The Darkness

"Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it." - Terry Prachett

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The Darkness seems like really poor idea for a game. You step into the skin of Jackie, a young Italian mobster who, on his 21st birthday, is overtaken by a demonic force that wants to control his body and soul in exchange for tentacle powers that would make an anime school girl blush. Trying to shoehorn a supernatural story into a Sopranos-style mob family should clash, but coming off the surprising Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, game developer Starbreeze Studios deftly draws you into the world established by Top Cow's original The Darkness comic series.

Along with the usual FPS standards like pistols akimbo, shotguns and machine guns, The Darkness slowly ramps up the supernatural powers so it's not all just spitting bullets at countless enemies. Right from the start you can detach one of the tentacles from your body and go slithering along the ground, ripping off enemy faces and devouring their hearts. Running up along the walls and leaping out at the bad guys in this mode is very simple, but all the more satisfying for it. Their screams are delicious.

Eating hearts in all their slick, bloody, high-definition glory is how you become more powerful. It's not unusual to have watched over 140 hearts pass by your screen as your tentacle monsters messily devour them. If that's not enough, the M For Mature rating is earned with the constant swearing, cop killing, torture and brutal executions on display. Most definitely a game for adults, the ruler-wielding nuns at the ESRB will be organizing man hunts to track down anyone selling it to minors.

The other powers like the black hole, the tentacle skewer and the guns that run on shadow energy are fun and easy to pull off. Unfortunately, the goblin-like Darklings hold back what would otherwise be an excellent roster of exciting new ways to kill enemies. These little scamps are meant to add even more variety to the combat experience, providing you with allies who act on your behalf by brawling, shooting or blowing up enemies and innocents alike. This is where the game stumbles, because the path finding and A.I. are horrendous for these creatures. In a straight hallway or open room, they do fine with the basic 'move here' command. As soon as you go up a flight of stairs or around a couple of corners, you'll often find them standing still and ignoring the mobsters shooting at you. To combat this, Starbreeze made sure there was no cost to summoning them, you just have to be near a pre-determined spawn area to call them up. Even with this allowance, they are only useful as the occasional humorous meat-shield.

Sadly, the multiplayer is also a complete bust, a bullet point to go on the box rather than any real effort to bring a fresh experience to online battles. The handful of maps available are horribly laid out and boring to look at. You won't find any of the city areas or the subway from the single player game to hold you interest here. Even the Survival mode of gameplay, where one player is a Darkling while the rest are humans fails to provide much fun thanks to the fact that killing fellow humans will still net you points as if it were simple deathmatch. What should be a tense conflict between one Darkling player hunting a band of humans fighting to stave off becoming Darklings themselves ends up being a routine 'shoot everything that moves' yawner.

The game is flawed. But as I finished it, I found I didn't care. I had spent hours watching a story unfold. A story that involved me enough that I was shouting invectives at characters performing despicable acts in the name of pride and power. Long over now, I find it still comes to mind in the quite spaces of a day, in the way few other games have. The Darkness is very good despite some flaws that stand in stark contrast to the excellent overall presentation and gameplay found in the gun battles and Darkness powers. If they ever do a sequel, they won't have to make many changes to have a true classic on their hands.

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I'd like to take a moment to welcome those of you who skipped to the end to read the concluding paragraph. I bet you don't wash you hands before you leave the bathroom and you cut in line.

- Shawn Andrich

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Comments

I totally agree about the Darklings. Nothing like summoning a Lightkiller and then watching him go sit next to a hallway lamp till he exploded. Still that said, there was a sick sense of amusement watching a Berserker appear in the construction outfit I found and proceed to take a sledgehammer to one unsuspecting mobster's face.

If I did have one other problem, I'd say it was the final encounter at the Lighthouse. I'm not going to explain beyond that so as to avoid spoilers, but honestly I wished for a different ending (or at least one that actually gave you a choice).

Still overall it was a fun ride and an enjoyable story.

two things.

1. Fantastic opening quote. I think you and I have a lot in common.

2. You caught me skipping to the last paragraph when I was halfway through. I can't help it. I'm tired.

Haha. Got me on the skipping to the end.

Riddick and The Darkness were the last FPS titles that I wanted to keep playing and finish. I tend to put down the controller or mouse and move on to another game before I finish most shooters (see my pile o' shame). Starbreeze has some sort of magic FPS crack they sprinkle on their titles before shipping. I think the length of the game is just about right for me. You feel like you can make decent progress in an hour or two per session. Both titles have a hard-boiled feel to them. There's no shying away from profanity or violence, but it doesn't feel juvenile or forced, either. I agree with Certis, if they can address some of the flaws that seem to creep into their games, they'd be quickly become known as an instant classic makers and every title they make will become a must buy for me.

Loved the ending, though you didn't get me...although I was reading on my Blackjack, where it's harder to skip around.

Well, I wasn't expecting perfection either, ya know?

Well, all in all though, can't wait to play that game!

The thing that elevates this game beyond just a fun shooter with magical powers is that they actually take the time to make you care about the character. There's a very early scene where you go and visit your girlfriend which does an excellent job of endearing the main character to the player.

I also felt that the monologues he does in place of loading screnes achieves the same effect, especially the non-plot related ones where he's just talking about his childhood and his experiences in the city.

Great writeup! I felt the Darkness was an excellent "rental" that evoked a great sense of presence right out of the starting blocks. (That car chase had me at "hello") And kept me interested all the way through. It does feel as if it was left in the oven for another 6 months or so it could have been a must-buy, but as it stands, it's an excellent 10 hour romp through the life (and death) of a tortured mafia hitman.

Oh yeah, and you get to suck people into black holes and rip their hearts out.. Good stuff..

Oops, I skipped the last paragraph. I had to go back and read it when I saw people mentioning it in their posts.

Demo is now on the marketplace.

I picked this up last night and was really enjoying the opening sequence. My biggest gripe so far, and it is a very,very minor annoyance is that it seems like Jackie hardly moves his mouth when talking during the game. In between levels it looks fine but during the cutscenes that play out there were a few times I thought that his mouth wasn't moving at all.

I really hate the loading screens. I'd rather watch the black bar millimeter its way across the screen then hear Jackie tell some lame story about his crazy cabdriver friend, Abdul.

Don't worry Certis I read it all the way through, but that's because I think the game is the cat's meow. I'm almost at 300 hearts, and it never gets boring watch the little guys fight over the tendrils! I call the left one bitey and the right one piggie - I mean, come on, let bitey have some hearts every now and then!

The art style is top notch. I felt a few shivers seeing how some of the Four Horsemen were represented.. and the voice throughout the game could have been insanely cheesy, but somehow pulls off a genuinely evil presence. Top notch Starbreeze!

I'm torn about this one...on the one hand, every review that I read basically said that it is fairly standard stuff, but the writing and care taken in portraying the story elevate the game to something that probably deserves a purchase. I really want to support developers that try to do something than...well, some multiplayer maps and a skeletal single player campaign that is basically training levels.

But is a good story reason enough to drop $60 on a title? I don't think it is. For me, gameplay is part of the story...so making allowances for a flaws in the game because the story is executed well makes me think that I am better off waiting until the price drops, especially when there seems to be no reason to play the game multiplayer.

Too bad, everything that I have read makes it seem like they almost had it right.

Swat wrote:

The art style is top notch. I felt a few shivers seeing how some of the Four Horsemen were represented.. and the voice throughout the game could have been insanely cheesy, but somehow pulls off a genuinely evil presence. Top notch Starbreeze!

I definitely have to agree with that, the art direction really got it right, and Mike Patton nails the voice of The Darkness in my opinion.

One thing that seemed a bit off though, and maybe I just missed it, but initially Jackie has absolutely no reaction to The Darkness, it's just there and that's all there is to it.

Yeah Nomad, he doesn't seem too phased even the slightest about the heavily demonic presence in the beginning. Maybe he's just that tough.

And yet there's a Romantic achievement to be had. Say it with me, now: awwwwwww.

So how are the difficulty settings? Is Hard difficulty "a good challenge for an experienced gamer" difficulty, or is it "rape your brains out and laugh at you" difficulty?

*Legion* wrote:

So how are the difficulty settings? Is Hard difficulty "a good challenge for an experienced gamer" difficulty, or is it "rape your brains out and laugh at you" difficulty?

The beginning is more of the rape variety because you don't have the powers.

Kurrelgyre wrote:

And yet there's a Romantic achievement to be had. Say it with me, now: awwwwwww.

I got it without trying. I am such a digital ladies man!

The lack of reaction to the Darkness powers is very odd. It keeps pulling me out of the game. Sure, you want to confess that you're a mafia hitman to your lady. How about confessing that you're also the host of a demonic presence?

Color scheme and an overuse of light bloom keep throwing me off too. The hoods of cars seem to glow like they're blessed by the Lord. I keep tweaking the video settings and haven't had much luck yet finding something I like.

On the good side, the story is well thought, the voice acting is pretty top notch, and the levels are well laid out. The game moves swiftly from one spot to another with some excellent pacing (one of the things that made Riddick so great).

*Legion* wrote:

So how are the difficulty settings? Is Hard difficulty "a good challenge for an experienced gamer" difficulty, or is it "rape your brains out and laugh at you" difficulty?

The first 20 minutes are insanely hard, but once you get the Darkness powers it becomes pretty easy.

But is a good story reason enough to drop $60 on a title? I don't think it is. For me, gameplay is part of the story...so making allowances for a flaws in the game because the story is executed well makes me think that I am better off waiting until the price drops, especially when there seems to be no reason to play the game multiplayer.

I don't think this particular game is worth the $60, but it's a steal at $5-$7 for a week's rental.

Final comments on The Darkness (spoilers?): toward the end, the constant use of the subways to traverse around becomes annoying. While I appreciate the continuity that this sort of travel lends to the game world, it became tedious to move back and forth through the same two stations over and over.

Also, in this age of game's that focus on black and white moral choices, it was refreshing to play a game that so eagerly embraced a dark and violent character. In the climatic battles/cut-scenes in the last level were especially satisfying.

I finally got around to playing this game.. I guess I'm about halfway and I'll say this.. its not nearly as good as Riddick.. I have to admit though the Hell Levels are visually impressive.. very well done in atmosphere and design..

I just finished this game, and I have to say the ending stank up the place.

Spoiler:

They spend the entire game setting you up to think that Jackie is some kind of supernatural lynchpin that can break the Darkness' hold on the Estacado family once and for all.

When you finally get control of the Darkness, it tells you that every person you kill will make the Darkness stronger. Okay, fine. But the game doesn't give you the option to avoid doing that. Also, the game seems to think that murder and self defense are morally equivalent, since the Darkness appears to feed on helping protect Aunt Sarah from Paulie's goons.

Finally, there's no option to not kill Paulie at the end. The doors lock behind you, so you can't just walk away and leave Paulie for the Chicago familes. You either kill him, or let him kill you at which point the game resets to the save point just before you get in a position to kill him.

Then you get a cutscene were you get to see a dream version of Jenny just before the game cuts to black and the credits roll.

Lame with a capital MP3. None of the choices you make during the game have any affect on what happens. You don't get to end the Darkness. You don't get to save Jenny (which is something I was hoping for when it became clear that you could go to the spirit world). Even killing Shrote and Paulie is rote and boring. There was no payoff at all.

I really enjoyed the game up to the ending, but now I just want the damn thing out of my house.

I wasn't expecting a ton from the game, but Jackie was a very likeable, sympathetic character and I was kind of hoping it would be a story about the redemptive power of love. Instead, it's just sh*t happens, and sh*t will always keep on happening.

For that I needed to invest 10 hours? Feugh.

Spoiler:

You're forgetting the mafia trappings of the game--Paulie's men can't be reasoned with, and when defending Aunt Sarah, murder and self defense do become the same thing. Perhaps it's distasteful, but I gathered that the game meant for me to feel that it was distasteful. The Darkness may be rah-rah-let's-kill-some-fellas non-stop, but Jenny's death is the event that forever places him at odds with its glee in doing so. Maybe it's a metaphor for the darkness we all carry inside us, showing us how much easier it would be to simply let it take us over. Either way, the game has a specific story to tell. It's alright not to like it--the mafia stuff was making me roll my eyes long before the first act was over. But as you yourself said, Jackie's already a likable, sympathetic character. Maybe he didn't need further redemption in your eyes.

What, you didn't like lobbing dumpsters at mobsters?

I didn't make it to the ending, I got distracted by something else and never came back to it. That said, I guess I don't understand where the game gave you the impression that your choices might affect the ultimate outcome. The few choices you do get are basically narrative speed bumps, offering nothing more than a little atmosphere on the way to the next unavoidable story point.

It's based on a comic series, after all. The story is entirely preordained.

Kurrelgyre wrote:
Spoiler:

You're forgetting the mafia trappings of the game--Paulie's men can't be reasoned with, and when defending Aunt Sarah, murder and self defense do become the same thing. Perhaps it's distasteful, but I gathered that the game meant for me to feel that it was distasteful. The Darkness may be rah-rah-let's-kill-some-fellas non-stop, but Jenny's death is the event that forever places him at odds with its glee in doing so. Maybe it's a metaphor for the darkness we all carry inside us, showing us how much easier it would be to simply let it take us over. Either way, the game has a specific story to tell. It's alright not to like it--the mafia stuff was making me roll my eyes long before the first act was over. But as you yourself said, Jackie's already a likable, sympathetic character. Maybe he didn't need further redemption in your eyes.

What, you didn't like lobbing dumpsters at mobsters?

Oh, I enjoyed throwing dumpsters at mobsters. At least, I did when I was doing it. The ending just made me wonder what the frakking' point was.

Spoiler:

As for defending Aunt Sarah, if the guys shooting at you can't be reasoned with then killing them is the definition of self defense. It's only murder in some fathous universe where all lives are of equal weight. Which I guess is the universe that the Darkness exists in, since the allied defenders in WW1 shared the same hell as the German aggressors.

Jackie didn't need redemption in my eyes. But a happy ending would have been nice. I know there are a lot of people who object to "Hollywood" endings, but if I'm going to invest a workday's worth of hours into a character, I want something good to come of it.

Podunk wrote:

I didn't make it to the ending, I got distracted by something else and never came back to it. That said, I guess I don't understand where the game gave you the impression that your choices might affect the ultimate outcome. The few choices you do get are basically narrative speed bumps, offering nothing more than a little atmosphere on the way to the next unavoidable story point.

It's based on a comic series, after all. The story is entirely preordained.

The part that made me think that I had a choice

Spoiler:

After I got control of the darkness, it told me that every person I killed would make it stronger. So I figured, I don't want that to happen since I'm supposed to be the one who defeats the Darkness, according to what my Great-Grandfather told me, so I started playing the game more like a stealth game. I snuck into the dockyard to get to the radio instead of just killing everyone standing outside the gate, and ran away from the horde of mobsters that showed up after I used the radio instead of killing them.

And boy was that freakin' tedious, let me tell you. For an being in possesion of an all powerful supernatural force, Jackie sure dies easy.

I tried to kill as few people as possible on the boat, except for the captain who I had to kill or I couldn't progress in the game.

Then by the end of the game I find out that it didn't matter at all. Killing Paulie before he killed me put the Darkness back in control of Jackie, and then it was game over.

The foreshadowing about Jackie being the one who could beat the Darkness was meaningless. Why let the player think he could beat the darkness and then not give him the opportunity to try?

It's just crappy writing. Like M. Night Shyamalan throwing in a random plot twist just to satisfy the schtick he made for himself, whether it fits into the plot or not.

And I don't buy the argument that it's based on an ongoing comic so they couldn't provide closure. That's bunk. The Scott Pilgrim comic, movie and game all have different endings, so it's not like being indie has anything to do with it. Batman Arkham Asylum is based on an ongoing comic, and yet somehow still managed to wrap things up by the end.

I just want to say thanks for keeping up the spoilers. I still have this game on the pile, and even though it is a few years old - i don't want it spoiled for me:)