Review by smansell927

Reviewed: 01/31/08

One of the Best Stories Ever in a Video Game

The Darkness was one of the most pleasant surprises I have ever encountered in my gaming career. Being that it was a licensed title, and a C-list comic book license at that, my expectations were tempered for this game. Nonetheless, I heard some positive buzz from video game websites about this game, and being a comic book nut I decided to give this one a shot. I am very glad that I did.

The story is the best part of the game, which is a rarity for a first-person shooter. No prior experience with the comic book is required to understand it, as the game starts from the very beginning of the saga. The main character, Jackie, is a mob hitman who acquires the power of a demonic force called “The Darkness.” While Jackie is no saint (he kills people for a living, after all), he does have certain core values that make him appealing nonetheless. He is an anti-hero whose story is completely engrossing. The main villains in the game, Jackie’s “Uncle” Paulie (his mob boss) and a corrupt police officer, are definitely folks you will love to hate. During the game, they do something so evil to Jackie that you completely understand his rage and his desire to get the most complete kind of revenge imaginable. The scene in which this takes place is one of the most emotionally frought scenes I have ever encountered in a video game, made all the more compelling by your inability to stop what is going to happen.

The story is enhanced by stellar dialogue and voice acting. The writing is truly outstanding, from the fantastic plot to the spot-on dialogue. The voice actors make the characters seem like real people, especially the actor who voices Jackie. Pathos, anger, tenderness, and humor are all there, and they are all well done.

Of course, the story would be wasted if it was attached to terrible gameplay. Fortunately, that is not the case here. This is an excellent first-person shooter, with a variety of guns to shoot and superpowers to use. The gun controls are tight and responsive. You can dual wield smaller guns, or choose a single larger gun. “Reloading” is a little odd, though. You collect guns discarded by enemies, and when you “reload,” you actually toss the gun away to be replaced by another of the same type you have collected. Strange, but actually not a big deal gameplay-wise.

The gimmick to the game, of course, is the collection of superpowers you get from The Darkness. When you activate The Darkness, four snake-like tentacles appear protruding from the edge of the screen. Passively, The Darkness will give you more health, allowing you to take more damage before dying. You can also use The Darkness for offense. You eventually gain four powers, including the ability to create a black hole to suck in enemies. These powers are great fun to use. To power-up The Darkness, though, you actually have to be in darkness. Standing in light will quickly sap The Darkness’s strength, leaving you exposed and powerless. Fortunately, you can create darkness by shooting out lights. This can be a little annoying to do sometimes, but overall I enjoyed the mechanic. You will still be able to see in darkness as you have a type of night vision while powered up.

The final gimmick to the game is the set the darklings you can summon, which are little goblins that help attack enemies. There are four varieties, each with a special talent. To be honest, I didn’t use them much (only to the extent required to get the Achievement associated with them), as I found it simpler to deal with enemies on my own. The darklings have a mind of their own, which can sometimes be frustrating. Still, they spout some very funny one-liners.

Level design is pretty well done, and the enemy A.I. is also pretty good (i.e., they never do anything obviously stupid). The game is not overly difficult outside of a couple of sections, and it took me about 12 hours or so to finish it. I did all of the small side missions and other odds and ends for the Achievements, so I presume one could plow through it in a much shorter time frame if that person was so inclined.

Enhancing the game are its stellar graphics. The lighting system is simply stunning, not surprising I guess given the importance light and dark have on the game. The characters are detailed and well-animated. The real standout, though, are the background environments. The contribute a huge amount to the mood of the game. You at one point travel to “hell”, conceived here as a never-ending World War I. The sense of hopeless and desperation in this place is palpable. A section of open field here where you encounter ghosts with every flash of lightning is one of the most genuinely frightening video game scenes I’ve ever played. These environments serve to completely sell what is already an outstanding story.

I’ve already discussed the voice acting. The remainder of the game’s audio is serviceable. The music fits the mood, but no tunes are particularly memorable.

I should also mention that I loved the game’s attention to detail. The loading screens are actually scenes of Jackie talking to an off-screen interviewer. These are quite entertaining – some relate to the main story, others are simply observations by Jackie about life in the mob. They tend to repeat, but I still got a kick out of them. You can also collect phone numbers to use in the game’s working pay phones. These numbers lead to answering machines with humorous messages. There is a huge amount of concept artwork, full comic books and other bonus material to unlock.

There is also a multiplayer mode in the game. I never touched it, and I’ve heard it’s not very good.

Overall, this was one of the best games I played in 2007, and I give it a strong recommendation to FPS and comic book fans.

Graphics: 9/10. Outstanding lighting effects and environments.
Sound: 8/10. Top-notch voice acting and sound effects, although the music is forgettable.
Story: 10/10. One of the best ever in a video game.
Difficulty: 6/10. An experienced FPS player should not have any problem completing this game.
Gameplay: 9/10. Great controls, with a variety of gameplay mechanics to keep you entertained.
Overall: 9/10.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: The Darkness (US, 06/25/07)

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