Review: The Darkness

Videogames usually come in big or small packages. New IP titles arrive annually and can either impress or turn off players. The Darkness was a new IP title in 2007 which recently received its first sequel, The Darkness II, back in February. But my review does not cover the recent sequel, no, I’m going back to the heart of the Darkness.

Developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 2K Games, The Darkness introduces us to Jackie Estacado, an orphan-turned Italian-American hitman for the mafia whom becomes a vessel for The Darkness, an ancient evil force that has been inhabiting his family for generations, latches on to Jackie in a cemetary on the eve of his 21st birthday. Jackie is targetted for assassination by the don of the New York mafia, “Uncle” Paulie Franchetti, but upon hiding, unleashes the Darkness powers he obtains, and becomes the Darkness’ new host. Using his powers to track down Paulie, things become more entangled when a corrupt police chief, Eddie Shrote, kidnaps and murders Jackie’s girlfriend, Jenny Romano. The death of Jenny sparks the beginning of the downward spiral for Jackie, as he must learn to master the Darkness in order to enact revenge on Shrote and Paulie for Jenny.

One thing I can appreciate about this game is the way it tells a story. I’m a sucker for a good story, and in most games its one of the key things that draws me in. I got stuck about partway through the game in September, and only just recently picked the game up and pushed myself to play till the end. The Darkness is based off a comic series of the same name.

Another strong part of this game is the compelling characters and the impressive, top-notch voice acting. Mike Patton, lead singer of Faith No More provided the voiceover for “The Darkness”, and I gotta say I was impressed by the level of detail in his voice. The Darkness provided a rather dark, and chilling dialogue that sets the mood of the game throughout.

The best playing parts of the game came from the unique ability to simultaneously utilize the Darkness alongside your own arsenal of weaponry. Feeling like you’re running out of shotgun ammo? No worry, summon Darklings to do your bidding, with critters such as the “Gunner”, who can provide the heavy backup with a gatling gun, or perhaps strike at close range with the “Berserker” or “Kamikaze”, the first which scratches and deals close range damage, while the other explodes, taking any enemies around it with it. And if you need to charge up your Darkness powers a little more, summoning the “Lightkiller” Darkling will take the power out of any area, and bring the darkness to you.

Not only can you summon Darklings to do your bidding, but the Darkness itself provides for an even greater playability. You can plant a snakelike pursuit on your enemies with the first ability you gain, which allows for the Darkness to creep around corners at your control and take out enemies to lower their numbers. The demon arm ability is a personal favorite of mine, which you can swing to impale and chuck enemies and items around, or smash lights with ease to provide more darkness to you. The third ability, Darkness guns, I didn’t use as much, but they proved to be used as stronger pistols, with bullets only limited by whether you stand in light or darkness. The fourth and final Darkness ability is the black hole, and probably the most “rape” ability you can get in The Darkness. Summoning a black hole on your enemies has to be the most satisfying and destructive manner of eliminating your foes with ease, and with that ability gained, you feel almost a step towards becoming invincible.

Another strong point I found in the game itself is in its soundtrack, which I have to admit has some of the most hardcore battle sequence music ever. I’ll let you listen to one of the tracks.

Now to take a step back and target the criticisms of this game. Sadly, there are a few more criticisms that left me a little down on this game. The first and probably most irritating concern I had was the lack of a map or HUD on your screen. Without a map, it was hard to navigate to figure out where I was going half the time, and without an objective marker to mark my next move, I spent the better part of the game running around in the “open-world” streets of New York. When I finally did find where my objectives were hiding, it was in the most useless and pointless location in any game I’ve ever played.

Okay so get this: to locate your map and your objectives, simply press SELECT. Okay, simple enough. You have a map, but it’s practically useless because I found it almost impossible to read and decipher. Now get this: to locate your objectives, they are hiding within your INVENTORY. Your inventory? Seriously? What makes you think players would want to check their inventory for an objective update?

Also another small point that ties in to this, Jackie Estacado can’t sprint, so not only do you get lost, but trying to get back to an area you came from takes you longer.

The second criticism I had for the game was the almost pointless addition of side missions. I never completed all the side misions, and I probably never will, but you really don’t need to pursue completing them all unless you’re some sort of achievement whore, because where the game truly centers around is its main story. The side missions are kind of just there as a filler to connect with the secondary characters, which I admit are all very unique and probably the best I’ve seen in secondary characters, but their missions are useless. For example, trying to beat up a group of thugs who stole an underground street performer’s harmonica, beating a game of flip-cup, or perhaps risking your life picking up coins on the train track before the train turns you into a pancake. Not only were these useless, but I never achieved or gained anything from them.

The final criticism I want to point out is one that makes sense for a lot of players, but of course makes the game all the more challenging, is not being able to summon the Darkness is bright areas. I know, I know, you’re probably saying “well yeah, that’s because its called ‘The Darkness’, William, they only live in darkness for a reason.” Point of the matter is that there are times in the game where you can bring the Darkness out in light, if only for a few seconds, to smash the source of the light, but there are other times where bringing the Darkness out won’t work, and I found this continually evident during a firefight, where I needed it the most. Its almost impossible to rely solely on your weaponry to finish this game, you need the Darkness as much as it needs you. And as much as that makes for a compelling story, it can be downright annoying when the very entity that wants you doesn’t want to help you survive.

So in the end, The Darkness is really a mixed bag. It does have a compelling story, up-to-par voice acting and the awesome duo of weaponry and the Darkness at your disposal, but where I feel the game lacks is with all of the criticisms I’ve addressed. Those may be major concerns across all players, but they could also be just the criticisms of this lowly game critic. So who knows, the point is, I still strongly recommend giving in to the Darkness at least once, at least for all its good traits.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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