Darkness, The (Video Game)

The Darkness review! (click to see it bigger)Developed by Starbreeze Studios

Published by 2K Games

Format: XBox 360/Playstation 3

Swedish developer Starbreeze has been busy of late. Not only have they been polishing up this, there pixelated adap of the Top Cow comic, The Darkness, it’s also been neck deep in giving it’s cracking Xbox shooter, The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay a hi-def sheen for later in the year.

First out the racing stalls, though, is the much mooted first-person shooter, The Darkness, and Dread Central has busy hammering Starbreeze’s latest foray into the shadows all this month to bring you its verdict, of mafia hitman turned harbinger of death Jackie Estacado. Lurking has never been so much damn fun.

If you’re not familiar with the story allow us to reiterate Jackie’s bleak and brutal tale of turning 21. Mob life has that kind of effect. The Darkness, a mythical power handed down over the eons, is passed on to Jackie by his father (unfortunately, once someone who possesses the Darkness conceives, they die. Bummer for anyone with a raging libido) upon becoming a man and is thrust into a weird, yet wonderfully warped jet-black fable where he must learn to harness the might of the shadows.

Essentially Starbreeze has produced a slick looking FPS that fans of Riddick will eat up in a heartbeat. In taking the tried and tested formula they’ve also added a wedge of twists & turns and thrown some groovy superpowers into the maddening melting pot. Much like the comic kick-started, The Darkness story begins on Jackie’s 21st where we’re working as an assassin for his uncle Paulie, a fat, angry bastard who yanked him from an orphanage to train him up as a mob gunslinger.

The Darkness review! (click to see it bigger)The game opens on a cracking car chase where we’re holed up in the backseat swerving from side to side in a busy tunnel with our two gun crazy partners in the front. We’d nominate this for best game opener of the year so far.

Starbreeze has netted a wealth of some cracking Tinsel Town voice talent including “Band Of Brothers” alum Kirk Acevedo as Jackie, “Six Feet Under”’s Lauren Ambrose as Jackie’s missus, Jenny and the one and only rock legend Mike Patton of Faith No More fame as the voice of Darkness, all of which he recorded without using a single vocal tweaking tool. It just has to be heard to be appreciated. The icing on the cake, though, is the talent behind the story here. Regular series scribe Paul Jenkins (whose past credits includes The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and God Of War II) has jumped on board to provide story duties.

One car crash and a severed head later we’re hauling ass through a building site and grinding up bad guys along the way. Like Riddick, there are some neat stealth kills woven into the gameplay here. Hold down one of the shoulder buttons and Jackie digs his boot into the back of a goon and pops one in the back of their head. Another time we clunk the bad guy in the side of the head with our pistol then shove the other in his mouth and BOOM! flaming brain matter lights up the night’s sky. As we’re doing this the entire credits roll on by like a flick. Its clear Starbreeze are going for the big production values here with its minimalist HUD. And it works.

Almost immediately you get your Darkness powers and once this happens the gung-ho approach to blasting the Sam hell out of everyone shifts quite drastically. See, Darkness only works in darkness. The clue’s in the name, really. A quick flick of a shoulder button and a host of tentacled terrors explode from Jackie brandishing big gnarly fangs. So from here on in you’re encouraged to keep to shadows or, if that’s not possible, create your own. Using Darkness in the light drains its power quickly and leaves you susceptible to attack. Stepping back into the shadows naturally powers it back up along with feasting on the hearts of victims. Collect enough and you continuously unlock Jackie’s varying degrees of Darkness clout. Couple this with the funky Darklings and we’d say they’re the most inventive weapon in an FPS we tinkered around with in yonks.

The Darkness review! (click to see it bigger)In the books there are about 20 Darklings and apparently the number in the game has been downsized from what was originally touted. We got to play around with the Berserker, who you can use to open gates, block paths and generally beat the living snot of goons with, The Gunner, who brandishes a kick-ass mini gun, the hilarious Kamikaze, who well, blows stuff up and the Light Killer, who, erm, kills lights. And if you’re a bit of a girl then you’ll get a kick out of dressing these little critters up because that’s also one of the many unlockables shoehorned into The Darkness.

Of course if you’re anything like this scribbler, once you’ve mastered the art of harnessing the Darklings you’ll play through the game again using the little buggers much more to your advantage.

The Darkness is an astutely polished looking game. From the spectacular lighting effects to the animations of the demon spawn that burst free from Jackie, right through to the picture perfect faces on the games’ various characters. Nothing has been left to chance here. Starbreeze, like Rockstar, take pride in the finished product ensuring that you’re privy to one of the best first person shooter fables in eons.

Of course there are a few gripes. Firstly, certain characters, in particular Jackie, appear to have a distinct lack of lip movement whenever they talk. Sure this may be a minor gripe to some but when certain scenes in the game play out that require a little more zest, a little more vocalising from Jackie boy, his lips barely move. It’s like a badly dubbed chop-socky flick at times. A simple yet grating annoyance for a game that has so much going for it – something like that shouldn’t have slipped through.

The Darkness review! (click to see it bigger)We had a lot of fun playing around with the stealthy side of Jackie this way and once you’ve mastered this you’ll want to go back for a second time and see just how far you can push the stealth angle in the game where you can send out Jackie’s tentacles on scout and slaughter mission or use his huge tentacles to take out all the lights in a room before you move on the enemies. In retrospect, The Darkness‘ mechanics share a lot in common with Splinter Cell’s idea of creating and using shadows to your absolute advantage. In fact, the best way to survive in the game is to hunt from the darkness, using your tentacles to take out any and every light you encounter.

Starbreeze has also shoehorned in plenty of bonus goodies for you to sniff around for including countless accomplishments that up your game ranking like collecting all the various outfits for the Darklings, garnering all the Darkness powers (including the mighty Black Hole ability, which is a hell of a lot of fun). There’s also a wedge of multi-player options too that can be played online or over a LAN session featuring up to 16 different players. Most of these are familiar territory including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag. Best of the bunch though are the Shapeshifter matches where you can play as either a Darkling or a human. There’s so much fun to be had from these ones and we’re betting these are the games you guys have been hammering since the game hit shelves.

Of course a comic book game wouldn’t be a comic book game without a bunch of comic book extras and The Darkness is no exception. In fact, Top Cow and Starbreeze have been pretty damn generous here if you’re a big fan of the publisher’s work. You’ll find a copy of the prequel book written by game scribe Paul Jenkins along with the first issue from Preacher man Garth Ennis and a whole host of other books here including Witchblade, Magdalena (a Darkness spin-off) and the second volume of the comic too, which the game takes some of its cues from. If you’re a graffiti fan then check out the doc on the different artists Starbreeze hired to deck out the walls of the subway systems Jackie travels between missions in. Quite simply, if these are your thing then you’re in for a hell of a time with the library of comic book gems on offer here.

Still, much like Chronicles Of Riddick was a short yet brilliant game, Darkness feels a little like that too. Of course the replay value is there because once you’ve played though the first time you’ll want to retry utilising your Darkness powers to the hilt. Graphically, this is eye bleeindingly beautiful stuff with a stonking story, reams of action, blood, guts and lashings of gore. Sweet.

4 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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