pawsoffury's Darkness, The (Xbox 360) review

Well scripted, gritty & mature FPS with few but sizeable faults.

A highly hyped release all the way back from when the 360 first launched, The Darkness is a FPS which despite it's positives found itself overshadowed (excuse the pun) by other such grade A++ titles in its year of release such as COD4, Orange Box & Bioshock.

The Darkness is a game based on a comic published by MadCow Productions. Although somewhat of an obscure comic title when compared to it's Marvel or DC brethren, it's a story that transcribes well into a video game experience.

As main protagonist Jackie Estucado, you find yourself in downtown New York on the day of your 21st birthday. As everyone regularly does on celebrating this milestone in ones life, Jackie happens to be in the process of performing a hit for the mob (who also happen to be his adopted family). Needless to say, it's not long before events all go tits up and Jackie is left to figure out what went wrong and why he's now found himself top on his families hit-list.

For the first hour or so the game plays like any other FPS shooter you may have fumbled with the last 5 years or so. Backgrounds are nicely rendered, lighting effects give the game a very creepy atmosphere and the delivery of the voice acting is suitably Brooklyn-esque, brilliantly delivered and very definitely M-Rated.

The game first strikes you as being incredibly brutal in it's imagery, almost straight after the intro sequence you find yourself engaged in conversation with a friend who just so happens to have his shins protruding from his legs after a rather nasty car accident. That's not to mention a previous ex-colleague who a few minutes prior had a rather nasty collision between his head and incoming traffic.

So okay, it's yet another run of the mill gory FPS you may be thinking at this point, big deal. Well, the games real pièce de résistance is still to come. Jackie being a bit of a goth type (a moot point that I'll raise later) just so happens to have a curse bestowed on him which is known as the 'Darkness' - clue in the title.

The Darkness (superbly voiced by Mike Patton) acts as a creepy as hell living manifestation that resides inside Jackie's soul. Emerging as a two headed tentacle monster which protrudes from out Estucados spine. It can rip enemy hearts straight out their chests, sliver undetected through ventilation grills for stealth kills, provide protection as a meat shield and many other further abilities that unlock during the progress of your game.

Darkness ability is certainly a lot of fun to play with. While maybe not as technically impressive as say HL2's gravity gun from a physics stand point, impaling a mobster through his chest, flinging him aside and then watching your two tentacle heads fight over who gets to eat the inner organs afterwards doesn't get old neither does it get repetitive.

On-top of all the regular abilities you'll also acquire the power to summon Imp like creatures which can perform abilities for you such as laying down suppressive fire or acting as kamikaze bombers. While the AI on these creatures isn't the best in the business, they'll get you out of a pinch and the one-liners and actions they'll come out with (such as taking a piss over a dead enemy) are quite amusing and add a touch of humour to a very grim game.

The strategic element in using your darkness power in combat lays within the dark itself. Step into any light source and smoke plumes out of you and your energy bar quickly starts to sap away. So to make the most out of a combat situation you'll find yourself Splinter Cell style shooting out light sources and lurking deep in the levels shadows. This mechanic mixes the game up somewhat and stops it from becoming a 2 dimensional turkey shoot, without your darkness shield ability you'll find it doesn't take long for you to be gunned down by the enemies fire as a perfect example.

So while still a FPS at heart, the combat system certainly alleviates it from being anything 'run of the mill'. Continuing throughout the game, the adult tone of the story gets ever darker and ever more disturbing including a tour through a hellish WW1 dream sequence with sobbing quadriplegic soldiers, having to perform your own suicide while watching yourself in a mirror and at one point having a cordless drill pushed into your skull in a torture sequence which resonates through your controller. Needless to say it's an 18+ rated game and with good reason, some of the sequences are quite simply ghoulish.

Horrors aside, the story also has touching moments. Visiting your girlfriends apartment and offering you the choice to sit and watch TV with her (in real time) being one of them. It definitely works to the effect of grounding you back to reality around some quite unbelievable circumstances occurring to Jackie.

It's a fairly sized 12-15 hour game, and many times it'll give you optional things to do outside the linear story path. Finding hidden phone numbers, helping strangers you bump into on the underground network or boosting your darkness power by eating more hearts, there's always motivation to explore your surroundings either way.

For all the games positives their are also a fair number of negatives;

The games weaponry is almost certainly one of the biggest gripes. You set off from the outset dual wielding pistols, and while the ammo capacity isn't as big as the assault rifles and such that you find later in the game, their accuracy is almost second to none. This gives you little to no incentive to ever swap out for anything other than these pistols. Automatic weaponry sprays wildly all over the place and your darkness abilities can usually overcome anything you can't simply headshot from a distance. Staying with offensive ability, another game damaging problem is once you acquire an ability named 'black hole'. This is overwhelmingly powerful and while you'll have to wait a minute or so for it to recharge any group of enemies can be dealt with minimum of fuss by throwing one of these nearby, negating any challenge from that moment onwards.

As far as story goes The Darkness is perhaps more harmed by the comic book roots that it tries to stick so closely by. Jackie is just not a believable character for the setting that he's in, a 21 year old long haired goth, trench-coat and all who looks and sounds more like he's in his early 30's. Why is someone like that hanging around with 'old-way' mafia types sporting fedora hats n'all? It just doesn't fit or make a lot of sense. That isn't to say that the story doesn't work on any level at all, just that you have to zone into 'comic mode' to get away with some of its eccentricities.

The ending without giving any plot away is also rather disappointing, the journey as such is far greater than the sum of its parts with the exception of the 'hell' sequences which go on far too long and begin to come across as filler after a length of time rather than meaningful play.

The game also sports a multiplayer component, but it was never obviously intended to be a core component of the end user experience. It's about as in depth as say 'Prey' or any other non-military based shooters ever are; minimum features, minimum effort.

Overall the Darkness is in all accounts an enjoyable game and well worth picking up at a budget price as a weekend killer. While it didn't stand a hope in hell against titles such as COD4 & Bioshock at its release time, it definitely does alot of things right in terms of it's presentation. It contains both a well scripted story, mature dialogue and offers a truly unique game mechanic which would be hard to replicate in any other similar FPS title.

Good: Gripping mature story, fantastic dialogue & voice acting, interesting game mechanics.
Bad: Poor weaponry, easy difficulty, repetitive, little replay, needless multiplayer.
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