The Darkness is brought to us by the kindly folk at Starbreeze. These are the same guys that made Chronicles of Riddick and beat id to the punch by not only outdoing the visuals of the famous developer’s Doom 3 engine, but also arriving before it.
As you can expect then, we’ve been anticipating the release of The Darkness for quite some time, for we believed it would surely meet, or even exceed, the quality of Riddick. And now, here it is.
In some ways it’s better. In other ways – most ways – it’s not.
But the good stuff first.
The Darkness is based on the Top Cow comic of the same name, and follows the antics of Jackie Estacado, a hit man for the Franchetti mob. Jackie, although adopted, is still considered a part of the family until Paulie, the Franchetti crime boss, decides Estacado poses a threat to his leadership and orders him killed.
It’s at this stage of Estacado’s life that he discovers that his body harbours a powerful supernatural force known as The Darkness. Apparently it’s as old as time itself and can kick major arse – as long as it has darkness to feed on. The game starts with Estacado celebrating his 21st birthday, which also happens to be the same age The Darkness imposes on Estacado’s daily activities.
|If it's lurking in the shadows it's probably worth shooting at.|
The Darkness is a first-person shooter through and through, yet it tries, unsuccessfully, to pose as a sort of role-playing game as well. The methods in which it conducts this is by providing compact dialog trees to a few characters, a levelling mechanic for The Darkness powers and optional ‘quests’.
Except the levelling mechanic consists of eating the hearts of your dead enemies and you don’t get to pick which powers you receive when you level – you just get them. Not that it matters, as there are only four levels and you seem to be granted powers in between these levels anyway. Talking is only useful in a few instances, and even then violence will solve every problem you encounter, while the side quests have no impact whatsoever on the story or your character’s progression. Playing through the game, we couldn’t help but shake our heads at the inclusion of these elements.
The Darkness’ other failings relate to dialog and the quest mechanic. The lip-syncing, especially on Jackie, is woeful. A lot of the time our protagonist will stand there with a monologue in full swing, and his lips will barely move. Although minor, it detracts from what are otherwise brilliant visuals.
|Jackie Estacado gets up to a whole bunch of fun once the sun goes down.|
As for quests and the plot in general, the game is extremely vague about telling you where you need to go next. This doesn’t combine well with the fact that you can travel almost anywhere in the game right from the start, and while freedom is good, a lack of direction is not. Actually, the freedom isn’t that great, as all it does is change the order in which you complete the story, and not the story itself.
If we ignore these fantastic examples of poorly-thought out functionality, The Darkness is an extremely console-friendly FPS and excellent fun to boot. The start of the game has you armed with a pair of pistols, fired by pressing the left or right triggers, but within the first 15 minutes, you’ll be awarded your first set of otherworldly powers. One example is Creeping Darkness, which lets you control a remote tentacle with teeth that can kill enemies in one hit, open doors and retrieve items like keys. Another early power allows you to summon a Berserker darkling that’s very adept at cutting throats and, in later levels, sawing off heads.
As the game continues, you’ll be able to create guns out of shadow, command a giant tentacle to impale enemies, create a swirling vortex that crushes whatever is nearby and summon darklings that kamikaze, shoot miniguns and destroy lights.
Why would you want to destroy lights you ask? All of the above powers drain your darkness gauge, represented by glowing streaks on the tendrils of The Darkness. Once the gauge runs out, you won’t be able to use any of your abilities. Standing in the shadows will replenish this supply while loitering in the sun or under lights will suck you dry.
The powers are done exceptionally well, and once you’ve spent 10 minutes with a new ability you’ll have it down pat. Firing at one opponent, while flinging out a tentacle to stab someone else and toss them like a piece of trash becomes second nature in the latter parts of the game. The tentacle is even context-sensitive – aim it at a light and it’ll flick out and smash it to bits.
As a plain old first person shooter, The Darkness is a success, packing in neat and useful powers, smooth gameplay and gorgeous graphics. At eight to 10 hours though, it is brutally short. We can’t help but think if Starbreeze had dispensed with the lacklustre RPG elements, it could have squeezed in at least another five hours, perhaps more.
Visually impressive; Darkness powers very user-friendly; dialog and story first-rate.
Lip-syncing and character faces need work; easy to get lost; pointless quests; short.