The Darkness Xbox 360 Review
A First Person Shooter, that may be the genre the latest offering from Starbreeze Studios falls into but there is no doubt there is a lot more to the game than just shooting from a first-person view. In fact, just like their 2004 effort, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Starbreeze intertwines a fantastic, intriguing, gritty and certainly gory tale to propel the player through the well-crafted, highly detailed and immersive environments on show. Yeah, I know this gushing praise is a bit much for the first paragraph of a review, and most other critics of the game would now be just trying to explain why tentacles are coming out of the back of Jackie Estacado, the game’s main protagonist, but in my opinion the game deserves all the praise it can get as it really is that good!
As I’ve already hit upon in the opening paragraph, with the mention of a back, tentacles and a person called Jackie, the game is based on the comic book series which, of course, shares the same name as the game. Thankfully, no knowledge of the comics is needed to fully appreciate the game as The Darkness begins with mafia hitman Jackie on the eve of his 21st birthday, the day when he first gets use of his extraordinary powers. Right from the get go it is easy to see the game is presented very well with an intense opening cut-scene that develops into a car chase through packed streets and tunnels which paints a picture of Jackie’s back-story. From there, the opening gambit of the game unfolds, and you march though the first area, learning the game’s basic controls as credits start rolling on screen, akin to what you would see at the start of a film. Also, as you move thorough the first few areas you hear The Darkness taunting you, hinting at the fate that is about to befall you down the line. From there, as you trundle on, you find yourself in the subway and realize that Starbreeze has tried their damnedest to make the game feel alive as the subway is filled with people going about their business. This is also the area where you first find a TV, which is one of many dotted around areas in the game, which allows you to watch full TV shows should you wish, with episodes of cartoons, and shows like Flash Gordon and the movie The Street Fighter along with music videos playing on a loop. Now, as I already stated, I feel the story is very important for the enjoyment of the game, in fact I believe the finale is one of the greatest ever committed to disc, so from here on in I will try and keep talk about the plot to an absolute minimum.
Of course, the controls do need to be talked about and that is exactly what I will do now. At the outset, before you get your powers, the game controls like a basic FPS with you and your twin pistols taking down the foes. One notable difference from the norm before you get your powers is the inclusion of execution-style kills that, should you get close enough to an enemy, will let you take them down in some spectacular ‘ban this sick filth’ kind of way. A few cut scenes later your powers manifest themselves in spectacular form, showcasing the kind of badassary you will be capable of in the coming hours and informing you that your powers will only be at their most effective when use in the darkness. From there, in a Metroid style mechanic, the game only grants you access to a few of your main powers, but of course, as you advance, it lets you build up your arsenal through [the no doubt highly under-18-friendly way of] eating your fallen foes’ hearts.
The first powers you get your hands on is the ability to summon a Berserker minion, which is a crazy little guy, voiced by the same talent that does Invader ZIM, that you can order around and send after anyone you fancy. If he gets near the person targeted he jumps up and starts tearing at them, most likely killing them. From there the next power you come across is ‘Creeping Dark’ which lets you send out one of the tentacles on your back, but letting you control it directly, in a borderline psychotic 3D recreation of the game made famous on those old Nokia mobile phone, slithering along floors, walls and ceiling to do certain tasks. Now personally, at this point in the game, about an hour in, I had not fallen in love with The Darkness but after seeing the next collection of powers you can get I noticed they infinitely surpass the first few. These powers are the ability to summon three other minions, Kamikaze, Gunner and Lightkiller, the ability to create black holes to suck people in, and the use of a tentacle to toss objects and impale people with. In addition to these you all get to add darkness pistols to your collection of, already impressive, projectile weaponry. Now, I could talk about each of these powers for ages, and ramble on about how each of them are best used in different locations but that would ruin the thrill of seeing them and using them yourself. I will however state that all of them are fun and extremely satisfying to use.
But once again, for the umpteenth time, I hasten to add that the game is just not all about shooting your way through the hoards in a Black “gun porn”, highly overpowered super-shoulder kind of way. There is much more to the game than that, with free-roaming sections that let you mosey around finding sub-quests to do. Sub-quests which are not only fun to play, if you don’t get lost, but also reward you with unlockable content. Also, as you play though the game it is obvious that Starbreeze have tried to hammer home the fact that this is a story of events, albeit bizarre events, that is happening to real people and always seem to hold important events in the story above the need for superfluous gore.
Of course, just like every other game ever released, The Darkness is not perfect. In fact, it most certainly has its fair share of problems and small niggles that could grate with some people. Top of this list of contention would have to be that outside the main single player game there is very little else to keep you entertained. The game’s multiplayer is basic, and at its best only offers a few hours of cheap thrills. Just like most other multiplayer games you are presented with Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag staples, and Survivor and offered the option to play as either a human, Darkling or as Shapeshifter, the latter letting you ‘shift’ between the first two. You can then choose to play in up to an eight player battle. Regretfully, even though it has potential, the multiplayer does come off as very limited, meaning you will most likely head back to your other online mainstays very quickly.
While a lot of work has gone into the game’s graphics, and there is no denying they look impressive, some might be a bit under-whelmed by what is on show, particularly if you recently played a little known title called Gears of War. The main point of contention I had with the graphics is that the the city streets still feel very artificial rather than having the ‘lived in’ feel that GOW and many other upcoming games seem to have nailed. Nevertheless, the game is still visually impressive with fantastic textures, particularly the parts of the game that don’t take part in the city, and superb animation deserving high praise. Also, a great deal of kudos has to go to the in-game lighting which, while not the best out there, manages to remain impressive throughout. Then there is the voice acting, yet another high point to speak of, as the three main actors, Kirk Acevedo as Jackie, Mike Patton as the voice of The Darkness and Lauren Ambrose, from Six Feet Under as Jenny putting in great performances throughout. The music also happens to be top notch with some good quality, high tempo compositions adding some flair to many of the game fight scenes. One final note is that that the game has no loading screens, sure there is loading in the game but it is very well hidden in small cutscenes that appear between areas. This small little extra does a fantastic job in keeping you engrossed in the compelling story at all times.
All in all The Darkness is fantastic game to play, a welcome breath of fresh air for a genre bursting at the seams with samey, me-too titles, and a game I honestly believe that everyone should experience. In fact, ‘experience’ is probably the best word to sum up what The Darkness brings to the table, as over its fourteen hour run, it is both a thrilling and exhilarating masterwork from Starbreeze. Sure, the game is a gory one but after some solid play sessions it is evident that it is the well told, character driven story, and not the gratuitous violence that seems to stand out, and that, I believe, is the game crowning achievement. Just like Riddick, The Darkness is filled with characters you will grow fond of, poignant scenes you will remember long after playing, and on top of all that it has an air of quality with literally hundreds of little touches that make many other top-quality games look half finished.
An unbelievable game when it lasts, some however may question if it is really value for money.
8.5 out of 10