On his 21st birthday mafia hitman Jackie Estacado got two gifts he may not have wanted. First, after a failed job for his Uncle Paulie, he is almost a victim of assassination by Paulie’s goons. Then an ancient evil, The Darkness which has been hidden inside of him, manifests itself giving him great power. Jackie decides that he will wield this power to exact revenge on those that had wronged him, but The Darkness has an agenda of its own.
For the most part The Darkness plays like a fairly generic first person shooter. You talk to someone to get a mission, blast your way through a small army and kill the target then go find another mission, but there are certain features in The Darkness that set it apart from the others and make it fun to play. The biggest being the methods in which you dispatch your enemies. Along with the standard gun weapons you can use the powers of The Darkness, which feels unique and always fun to play with.
In the beginning you can only use one power called Creeping Dark, which allows you to extend one of the Darkness’ arms and use it to scout out areas, fit through tight spaces and sneak up on un-expecting enemies for an easy kill. As you progress through the game however you have the opportunity to power up The Darkness, which is done by the rather gruesome method of devouring the hearts of defeated bad guys (Sounds tasty – Ed). Eat enough and you will gain new abilities, these include a razor sharp arm that you can use to skewer enemies, a pair of darkness guns, that are not good for a whole lot and finally the ability to create a black hole, which seems over powered. When activated it sucks up all of the items and enemies near it and any enemies that go near it are instantly killed.
There is a draw back to using these abilities, each one consumes a portion of the darkness’ energy. Once depleted The Darkness disappears leaving you with just your guns to defend yourself. Herein lies one of the biggest flaws of the game, the need to stay in the dark in order to use the powers of The Darkness frequently. While in the shadows The Darkness’ energy automatically replenishes, allowing you to wield its power and use it’s abilities until it runs out of energy again. You would think that a game that is set exclusively at night would have a fair amount of shadow to hide in, but this is not the case. Be it out in the street or inside a building there is always a load of lights, lamps and other illuminating objects that stop you from using The Darkness for a long period of time. The lights can be destroyed, by shooting them of hitting them with demon arm but it can get tiresome having to continuously stop to destroy all of them, and get especially frustrating during a fire fight. Never the less using The Darkness’ powers is a nice break from the shooting in the game and is a nice and original addition to the game.
Another part of your offensive arsenal are Darklings. These are minions that you can summon up from portals in the ground to attack enemies or create a diversion for you. There are four types of Darklings in the game, the berserker will use melee attacks, the gunner packs a mini-gun, the lightkiller takes out all of the lights near by and the kamikaze will detonate a bomb attached to it killing itself and nearby enemies. This is a neat idea but it seems to have been carried out poorly, they are not very accurate, sometimes fail to take out any enemies and if you are not careful the gunner or the kamikaze will catch you in their attacks. They can be useful sometimes however and even managed to get of some humorous one liners.
The game is set in two different areas, both look nice but neither are particularly impressive. The first of which is the city of New York. Your base of operations here is the subway. Although there is no combat involved, it is essential for receiving quests and moving in between the two sections of the city. Once you have got your mission and are in the right part of the city you can start the combat and carry out your mission. The mission areas seem very enclosed with only a few streets to explore, which make the game world seem small and limited. It would have been nice to have access to more streets or be able to gain entrance to the building in the city. As it is, it makes the missions experience seem linear. A couple of times during the game Jackie will be transported to ‘Hell’ an area where un-dead soldiers and allied troops are stuck in a continuous war with one another. This is a change from the New York areas, but not a good one. Often, you find yourself walking through bland, under lit areas that get old pretty quickly and when playing you will wish you were back in New York.
It is clear that not much thought has been put into the A.I of the game. Enemies go down all too quickly and never get harder during the course of the game. Once you have gained enough of The Darkness’ powers you will very rarely be challenged, even in the later level of the game. Battles are not difficult, enemies don’t seem to be aiming at all, just taking wild shots hoping to hit you but that doesn’t happen very often. Even on the harder difficulty the game is way to easy, and wont take more than a few hours to finish.
One of the best parts of the game is its visuals. It has this dark and gritty feel to it, which complements the subject matter perfectly. A lot of detail has gone in to the environments and characters in the game and everything is presented well. One of the only problems I have with the games looks is the lighting. I understand that the game is supposed to be about the dark and using shadows, but things go a bit to far at times. Everything gets way too dark and it is hard to see your surroundings and enemies until you manage to find a bit of light.
The audio in the game was really well done. The voice acting is superb, some of the best I have heard and this really adds to the cinematic feel of the game. The score is atmospheric and helps build tension or rev you up for a fight. The audio is brought down a bit however by the often substandard sound effects that have been included.
When you have finished with the campaign there is online, after playing the frankly brilliant single player I had high hopes when taking the game on to xbox live. I was bitterly disappointed. It was near impossible to find a game that didn’t lag like hell, or just disconnect which got really frustrating. When you finally got in to a decent game the gameplay was pretty substandard, two teams can battle it out in death match, team death match, capture the flag and survival game mode. The problem is that it did not do anything different; none of The Darkness powers were usable which was sad, so it just seemed like another run and gun online game that reeked of mediocrity.
In the end The Darkness is a great single player adventure that lets you experience some great action, gritty environments and an enjoyable story. It looks and sounds great for the majority of the time and has some great ideas. It is let down by some bad A.I and awful online play. If you are in the market for a decent single player adventure you could do a lot worse but if online is what you are after The Darkness seems pretty un-appealing.
Originally Written By: Liam Kenna