Welcome to the Save State Cblogs! In honor of Chad Concelmo's awesome Memory Card series, we decided to continue his legacy.
Remember that one moment from your favorite video game? You know, that one you made a special save file for just so you could easily experience it again? Well, that's us!
Every so often, we write up about moments in games that had an impact on us, either by making us feel super happy, super sad, or a moment that showcases how awesome videogames are! These are the special moments we saved and want to share with the world.
It is kind of amazing what you can find in a bargain bin sometimes. Many of my favorite games havenít been the games I purchased on day one for sixty dollars, but the games that I either purchased years after release, or games that came out below the regular price point. Bulletwitch, for instance, was a pretty fun game for eight dollars. EDF for 20 and Insect Armageddon for 40 are practically steals at that price. Deadly Premonition is actually worth all the money you have. Just open your wallet, pour it out. If you had exactly twenty dollars on you, so much the better. Finally, there is the game I wanted to talk about today: The Darkness.
The Darkness was released in 2007, two years after the launch of the Xbox 360. I picked it up in around 2010 for twenty dollars, and today it sells for approximately three dollars used. Like many games of that era, it isnít the prettiest, was not the most polished, and has some rather interesting design choices by todayís standard. For starters, the world isnít a corridor driven shooter, but is actually semi open world, with a train station hub connecting it. In the station and across the world there are side missions you can complete, which reward you with telephone numbers to dial to unlock alternate costumes or concept art. However, the second largest draw of The Darkness is the story. The first largest is Mike Patton, who voices the Darkness without any manipulation to his voice, so the rumor goes. Back on topic though, The Darkness gave me one of the most unexpected moments of my videogame career.
In The Darkness, you play as Jackie Estacado, a low level mafia henchman. On the day of your 21st birthday, you are trying to perform a hit that goes terribly wrong. As you fight your way through construction workers, you find the foreman, your target, already dead with a bomb strapped to his chest. A message plays to you from your ďUncleĒ Paulie (the current mob boss), wishing you a happy birthday, and a painful death. How nice. After surviving the explosion and fighting through a graveyard, you are introduced to your supernatural ally: The Darkness. The Darkness manifests as two black serpents above your shoulders, and serves as your shield, as a melee attack, and as a magic of sorts. You get the ability to use magic guns, summon black holes, and pull forth comic relief minions from portals to Hell to assist you in your fight.
The first time I saw anything about this game, I was over at a friendís house and was watching him play the game. He had already beaten it several times, so he booted it up on hard to show me what it was like. That first level of the game really does an excellent job of setting the pace for the game, because you donít start off with the Darkness. Jackie is frail, ammo is scarce, and the gunplay, while occasionally satisfying in the most visceral of ways, is hardly effective. But as you gain the power of the Darkness, all that changes: You have Ďarmorí that regenerates, you have attacks that defeat enemies with little to no problems, you can conjure bullets, and then the difficulty curve suddenly slopes down. All in all, the game quickly makes it apparent what a powerful ally you have in The Darkness.
After getting used to your newfound ability to kill some dorks and eating their hearts to absorb their powers (yes, really) you meet up with your childhood friend, and current girlfriend, Jenny. She invites you up to her new apartment to show you the place, and has even planned a surprise birthday party of sorts for you. She baked you a cake, and she forces you to blow out the candles. Later, you are invited to spend some time with her, sitting on the couch, watching TV together. The player is given a prompt to leave at this point, but not taking that prompt leads to moments of Jenny holding your hand, resting her head on your chest, and eventually falling asleep, giving me one of my favorite achievements in gaming. For a few minutes, all the worries about the mafia, all of the questions have about the Darkness, all the violence, are just gone. It is just two lovers on a couch. There is a narrated scene before, where Jackie explains that Jennie doesnít know what role he plays in the mafia , that he has killed countless men, or that he has practically made a deal with the devil in exchange for power. It is just the two of the two of them, sitting together, enjoying each otherís company. And thatís the whole story, save state over right? An endearing scene where we see the humanity behind a brutal killer, they fall asleep, and everything is solved, roll credits! Ta da! If only...
As the game progresses, Jackie and his family continue to try and get revenge on the Mafia for trying to kill him, a fairly reasonable request. This leads to an escalation back and forth between the two groups that culminates at the orphanage where Jackie had met Jenny. As you walk through the level, there are two different voices in your ear: The first is flashbacks of you and Jenny as orphans. The second is the Darkness, reminding you what you are to it - a puppet, a vessel, nothing more than a body that it is using to get what it wants. By now, you have seen that all the Darkness wants is death and destruction.
You reach a room where Paulie, the mob boss, and the corrupt police chief have taken Jenny hostage. Before you walk in, the Darkness asserts its power, holds your arms, then tells you that you are its puppet.
You walk up to a door, and find Jenny being held at gunpoint by Paulie, with an exchange of cursing and threats between Jenny and Paulie. As Jackie makes an attempt to break down the door, the Darkness holds him back, telling him to stay still and watch. As you struggle, the police chief notices you, and begins to mock you, despite your demonic powers clearly showing. The Darkness eventually asserts that ďSheís MineĒ, and Paulie begins a monologue, shoving Jenny up against the door. This entire time, Jackie has been doing his best to bring down the door, but every time his arms move, the Darkness holds him back. Jenny, realizing what is about to happen, tells you that it isnít your fault. Paulie pulls the trigger. All you can do is watch as Jenny falls to the floor. As Paulie pulls the gun up and begins to point it at you, the Darkness immediately breaks down the door, scaring Paulie and the chief off. The Dakrness releases itís grip on you, and lets you go to her side. After seeing what just happened, Jackie picks up the gun Paulie left behind, turns to a mirror, turns the gun to himself, and shoots.
You can watch the clip here:
There are so few scenes in games that have delivered that kind of suckerpunch. It is probably less than a dozen games total that have made my gut wrench to such an extent, that have made me want to turn away. I feel that so many other games would have gone slow mo while Paulie put the gun to Jennyís head, and you would either have two seconds to shoot him or press a button prompt to have the Darkness kill him. I never expected them to actually let her die. On top of all of that, the whole scene has a simplicity to it that makes it all the more haunting. It isnít gratuitous, it isnít flashy, it isnít some grand sacrifice in the name of a greater good. It is just a cold blooded execution.
The whole scene is put together and set up perfectly to give you the impact that they wanted to give. All that separates you from saving her life is a door. A thin piece of wood. Something that you could smash down even without any supernatural powers, by turning the knob or breaking the glass, but you are held back by the Darkness. When I played through this scene, I was hoping, praying, every second that passed by that I would get control of my character, a prompt, a reticle, ANYTHING that would let me go in there. The Darkness just wants me to know that it can do this to me! I know that now, thatís fine, you can stop me, now please just let me break through that door and save her! But throughout the whole scene, you are completely powerless to stop anything that happens. I was shocked that nothing happened. No one came forward to save her. No plot device, no relative, no darkling, nothing. The shock turned to anger. Real anger. At the Darkness for doing nothing, at Paulie for pulling the trigger, and a little bit at the writers for not giving me any chance to help. It absolutely shows the power that the Darkness has over you, and the lengths that Paulie is willing to go to get revenge on you.
The way that they set up Jenny as a character makes this scene so much worse than it could have been. I donít know if any game has made me so endeared to a character as quickly as the apartment scene did. Maybe this was something with me, but it reminded me of my first love in just how simple it is. It is a snapshot of the day in the life, just holding hands, her head resting on your chest, watching some television. The stress of the world, any problems that you have in that moment are just gone. Vanished, and replaced with the feeling that kind of sweet puppy love. In the game this was all in such stark contrast to the rest of the game. All of the violence, the swearing, the demons, the blood...it all changed for a few moments so we could spend some time with an old friend. At the end of the day though, she was never involved with this, and she barely knows what is really happening in this scene. The rest of the violence in the game is against people who knew the war that they were fighting, and were aware of the risks, but Jenny was innocent.
Even through the end of the scene, she remained your friend. Her final words absolve you from what just happened to her, which is just a tragedy considering that at the end of the day it is completely your fault. Had you not joined the Mafia, you could have saved her. Had you not tried to get revenge, and just moved away, they might not have taken her. If you didnít have the Darkness, you wouldnít have been restrained. If only you knew what you were getting into.
The only satisfaction you get from this scene is that it sets the tone for the rest of the game, and gives the player and the protagonist a real sense of purpose in their actions. Watching that unfold before my eyes gave me an energy throughout the rest of the game. The Darkness stopped being some amazing superpower, it became an obstacle that I needed to overcome. Paulie was no longer some faceless antagonist, he is the man who brutally murdered my girlfriend in front of my eyes. Thinking back, this might be the strongest I have ever felt about a revenge plot. It sets up the characters so organically that the player can actually relate to what the protagonist is feeling, which is something that so many games skip over in an introduction cutscene or even just as a given in backstory. Off the top of my head, I go to Metal Gear Solid 3, the relationship between Snake and Boss is taken as a given. I never understood what Snake meant when he talked about their relationship, and how it is a professional quasi love situation. Had Metal Gear Solid 2 been ďSnake and the Bossí Day OutĒ then I would know what he went through, and I could feel the same betrayal as he did seeing her defect, but instead the game is just saying ďtrust meĒ, and I just canít. Not to get too far off on a tangent, but that is exactly why I love Deadly Premonition so much. Back on point, I really felt connected to her, and I was very upset by the events that took her away from me, so I felt so much closer to what Jackie was feeling throughout the second half of the game, on a rampage to avenge Jennyís death.