"The only thing that matters... is you, Jenny."
The Darkness is an interesting game. In The Darkness I find a quandary - it's a game that's well produced in some areas but desperately lacking in others. It's a mafia tale with a science fiction twist. Ultimately it's a unique experience that we might not get again for a long time.
The Darkness sees you play as Jackie Estacado, a mafia associate who gets betrayed by the Godfather, his "Uncle" Paulie. A gene running in his family's history, starting two or three generations back, sees every male be infected by an entity called the "Darkness" on their twenty-first birthday. Picking up on Jackie's twenty-first birthday, the game takes you through the young male's journey with the darkness in tow as he attempts to exact revenge on Paulie.
One thing that immediately stands out in the game is the fluidity of the weapons and the gunplay. I haven't really experienced the entire range of first-person shooters, but I've played a fair few, and I can say that the way weapons are used is unlike what there's been before in video games. The game usually pairs you with weapons that you can dual-wield, and both right triggers are used to fire each respective hand. This makes for a very satisfying experience in firing handguns and automatic-handguns. (The game does offer the requisite assault rifles and shotguns, including a jackhammer.) But what makes the experience interesting is the way the firearms are handled. Jackie Estacado seems to have a case of the jimmy-arms – he’s constantly moving the guns around in his hands, shifting them, waving them around. It may sound disorienting but it’s actually quite atmospheric within the game, and makes sense. For instance, when you’re looking around a corner or rounding a corner he’ll stick both handguns out around the edge of the corner, anticipating having to fire on enemies. This kind of intelligent integration of this mechanic lends the game a bit more realism. The viewfinder or reticule – a laser pointer which shifts around smoothly – also heightens this atmosphere. Coupled with this is a very generous auto-aim which locks on to critical areas of enemies’ bodies. Most of the time this doesn’t end up being obtrusive as the game does allow for a fair amount of recoil on weapons, shaking the view point around. Auto-aim can be toned down in the options menu for players not looking for the game to assist them.But firearms aren’t the game’s strongpoint – the game pushes you to make use of the “darkness powers”, more of which become available throughout the game. The first power unlocked early on is a creeping snake-like tendril which you can navigate about a level. This is useful for attacking enemies from range, or sneaking through tight vents to disable enemy entrenchments. Other powers include a “demon arm”, a tendril that attacks enemies and can shift objects, “darkness guns”, a pair of powerful handguns with infinite ammunition that feed off the darkness, and a “black hole” power, the very last you unlock, which is almost a game-breaking device due to its power and ease of use.
There is one condition to using the darkness powers, however – that is the player must be in darkness to use them. Overhead lamps, wall mounted lights and any other source of extreme light must be destroyed, otherwise the darkness can’t activate. It’s an interesting mechanic that limits the use of the darkness, making the player still vulnerable, but doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable – if anything, it makes the player think more.
So The Darkness is very strong in gameplay. But in other areas, the game doesn’t hold up. What’s very important to it is the story, and this is handled positively and negatively. It’s Half-Life 2-esque in its tact. For the most part you’ll be seeing the story through Jackie’s eyes. Voice acting for Estacado is quite good, but other characters suffer. His girlfriend Jenny is handled nicely, and the voices for the Darkness itself and Uncle Paulie are good, but the rest of the characters can be lackluster. This, coupled with bad animation, lets the game down in this department. The characters suffer from glass-eye syndrome, and lip syncing is almost non-existent in some places. There’s a serious case of lip flap, and in several instances I witnessed, the characters didn’t even seem to open their mouths at all while apparently “talking”. Facial expressions are also not up to scratch, and body movements seem restricted to muted hand waving save for one or two instances.
Enemy animations in the environment are adequate. You won’t really be spending a whole lot of time waiting around to watch them.
The game sounds good score and musically wise, and looks good as well. The character models look nice up close, and the environment has been given a do-over with a lot of light sheen and polish, which ends up looking quite nice.
What’s most interesting is a portion of the game spent in purgatory, in what appears to be World War One. It’s handled so well that the game almost takes on survival-horror at one point, being quite unsettling at times.
Once you’ve cleared the game, you might want to go back and clear it again on a harder difficultly level. Other than that there’s not a major reason to revisit the game, but personally I can see going back to it maybe in half a year or a year just for the experience and the atmosphere – something the game definitely captures.
The Darkness is an interesting game. Its successes are important, but ended up gliding over my head, because they made me forget I was playing a game. I wasn’t noticing what it was doing well, but I was noticing what it wasn’t doing well, namely the character animations and the voice acting. But overall it’s a game that I felt good playing. I enjoyed the mafia twist on the story, and Jackie Estacado had a kind-of Robert De Niro Godfather Part II feel, which is always good.
I enjoyed it. If you don’t own it already, you can probably find it on the cheap, and I would definitely recommend picking it up, as it’s certainly a unique first-person shooter. Four stars officially, but in my review style, it’s one thumb up. A positive finish for a good game.