in mid-day light. A little bit of exaggeration in lighting, and the glowing effects granted to you by the Darkness make it easy to see even as you shoot out lights and stalk in the shadows. No more playing with a blanket over your head and the brightness level on your screen giving you cancer like in Doom 3 (MOAR LIKE DARK 3: IF ONLY I HAD DUCT TAPE LOLOL AMIRITE GUYS? o_o/\o_o)

The second thing you'll probably notice is the sound. The Darkness has a fantastic, sometimes dramatic but other times rocking hardcore score. It fades in and out with the action, so you'll get a quiet beat as enemies take cover and search for you, rocking riffs as they spot you and open fire, and sudden dark undertones as you unleash the Darkness and spear some poor spaghetti-eating bastard with a tentacle. Mama Mia! The sound effects do their purpose, though the weapon sounds don't really stand out. The voice acting is generally good, save for some severely botched bystander lines. The Darkness' distorted, snarling voice laughing and cursing in your ear is sufficiently creepy, and Jackie's load screen monologues and musings (an awesome touch) are entertaining the first few playthroughs.

And we come to the gameplay, which is where things start to fracture a little. You spend some time throughout the game wandering the New York streets and subway systems, meeting contacts, phoning people, and doing small sidequests to unlock bonus material. This portion of the game is pretty interesting and does a good job of telling the story. When the action starts, however, the game is a straight-up FPS with slight stealth elements and an emphasis on staying in the shadows to use your powers. Cool, bring on the pain, let's make those mafia bastards pay for messing up my birthday, right?

Not quite. The Darkness suffers from a slight lack of enemies and challenge from beginning to end. Using your darkness powers to stab, sneak, and even create miniature black holes is fun, and even simple gunplay is pretty satisfying as enemies stumble and collapse as you shoot them, but there's not enough enemies, or variety within them, to really give you a reason to use most of your abilities. Some of your Darkness powers are seriously unbalanced, too. Even the first power you get, the creeping darkness, can clear rooms if you're quick, and once you get the black hole, you'll hardly even have to pick up weapons at all. If you're a regular shooter player, play this one on hard from the get-go.

Problems aside, The Darkness is a great game and definitely worth a rental for anyone with an Xborx 360 or a PS3, and a possible PC release in the future. While the presentation and writing never hit Riddick quality, the atmosphere and action more than make up for it. And even while complaining about the balance issues, all I could think about while writing this review is how I can't wait to go back and play the game again.


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