The real world can be a cold, unforgiving place. But at least it isn’t as bad as the hellhole Jackie Estacado calls home. Jackie is the protagonist in Starbreeze’s comic-book to first-person shooter adaptation of The Darkness. You might remember Starbreeze Studios for their previous effort, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, which received much critical acclaim. While The Darkness does not reach the standard Starbreeze set with Chronicles of Riddick, it more than stands on its own two feet as a tremendous game.

The Darkness is set in New York City, where Jackie is a hitman in the Franchetti crime family. On Jackie’s 21st birthday, a power within his family awakens inside of him called “The Darkness.” It was pretty good timing, too, what with the head of the crime family putting a hit out on him. With the new found powers, aptly called “Darkness Powers”, which consist of four different abilities that you acquire throughout the game, you’re ready to hit back at your enemies. The powers range from a tentacle that slithers around and instantly kills your attackers, to a “black hole” that literally sucks the bad guys dead. Also at your disposal are darklings, which are little minions that Jackie can direct to provide cover fire, find secret passages, rush your enemies and help break all the lights in the environment.

One of the most important things about the gameplay is directly tied to how bright (or not so bright) the environment is. If you are under a light bulb, for example, your darkness power drains (accompanied by a sickening sizzle of flesh) until you either destroy the light source or find a dark corner. Yet, this raises one of small problems with the game itself—destroying lights isn’t that fun. Because you feel somewhat of an obligation to knock out all the lights you come across, you’ll be shooting out lights in areas with nobody to kill. The whole light versus dark mechanic starts to feel like a chore even early on in the game, but it is so essential to the gameplay that you have to continue to bust a cap in those lights if you like or not.

Another problem that was encountered with the gameplay is the sometimes wonky shooting controls. The Darkness sports an auto-aim system that will magnetically go to light bulbs or enemies as your reticle comes across them. What happens is if you have to run and gun at any time, you might have your reticle jump from an enemy’s chest to a nearby light source and have you hit neither of them. Luckily, you won’t be doing much running and gunning (opting to use the darkness powers instead) so this problem is just a minor annoyance, rather than a huge problem.

The last problem with the game is that it does not give you enough clues as to where you need to go at all times. While it does a good job of giving you a general idea, the lack of a mini-map really hurts. Hell, a useful map would have been better than the one provided. All that is afforded is a general map that only tells you what section of town you are in. You cannot zoom in to see any specific exits, pathways or the like, so you’re often going to be finding yourself walking around for a couple of minutes just figuring out how to get from point A to point B.

The gameplay isn’t all bad, obviously. For starters, the gun-play, despite the auto-aim and slight inaccuracy, is still quite a bit of fun. Wielding dual-pistols and gunning down the bad guys still makes you feel like a total badass, and the execution-style kills Jackie can pull off are extremely satisfying. Apart from that, The Darkness has a pretty amazing leveling system. In order to increase your “Darkness Level”, your tentacled demon buddies must feed on the hearts of your fallen foes. It’s a sickening smorgasbord of audio and video violence, where you hear the squish of the demon eating the flesh, and seeing the heart being swallowed whole. In other words, it’s really frickin’ cool.

What really makes the game is the audio and visual presentation, as well as top-notch dialogue. These three things combine to create a world that is fully immersive and believable, while at the same time helping to fuel an unbelievably well-crafted story. The audio in the game is highlighted first by tremendous voice-acting. Starbreeze got everything about the voice-acting right—the Darkness itself provides some of the creepiest, most memorable lines in recent memory, while Jackie Estacado sounds like gruff, rough-and-tumble New York mobster. Aside from the terrific voice-acting, the game also sports a really good soundtrack that is used to good effect within the game. When you’re in gun battles, hard-charging rock tracks will blast, but when you’re in some of the quieter moments of the game (for example, watching TV with your girlfriend Jenny) the music changes to melodious piano or orchestra tracks.

The graphics are no less impressive as the audio. All of the objects in the world have some great texture work done to them, highlighted by the best digital pay-phone you’ve ever seen. The environments are chock full of little details like street signs, bathrooms, trash on the ground, and so on. Other than New York City, you are also sent to another place, which for the purpose of not spoiling any of the story, will be not be described. Regardless, the environment is a complete shift from the Big Apple and is rife with spooks and great set pieces. The only thing you could mark against the graphics is two weird graphical glitches that make Jackie’s shadow look way off in some spots (otherwise, the shadowing is fine) and a black line that moves back and forth along corners of a couple of things in the environment. Other than those two minor complaints, The Darkness is some serious eye candy.

The Darkness does come with a multiplayer mode, which you can dig into after completing the 8-12 hour single player campaign (depending on how many side missions you complete). However, only NAT type 1 or 2 connections can play The Darkness online, so you might not be able to experience the game’s multiplayer offering. (Like a certain reviewer.) While there is probably a good reason behind it, it really does hurt the overall value of the title, which with its fairly short play-through was already skating on thin ice.

Despite the value issues and all of the other small little gripes, The Darkness is still a devilishly good title. PlayStation 3 owners looking for a great story, fantastic voice acting and a new game to show off the graphical abilities of their next-generation console would do good to at least rent this game, if not buy it outright.

Originally Written By: Art Green

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