Games based on comics aren’t exactly new. We’ve seen plenty of Marvel or DC Comics like Spider-Man and Batman turn into games. Unlike the aforementioned comics, The Darkness hasn’t been around for that long but is perfectly suited for a transition into another medium due to its exciting and violent story. The important question that rises is: how well did that transition go and can the game stand on its own?
Meet Jackie Estacado, an orphan kid adopted by his Uncle Paulie Franchetti who happens to be running a New York mafia family. Jackie and Uncle Paulie aren’t really close, and the only reason that he adopted him was because he needed another hitman. One day, Paulie sends Jackie on a mission to collect money from one of the many drug runners loyal to the mob family. This is where the game starts off. For no apparent reason you’re regaining consciousness on the backseat of a car while your partners in crime are rambling about how they’re going to tell Paulie the news that the money wasn’t at the place where it should be. This conversation quickly turns into a violent pursuit which ends up with Jackie being the only one alive near a construction site. Not entirely incidental, this is the place where the second job for the night has to be carried out, which is whacking the foreman. Instead of putting a bullet through his head in the man’s office, Jackie finds a rather unpleasant surprise in the form of a bomb meant to kill him. It turns out that uncle Paulie wants Jackie dead for being an annoying prick who doesn’t agree with the ways he does business, but that feeling is mutual.
Hellbent on taking Paulie down and everyone that stands in his way, Jackie finds out that he has a gift. A parasite which goes by the name of The Darkness reveals itself on his 21st birthday and gives the player superhuman strength. Jackie can manipulate The Darkness to his will to get rid of the Franchetti family. What Jackie doesn’t realize is that The Darkness has a plan of its own and it’s gathering strength to take over his host indefinitely. Further into the game, the mystery behind The Darkness powers and how Jackie came in possession of them unravels bit by bit.
The Darkness isn’t your regular first person shooter even though a fair portion of it consists of shooting everything that moves. A wide array of weapons is available ranging from pistols to AK47s, but the Darkness powers are what make it special. These powers can either be turned on or off, but in order to use them, Darkness energy is required and can be gained by staying in the dark. Despite walking around at night the entire game, street lanterns and other lights drain Darkness energy and thus prevent your tentacles from sticking out all the time. Walking around as regular Jackie isn’t such a good idea when there’s an entire squad of corrupt agents in pursuit so staying in the dark is the best option. Most lights in the game are destructible so take them out when it’s getting dangerous. Initially only one Darkness power is available, but as you progress through the levels you unlock the other three.
The first Darkness power is a simple tentacle that can be micro-managed around corners to kill people or open up doors which were otherwise unaccessible. Later on the Demon Arm, Darkness Guns and the Blackhole become available which form a very deadly arsenal when used correctly. At first it’s a bit confusing to control both munitions and demon powers, but there’s plenty of time to practice before the game gets tougher. The Darkness can also summon four different kinds of minions, called Darklings. Each of these Darklings has a different set of skills and can assist Jackie by killing enemies or aid him in another way. Darklings can only be spawned from special holes in the ground, and only one can be spawned of each sort. Unfortunately they can’t be put to much use very often because they require too much micromanagement or die too quickly. Killing enemies yourself is more fun although occasionally it’s fun to watch Darklings pick up certain attributes like a pneumatic drill or a saw and end someone’s life in a miserable way.
The game’s objectives have to be dealt with in a certain order, which makes the game more or less linear. On the other hand, most of the locations are available right from the start so nothing stops you from wandering around and doing an optional side-quest here and there. The locations can be accessed through the various subway stations where you’ll be spending a good portion of your time. Not only does it connect all the locations, but most of the side-quests can also be picked up there too. It’s not all serious business down there since there’s a variety of entertainment in the form of funny NPCs, breakdancers and television sets. There are several televisions scattered throughout the subway stations which can be turned on to watch some shows. There are TV channels for music videos, TV series and even an entire movie; To Kill a Mockingbird can be viewed. The Playstation 3 version of the game contains a little more content than the Xbox 360 version thanks to Blu-ray. Despite not having any use at all, all these tiny additions really gives the feeling that the subway station is alive.
It’s clear that Starbreeze Studios put a lot of time and effort into taking advantage of the Playstation 3’s powers. Compared to the Xbox 360 version it’s missing out on motion blur and full-scene anti-aliasing, but they’re not really a big miss. The textures are of great quality and unlike in other first person shooter games, they won’t bore you for one second since there are so many different ones, almost every environment is unique. The graffiti in the subway is of extremely high quality and there’s so much variation that it would be a shame not to stop the bloodshed for a few minutes just to look at them. In the extras menu a video can be found which shows how graffiti artists create their art and how it was then put into the game. Not only do the textures look great, it’s also worth mentioning that most of the animations are really lifelike, even for unreal things like Jackie’s tentacles who bite at each other playfully if left alone for a few seconds. The occasional frame drop here and there during heavy action isn’t too big an issue. Just like the graphics, the audio, and especially the music is incredibly well done. Not only does it contain heavy rock and violent sounding tunes which are very appropriate to a title like this, but during the more emotional scenes with your girlfriend, romantic piano music is being played. Also worth mentioning is that during the loading screens you won’t see a black screen with a boring loading bar, as a different animation is played each time where Jackie is telling a funny anecdote or explaining what’s about to happen in the upcoming minutes.
Despite the singleplayer campaign being superbly done, the same can’t be said about the multiplayer part unfortunately. The usual deatmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag modes can be selected but there’s also something called Survivor where trying to stay alive as a human is the objective while darklings are in pursuit. This all wouldn’t be that bad if there wasn’t any lag, but it’s almost impossible to find a lagless game. According to the multiplayer options screen, a 4MPBS connection is required to play with more than 4 players which is absolutely insane. For example, a sixteen player game in Resistance: Fall of Man can easily be played on a slower connection than is required for four players in The Darkness. Even if Starbreeze Studios was to bring out an update, it wouldn’t really make much difference, the Singleplayer campaign is where the strength of the game lies and one shouldn’t be too concerned about playing deathmatches.
Despite being based on a fantasy comic, The Darkness manages to immerse you completely in the singleplayer campaign even without ever having to read an issue of the original story. Graphics, story, sound and gameplay all come together perfectly to bring you an experience you won’t forget anytime soon. It might feel a little short after only 10 hours, but when completing the game, the feeling that you’ve seen and done a lot is quite satisfying. There’s no denying that the game does have a few flaws here and there of which most noticably the multiplayer part, but that’s not really what it should be bought for. This is a single player experience through and through, not one that shouldn’t be missed.
Final score: 8 out of 10 - Good (How do we rate games?)