The Darkness Review
Written : Sunday, July 01, 2007
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
From the makers of the unsung hit, ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’, Starbreeze Studios makes its debut on the 360 by bringing the comic book 'The Darkness', to life. I know what you're thinking… The Darkness? 'I believe in a thing called love' and all that? Well, as far as this game goes it's more 'I believe in a thing called blood'! This game has been one of the most anticipated titles to hit our 360’s but the thing is, it got pushed back so many times, it kind of fell off everyone’s radars. One would presume that they didn’t want to make the same mistake they did with Riddick in terms of publicity and they sure didn’t disappoint.
"Jackie leans forward while pondering his fate"
You take control of Jackie Estacado, a mafia adopted character on a quest to fight the darkness that attempts to consume him. You could be excused for thinking that you’d be thrown in to a Godfather-esque style interactive movie to start with as you are thrown straight in to the action. The highly pronounced Italian American accent smacks you in the face from the off. Even the characters meet the traditional Mafioso stereotyped names like 'Uncle Paulie', who is in no way your uncle, but hey, whatever works right? The game opens with a car chase through the tunnels of New York City and straight away you can see the detail in the textures of the walls around you. The cars fail to look realistic and appear too blocky but you’ll be too busy waving a shotgun around to care. From there you join Jackie on a fight with his inner beast across the mean (may I add deserted) streets of New York to the plains of what can only be described as another realm; purgatory if you must. Don’t let the game fool you, it attempts to be non linear, by giving you some faux-sandbox side missions, but in order to unlock new areas you must go through the story on the path it decides. The story is an entertaining one however, despite being only 15 hours or so in length but doing some of the side missions adds to the total, even if they boil 'go and get this, go kill so and so'. Nothing too imaginative really, but the single player campaign is truly one not to be missed.
The game itself looks visually impressive. The textures, as I previously mentioned, stand out ten fold and the character models… Wow! You could be forgiven for thinking that they are real, however when the lips start moving you are brought back to reality with a thud as the lip syncing is way off and it looks more like a ventriloquist dummy more than anything. One of the main standouts of the graphics in this title is the lighting and it plays such a big role, which has nailed by the developers. You’ll start to learn throughout the game that the light is your true enemy and that the way forward is through the shadows but it is done with vigor. Every light casts a shadow, take it out and that’s when the real fun starts. Fire up your darkness powers with a tap of the left shoulder button and you will actually see your powers get stronger as it casts a hazy outline around everything around you, giving you a real sense of an advantage. You actually feel like the darkness is your powerful ally which I believe is what the developers intended. One of the best effects of the game is the combination of the dark and the light and surprisingly… the dust!! This is best shown in the subway tunnels as you leave a dark area towards an illuminated area. You'll literally can stop and marvel at the dust particles floating around in the crisp air. The game is incredibly gory most the time with bullets in the head, the shockingly aggressive close-up executions and it does a fairly good job of displaying it. Add to that some heart devouring to feed your darkness and there is blood everywhere.
Now if you thought that was a good touch, the TV’s with hours of genuine shows will blow you away. Whether you're into some classic films like the 1936 version of Flash Gordon and the 1962 version of To Kill a Mockingbird starring the ever youthful Gregory Peck, music channels, or cartoon channels, your tastes will be covered by the six different channels. There is something quite liberating and remotely disturbing about dispatching a room full of construction workers packed to the eyeballs with revolvers while the subtle folk music of Pelle Carlberg rings out in the background. The game's color pallet is rather muted in tone, but that does not take away from the experience. It really only adds to it and this is definitely a game that looks its best on a high definition TV, a game that the 360 was designed to show off.
"All that devouring has made me tired"
The voice casting in this game is entertaining, hardly Hollywood though, Kirk Acevedo, as Jackie turns in a noble performance and Faith No More's Mike Patton deserves an honourable mention for a disturbing performance as the voice of the Darkness, that reminds me, I must get him some throat lozenges. However sound wise, the game really stands out with the musical score added to the game. The music throughout is eerie but at the same time, subtle. The first time you experience the orphanage this will smack you in the face, as you approach the doors, the off beat mild sounds of a piano play in the background with the faint but distinct echo of young children playing and laughing float over the top. It’s a true spine shivering moment and one that sums the game up.
The controls of the game seem fairly responsive. Although the aiming seems a little shaky at times it’s fairly easy to control the darkness powers and your guns in tandem. But this is also where one of mybiggest gripes in the games really appears as well. You would not be given a funny look if you suggested that Jackie can only hop round the game because the moving speeds are frankly laughable. We know he’s not carrying the pounds cause you see he's rather slim, so only Starbreeze know why he moves that slow. At times, you see somewhere you have to go and literally roll your eyes at how long it's going to take to get there. You think that’s bad, wait till you have to crawl. You have to check whether your actually moving at all. Then there is the ever-unnatural jumping. For the love of gaming, don’t look in the mirror when Jackie jumps. The non-knee bending, straight legged animation is one that is best left in the 20th century. Speaking of animations, the gun animations are a nice solid touch. Gone are the days of hands through the walls and other such nonsense. Instead, you’ll see Jackie lift his arms as he gets too close to a wall or other object. Go round a corner and he’ll lean them round so you can get the shot in first. The game does suffer from Hollywood enemies though, by which I mean, you shoot them and you get the Hollywood style reaction, flying backwards, BUT this is where the Hollywood comes in… After you think they are dead they get back up to their feet and continue to fire back at you, you’re never quite sure whether or not you’ve killed someone until your stood over their mutilated body. But hey, the rag doll physics are always welcomed, even if they are still alive.
Despite a few control issues, the experience is a lasting one. The game is very atmospheric and definitely leaves an impact. The soldiers in purgatory are freakish and disturbing but this is what makes the game great. If you can walk away from a game feeling this sense of impact, then the developers have certainly done their job correctly. The subway setting is another example of atmosphere and Starbreeze pulled this off perfectly. The graffiti used down there creates a dark and seedy setting, it seems as if Starbreeze's tactic of employing genuine graffiti artists in their creation really paid off. Add to this some strange characters whether they be dancing and showing off their break dancing skills, grifting, or whether its just the disturbing preacher in Fulton Street who’s eyes could burn a hole through Superman’s chest. They have created an environment that belongs in a game, aptly named The Darkness. There is one thing that separates it from any other subway though, the simple fact you only have to wait 5 seconds for a train. Stand by the platform and within 5 seconds a train will be docking at the platform.
You build up your powers in a semi-RPG style. The more you use and the more hearts you devour, the higher your 'Darkness level' goes up which is a nice touch. You start with nothing but a pair of guns and the first time you encounter the mob you’ll get a demonstration of the powers you will to pick up on your journey. There are four powers in all, each with their own strengths and each more and more destructive. The first ability you learn is Creeping Dark which is a detachable serpent like beast which can be a nightmare to control, going up walls that you don’t want them to. Then you’ll pick up the Demon Arm, the Darkness Guns and the ever destructive Black Hole. Not only do you have the help of these frankly awesome and original powers, you have the help of the Darklings, demonic like goblins that obey your every order; the Berserker who is the brute fighter, the Gunner who has a huge cannon strapped to his back, the Kamikaze who is a walking bomb… (Literally!!!) and the Light Killer who uses the electricity to kill others and take out lights. Each are unlocked as you move through the game and can be a definite help fighting in your corner. They have a mind of their own, cracking tasteless jokes and at times you will see them fighting each other, urinating on corpses, and coming out with short catchphrases such as my favourite, “Face, I’d like you to meet fist”. As well as that, you have the ever inaccurate guns. So inaccurate that I found myself using the pistols more than any other weapon because they fired where you were actually aiming. The arsenal in The Darkness ranges from the traditional revolvers and pistols, to shotguns and rifles. Basically, nothing out of the ordinary in the weapons department.
"Anyone order 3 demonic beasts?"
The back menu brings up an array of information including, maps, darkness level progress and an inventory which allows you to track where and what you should be doing. Unfortunately though, there is no ability to save. Rather, that comes automatically when you move areas or sometimes, thankfully, before you come in to some unexpected trouble. If you see the disk icon flash in the middle of nowhere, get ready for some action. As far as load scenes go, there are way too many of them for a game that classes itself as worthy for the 360. This blow is soften however, by a visually impressive load screen of Jackie talking to the camera giving an intro into the next area you are moving in to or the story line which you are moving towards. Still nevertheless, way too many load screens.
Multiplayer is where the disappointment really starts to set in.. It offers something new with the chance to choose whether you are strong (human being) or quick (darkling) but other than that the game’s multiplayer fails to really impress. The usual deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and survivor is all there is offer. It does however look visually impressive and you move at a decent speed for once, but there are lots of problems. The game suffers from some intense host advantage and such a lack of hit detection that you never think you’ve been hit. Add in some incredible lag and latency and you’ll be putting this to the bottom of the pile after a few games.
"Coolest weapon you ask? The Black Hole! Woohoo!"
As far as the achievement goes, on the whole it is a very commendable list. You have your typical collectors achievements which are becoming more numerous by the day. They consist of numerous things from finding phone numbers or letters, doing jobs, and getting rewards. Not only do they give you an achievement, but they also unlock some collectibles as well, mostly concept art. As well as that you have some story progression ones and some character building ones to do with your darkness. There are some interesting scenarios. Ones that have to be done at that point in the story but only if you perform a certain task. The workers in the tunnel one, well, the less said about that the better. That and the 7 enemies in 15 seconds seem to be causing problems. As well as that, you have the ever present multiplayer achievements that are… well, disappointing. 250 wins? Ha, if the multiplayer was enjoyable, then fair enough. Why must developers continue to reward gamers with multiplayer achievements in games where the obvious strength is the single player campaign? All in all, you can get around 800 in a few days of playing, but the 250 wins is not going to be a ten minute job.
The single player game is without a doubt a more than worthy experience that I recommend everyone experience. It looks stunning and has a feel and an atmosphere to it that is reminiscent of Condemned but more sincere and doesn’t make you jump out your skin as much. An impressive score keeps you engrossed in a story that is compelling and without a shadow of a doubt leaves an impact on you. As far as multiplayer goes, it’s another 2K multiplayer game. Like Prey, the multiplayer in The Darkness is honesty only for some, and the majority will never play again. Credit goes out to Starbreeze for creating an intense single player which is easily open to multiple plays. Go out and get it now!! You won’t be disappointed!
Voice acting commendable and Mafioso influence strong. But the musical score is eerie, chilling, creepy and creates one hell of an atmosphere.
Muted pallete and powerful. Two terms that really sum it up. It sets the scene with its detailed environments and characters in a very effective manner.
The game plays well from start to finish. Great storyline that would be a crime to miss. Bit sluggish on movement but fairly easy to control.
Multiplayer a let down but other than that, commendable. You’ll never be lost on what to do with the handy ‘back’ button and the achievement checklist is extremely welcomed.
Great list despite the too heavily weighted multiplayer achievements. Variety is the spice of life and if The Darkness’s achievement list was life, it would be spicy as sin!
Great single player experience that has a distinct and unique feel to it. Talk about making an FPS stand out from the pack, Starbreeze nails that with the Darkness’ powers. Pity about the multiplayer, but the single player experience must be experienced, whether you rent or buy, you won't regret it.