The Darkness for Xbox 360 Review

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Over the past few years I’ve really gotten into comic books and it’s kind of sad that I had never heard of The Darkness prior to this video game. It seems to fuse the genres of crime drama and horror into one and the end result is pretty cool. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the horror genre in general but I do love crime dramas and I would say The Darkness is kind of like a combination of The Sopranos and Spawn. I love The Sopranos and I’ve always felt that Spawn is seriously underrated. It also doesn’t help that most video games based on the character have been pretty lackluster. Developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 2K Games, The Darkness was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2007. I remember seeing the game on store shelves back around the time of release but never had any interest until recently when I saw some gameplay videos and realized what the premise is.

The story takes place in New York City and you play as Jackie Estacado, a hitman for the mafia. Jackie and his girlfriend, Jenny, grew up together in an orphanage and eventually Jackie was taken in by his current boss Paulie Franchetti, who he calls is Uncle. Right from the start you’ll see the relationship between Jackie and Paulie is a bit more than rocky and Paulie tries to have Jackie assassinated. On Jackie’s twenty first birthday a demonic force that has been in his family for generations awakens inside of him, simply known as the Darkness. The Darkness feeds on rage and killing and will often taunt Jackie throughout the game. With his newfound demonic abilities, Jackie slaughters the mobsters and goes to war with his Uncle Paulie. He proceeds to dismantle several of Paulie’s businesses but all of the fun comes to a stop when Paulie and police Captain Eddie Shrote kidnap Jackie’s girlfriend, Jenny. Jackie attempts to rescue her but is restrained by the Darkness and Jenny is ultimately murdered. The story will definitely feel quite familiar if you’re a comic book fan. You’ve got your main protagonist who loses a loved one and somehow manages to obtain cool and supernatural abilities that make him almost unstoppable. Fortunately, the force known as the Darkness is pretty badass, and whenever it’s active, two demonic tentacles will stick out of Jackie and are essentially used as weapons.

Overall, the voice acting is really well done. However, actor Kirk Acevedo, voices Jackie and sometimes it feels like there’s not enough emotion in Jackie’s voice, if that makes sense. Not that he does a bad job but some of the deliveries don’t sound authentic. Jackie still has friends among his mafia associates and you’ll talk with them and hear of others. Most of them seem to have classic Italian mafia nicknames like Jimmy the Grape and Mickey Fat Lips for example. The voice acting for all of the NPC’s is excellent, complete with authentic accents and dialogue that’s believable. There’s some Hollywood voice talent here as well including Mike Starr who you should know if you’ve seen Goodfellas or Dumb Dumber, and Lauren Ambrose. Mike Patton, the lead singer for Faith No More, voices the Darkness and in all honesty he does a phenomenal job. Whenever the Darkness speaks, it sounds extremely creepy and never feels overdone. I’m not a fan of Faith No More but I am definitely a fan of Mike Patton’s voice work in this game.

The Darkness is a semi-open world first-person shooter. I say “semi open-world” because the actual world itself is separated into small areas connected by a subway system and loading screens. The subway stations act hub areas of sorts where you can interact with several NPCs. The subway will take you to either Fulton St. station or Canal St. station, two real-life subway stations in New York City. You have no compass or anything so it’s not always clear where you need to go but your objectives can always be found in the pause menu. The map will only tell you where you currently are and is pretty much useless so you’ll need to listen when people give directions and read signs in the environments to find your way. You can only walk and there’s no fast travelling so trying to find your destination can be a bit annoying, especially early on. Each time you enter a new area the game will have to load but these load times are accompanied with Jackie usually giving a brief monologue of events or even some backstory. Even so, with all of the walking and load times, if you have to travel back and forth between subway stations, navigation becomes tedious. At two points during the story you end up in a location known as the Otherworld, the realm of the Darkness. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that here you’ll encounter British and German undead soldiers fighting each other, all dressed in World War I uniforms. I was really thrown off when I first got to this realm and I would say things can get quite confusing. According to my online research, the Otherworld includes physical manifestations of The Four Horsemen, which I know very little about. If you’re not paying attention to the story you’ll easily lose track of what’s going on when it comes to the events in this realm. The Otherworld realm itself seemed pretty cool at first but after a while I found it to be less interesting and it just doesn’t match up to the quality of detail put into the New York environments.

If you’ve been to or lived in New York City you may appreciate the little details found in the environments like having to use a subway ticket to enter the station, nasty bathrooms, graffiti everywhere, and even homeless people sleeping on benches. There’s other little touches that really add to the whole New York Feel and realism in general. Little things like hearing traffic and sirens in the background as you traverse the city streets add to the atmosphere. If you kill a bunch of enemies and revisit that area you may see cops roaming around and chalk outlines of where the dead bodies were. You can hear police radio chatter if you get close enough to a police car, you can donate money to dancers in the subway, you can flush toilets, and can even change channels on televisions found in the environments. In fact, the televisions include real shows and movies. The only thing I would say is missing is the fact that there’s never any cars on the road, minus during scripted events, and there’s definitely not enough pedestrians on the streets.

As far as the combat goes, the gunplay consists of your typical first-person shooter stuff. Weapons can be obtained in the environments or from fallen enemies and you’ve got a decent variety of guns including several different types of pistols which can all be duel wielded. There’s also sub-machine guns, shotguns, and assault rifles with other weapons unique to the Otherworld realm. But it’s the Darkness abilities that really make the gameplay unique. The Darkness doesn’t like the light and consumes Darkness energy when in dark areas. Darkness energy depletes in bright areas making you more vulnerable to attacks but you can shoot at lights to destroy them, creating darker areas, which I would do often but it gets tiring after a while because there’s lights everywhere. The combat can be quite unforgiving at times and you can die very easily. Luckily there’s a good amount of checkpoints but having to deal with a large number of enemies in bright areas can sometimes feel cheap since it’s very easy for gunfire to drop you and having to deal with lights at the same time can be frustrating. With Darkness active, you have a Darkness shield that can absorb bullets but each time you’re hit, you lose some Darkness energy. Health does regenerate and you’ll want to run to the shadows if you’re about to die. You can use the Darkness to devour the hearts of dead enemies which will increase your Darkness level. You can level up five times but I never really noticed a difference in power since the enemies aren’t really that hard to kill. If you kill unique enemies, their bodies will emit black smoke and devouring their hearts will reward you with new Darkness powers. Watching the tentacles devour hearts is pretty cool but having to do this all of the time gets irritating. Devouring hearts should really be an automatic function, like by just walking passed dead enemies the Darkness will automatically do it because there’s really no reason to not to devour hearts and it would help keep the pacing consistent.

Darkness powers are meant to help you in combat and in navigation. Creeping dark is like a stealth attack that lets you send out one of your tentacles to either kill enemies from a distance, scout areas, open doors from the other side, bite locks, and even interact with things. The tentacle can slide along walls and ceilings and even fit through small openings. I found that controlling the tentacle to be difficult sometimes since it didn’t always do what I wanted it to do or I would try to get it to interact with something like a lock on a door, but it didn’t work. The demon arm is another power and seems be almost useless during combat but is occasionally used to move objects in the environments, normally to help you navigate. You can pick up and move items but you’re only required to do this a few times throughout the story, making it feel like the most useless power of the bunch. Eventually you acquire Darkness guns which use Darkness energy as ammo and these can kill undead soldiers permanently. The Darkness Guns are great to fall back on if you’re running low on ammo which seems to be a frequent occurrence. It feels like most of the time you have just enough ammo to deal with the situation or you may not be able to get to an area with ammo until the rest of the enemies in the area are dealt with so learning to utilize your Darkness powers is extremely helpful. Shooting at lights all the time doesn’t help reserve ammo so the Darkness Guns are an excellent alternative and as long as you’re in the shadows, you’ll always have ammo. The last Darkness power you acquire is the Black Hole and it’s definitely the most overpowered. The Black Hole will suck in objects, useful for clearing a path, and it will even suck in enemies, killing them. At the end of the game I was using the Black Hole power exclusively since it’s a great way to deal with multiple enemies quickly.

Another cool element of the Darkness is the ability to spawn in Darklings that will aid you in combat and you can even tell them where to go. When in Darkness mode, you can see gateways on the ground and these allow you to summon the Darklings. Darklings can take damage and die from gunfire just like you but you can always summon more or even multiple at once. The Berserker Darkling will charge at and attack enemies, the Gunner Darkling will gun enemies down using a minigun, the Kamikaze Darkling will charge at and explode near enemies, killing itself in the process, and the Lightkiller Darkling will destroy lights and even electrocute enemies if they get close. You start off with the Berserker but I found the Gunner and Lightkiller Darklings to be the most useful. Darklings will often grumble and say funny shit and the Berserker Darkling will even dress up in different outfits which can be found in the environments and are a form of collectible. Why it would want to dress up as a fireman, lumberjack, or roadworker is still unclear to me but at least it’s somewhat humorous. Sadly, the other Darklings don’t dress up and you don’t get to determine the outfit the Berserker wears.

Enemies consist of mostly mob thugs, cops, and undead soldiers so there’s not a ton of enemy variety. As you progress through the story you’ll eventually encounter S.W.A.T. officers, and even officers with shields but once you acquire the Black Hole power, the tougher enemies become cannon fodder just like the rest. The AI isn’t too bright and many times enemies will stand in one place as you gun them down but they will sometimes run around and even take cover. Autoaim is enabled by default but the sensitivity can be adjusted or it can be turned off entirely. There’s no real boss battles or anything like that and it’s more about surviving gunfights. The subway stations contain various NPC’s that will give you side missions. I found the basic rule to be that if you approach an NPC and they recognize Jackie or if their name appears on screen, then they will offer you a side mission. Most side missions require you to kill someone but there are some unique missions like a woman who will throw coins on the subway tracks and ask you to pick them all up before the train arrives. Because navigating between all of the different areas can be tedious, you may feel like the side missions aren’t worth your time. Other than being able to devour more hearts from the enemies you’ll be killing, you’re rewarded with phone numbers for completing side missions. You can also find notes with phone numbers and even letters scattered throughout the environments. You can use a phone to dial these numbers which always result in a humorous voicemail message, and you can mail letters at mailboxes and doing these things will unlock extra content, accessed from the main menu. It’s typical extra content you’ve seen in other games like behind the scenes videos, concept art, in-development screenshots, The Darkness comics, and even script excerpts. You can also find secret phone numbers in the environments like on posters and in graffiti and when you dial these you get to talk to someone who tells you about some big secret but ultimately, after dialing all of the numbers, the secret is very disappointing and you’re only rewarded with an achievement.

When talking about the visuals, the game doesn’t look too bad. The faces of the characters look pretty good, although the facial animations can be a bit stiff. The texture work is decent, some of the textures look blurry, but I expected as much from a console game. Considering light and shadows are a major element of the gameplay, the lighting does do a good job at making environments look and feel realistic. The music is dynamic with what sounds like rock kicking in during gunfights and other orchestral stuff at other times which just sounds very dramatic, helping to give the game an overall dark tone. The sound work is actually quite fantastic. The sounds of the Darkness slithering, devouring, and even killing enemies is great stuff and the guns all sound pretty powerful, although some sound better than others. Watching the tentacles rip out a heart from a dead body like it’s a piece of meat and then devour it is both satisfying to watch and listen to. Add in all of the ambient sound effects and The Darkness is a game that just oozes with atmosphere. I did encounter some technical issues like getting stuck on objects and the frame rate will dip all the time which is a real shame. There doesn’t even need to be anything really happening on screen, you can just be exploring and the frame rate will take a shit. I think the frame rate is the biggest issue I have with The Darkness and as of right now this game is not available on PC so we’re pretty much stuck with its current performance.

In the end, I would say The Darkness is a great game. It has some minor gameplay annoyances and some technical issues but I can’t say these things really stopped me from enjoying it. In fact, I enjoyed the story enough that I’m currently looking for trade copies of the The Darkness comics. The story isn’t super amazing or anything but I’m a simple guy so I think a story about a mob hitman with demons inside of him sounds pretty awesome. It’s unfortunate that I never read the comics because I can’t say what’s accurate to the source material and what isn’t but what I can say is that this is a badass first-person shooter that I would recommend to anyone. I think giving the game linear chapters rather than an open world would have been a better idea because the separated areas can mess up the pacing, especially early in the game, but once you get the hang of things and know where things are, it’s not so bad. A sequel, The Darkness II, was released in 2012, and I do plan to play it at some point and I hope that it resolves many of the issues found here. The Darkness is still a great game and if you’re a fan of action games, shooters, or just think it looks cool, I’d say give it a shot.

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