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Destructoid review: The Darkness


6:11 PM on 07.05.2007



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Destructoid reviews games. The Darkness is a game. So we reviewed it. And, all things considered, it probably wouldn't kill you to read it.

Within this hallowed post, you'll find the opinions of Nick "Brutal" Chester, Alan "Gamboi" Johnson, and myself as we dissect the latest game from Starbreeze studios in an effort to help you, the reader, decide whether or not it's worth your time.

Are you a bad enough dude to read about Nick harping on Darkling A.I., to see Gameboi gush about the achievements, and to witness as I give the single lowest review score I've ever awarded?

If so, then hit the jump. If not, you can leave. Your kind is not welcome here.

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Nick "Brutal" Chester  

I don't remember my 21st birthday very well. I think it involved 12 shots of Patrón and barely legal strippers licking whipped cream off of each other, but I could have just as easily spent it playing Mario Kart 64. For Jackie Estacado, a young-blooded New York City mafia hitman, and the protagonist of Starbreeze Studios' The Darkness, the experience of turning 21 will not soon be forgotten.

As if being the target of a New York City mafia don isn't enough, Jackie also realizes that a mysterious supernatural power called the Darkness has taken over his body. Then, Peeping Tom/Tomahawk/Fantomas vocalist Mike Patton (as the voice of the Darkness) starts whispering terrifying, sweet nothings into his ear -- when he's walking around on the subway; during fire fights with foul-mouthed mafiosos; when he's shot down and killed ... this Mike Patton guy does not know when to shut up. It's a bad day. Fortunately for Jackie, none of this is a bad as the off chance that I actually spent my 21st playing the Nintendo 64.

This is good news for gamers too, as The Darkness is certainly an unforgettable experience. Complete with a compelling, well-paced narrative and a number clever gameplay mechanics, the games stands as one of the most interesting single player first-person shooter experiences on either of the next-gen consoles. That's not to say the game is perfect; The Darkness has its fair share of flaws, but it's fortunate that none of them truly tarnish an otherwise solid experience.

Not even on its surface, really, is The Darkness a typical first-person shooter. Sure, as a mafia hitman you'll wield the expected selection of firearms -- pistols, shotguns, and automatic weapons all make an appearance, and at first these will be your main line of offense. But the game sets itself apart with its use Jackie's supernatural Darkness powers . Many games use the shadows for purpose of stealth, keeping you hidden from the action while you wait for the right time to strike. But it's these darkened areas that give Jackie his strength, allowing him to cull power from the shadows and call upon a variety of vicious abilities.

The game's seedy, alternate reality representation of New York City is an environment fit for Count Dracula himself. Light sources are few and far between, and those lit areas that do exists can easily be darkened with a well-placed bullet. Things like street lights, table lamps, and headlights on cars can all be snuffed out with the use of a gun or a Darkness power (which I'll get to in just a second). Once hidden from the light, you can call upon your power, which manifests itself in the form of slithering, snake-like tentacles that sprout from Jackie's back.

For Jackie, the Darkness is a blessing and a curse. A curse, because Jackie's body is no longer his own -- the Darkness makes it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that Jackie's body now belongs to him. On the flip side, Jackie now wields abilities powered by the dark that any man targeted by the mafia would be thrilled to have. While under the blanket of darkness, you turn on his powers with the simple flick of a button ... then it's on.

Throughout the game, you'll acquire a number of powers as you progress -- the slithering maw tentacles (which can snake around corners and into vents to open doors and slaughter enemies); the dark tentacles (powerful enough to lift and toss large objects and enemies, as well as bust out lights in the environment); black holes (that suck enemies and objects into it); the Darkness guns; and the ability to summon a number of evil minions known as Darklings.

While it's easy enough to switch between the powers on the fly using the d-pad, their effectiveness is a mixed bag, you'll often find yourself relying on one or two throughout the game. The maw tentacles, for example, are invaluable -- being able to stay at a safe distance from a room full of enemies and having the ability to snake around corners to clear a room is not only effective, but a wonderfully satisfying and visceral experience. The dark tentacles also are a handy tool, as they'll allow you to quickly and safely destroy light sources in the environment, while conserving bullets. Impaling enemies with the tentacles and tossing them aside like dirty laundry is quite the experience, as well.

Of the game's major disappointments is the use of the mischievous and murderous Darklings. Four different Darklings, each with its own speciality, can be spawned. Watching the Darklings do their thing is a delight -- the berserker Darkling, for example, will attack enemies with a jackhammer or a hand saw, while the gunner Darkling attempts to clear rooms with a chain gun. Watching the Darklings in action and listening to their banter is often hilarious; but that's considering, of course, that the Darklings are actually doing something.

While I don't expect them to each hold a Ph.D., it's a shame that the Darkling AI is so unbelievably stupid and (most of the time) completely worthless. Once summoned, Darklings can supposedly be directed into rooms by simpling aiming your reticle and pressing a button. It's unfortunate that the Darklings would often enter a room full of baddies only to stand idle and draw fire until they were gunned down. In other instances, you might try to direct a Darkling in one direction, only to have him stop short or return to you with no rhyme or reason. To that effect, summoning a handful of Darklings is only really useful to distract enemies, instead of truly serving alongside of you. That and it's just cool to say you did it.

Though there are some awkward points (wild, speaking-with-hands NPC animation, for example), graphically there's a lot about The Darkness that screams next-generation. In high definition, textures and lighting pop, particularly in the game's impressive-looking environments. There's a lot of detail in The Darkness, which can be seen in the cracks and crevices of New York City's subway system, as well as in the game's awe-inspiring technology that allows full movies and music videos to be viewed on in-game televisions. Want to sit down and watch the 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird in its entirety? That right there will tack another two hours and ten minutes to your play time.

The main path of the game, you should know going into it, is short. Like Starbreeze's Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, it's almost over as soon as it begins, clocking in a little under 10 hours. This would be disappointing if it were not for the pace of the storytelling, which for the most part is spot on, hitting its peaks in all of the right places as you make your way towards the games brutal finale. Starbreeze does a great job of also progressively building up Jackie's abilities from start to finish -- just when you'll start getting bored of abusing one Darkness power, you're given another to play around with.

And while the game's main quest is essentially linear, the game's semi-open world allows you to explore at your own pace, interact with NPCs, and take on missions that have no impact on the game's main story, but allow you to unlock hidden art, comics, and more. Though it's open for exploration, the number of areas you'll spend time in are also disappointingly limited. The game's New York City landscape is broken up into two parts, each connected by a subway station; each of those parts branches off into several other areas, but you'll likely find yourself in familiar areas more often than you'd like. The game does contain a secondary environment, but it's vital to the story, and mentioning more would become a major spoiler. Still, you'll spend most of your time trolling the streets of NYC.

The admittedly tacked-on multiplayer is a nice diversion and definitely will add to the game's replay value, but you shouldn't expect much. This modes gimmick, the ability to shape shift into a Darkling, is a nice touch, and one that lends itself to quite a few hoots and hollers. It's a great diversion, but it won't be replacing Gears of War or Halo 2 in your nightly ritual anytime soon, and it's certainly not the main draw here.

Ultimately, the strength of The Darkness lies in its short, but sweet and violent, single-player experience. It doesn't lend itself to the fawning and gushing elicited from a game like Riddick (which offered quite a few unique takes on the genre), and it certainly has its fair share of flaws. But it does stand out among of a sea of generic console FPS titles, and for that, I've got to give the game its props.

Verdict: Buy It!

Score: 8.5

 

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Alan "Gameboi" Johnson 

Playing through The Darkness has been a bold reminder of how much fun a comic book based game can be, even if it has some quirks that detract from the experience ever so slightly. The colorful language driven storyline is interesting, the controls responsive, and the creepy dialog voiced by Mike Patton is on the mark. To save those of you with poor attention spans out there the trouble of reading further -- The Darkness Rocks.  

The first thing that caught my attention was how great the game looked, even on my standard definition TV.  The level of detail was impressive, and I remarked to myself on more than one occasion that I must head North to NYC soon. As I expected, the cinematics of the game were fantastic, although there was one nagging problem that stood out. For whatever reason, Jackie Estacado, while a fine mob hitman, never learned the subtleties  of opening his mouth while talking. Reminiscent of an old Kung-Fu flick, it stood out like a sore thumb next to the otherwise polished visuals that The Darkness showcased.

One thing that I found quite pleasing is how the game was so free to hand out achievement points. The Darkness throws them at you left and right. As someone who's Gamerscore isn't exactly going to send opponents running for cover in hopes of not being shown up by its unfathomable number, seeing those delightful prompts coming up in regular intervals were a real pleasure.

The Darkness powers are certainly what separates this game from the endless first-person shooters that the Xbox platform is known for. I never grew tired of using them to dispatch enemies, although I must admit that the whole Darkling thing never grew on me. They pretty much took a backseat to the action. Besides the lack intelligence that these guys seem to suffer from, as Nick spoke about earlier -- why send out these guys, when you can take care of business yourself? After all, you are a supernaturally-enhanced hitman, right?

Other than this, the only potential drawback had to be the constant need to extinguish any light-sources around you, in order to use your Darkness powers. Not too big a deal, but you do spend a bit of time doing this throughout the game -- when you really just want to get to work punishing those pesky guys who keep firing away at you from all directions. 

So what more is there to say about The Darkness? I bought the game expecting a pretty good adaptation of a comic book character, and I got just that. It had a nice horror theme, great voice-work, a decent storyline, interesting locations along the way, and just the right amount of variety to keep me interested for the long haul. The Darkness isn't likely to become my favorite game on the Xbox 360, but it is poised to make the top ten list. I can and do recommend the game to everyone. Forget about a rental --  you should own this game.

Verdict: Buy It!

Score: 8.5

 

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Reverend Anthony Burch

The Darkness just didn't do it for me. The gunplay is underwhelming, the characters and story are irritating, and the level design and pacing are absolutely abysmal.

While there is one moment in particular that I really enjoyed (the scene where Jackie must decide whether to stay and watch a movie with his girlfriend, or ditch her and cap a gangsta), the story and characters felt uninvolving and annoying. Jackie looks and acts like a combination of Criss Angel and Steven Seagal, making him an absolute chore to watch, and thereby impossible to care about. Mike Patton's voicework as The Darkness seems kind of fun at first, but by the end of the game he sounds less like a ferocious, evil demon and more like a regular guy trying to sound like a ferocious, evil demon. Not to mention nobody seems to be particularly surprised about Jackie's newfound Darkness powers -- they appear very abruptly, and when a major bad guy sees them later, he just makes an offhand remark about Jackie's "demon shit." Seriously? Nobody's even remotely surprised that Jackie controls a sentient evil demon?

The combat, unfortunately, is similarly dull: while the Darkness powers are undoubtedly cool (though the Darkness tentacle has an irritating habit of attacking objects rather than people when you don't want it to), the gunplay itself is extremely underwhelming. Baddies take far too many shots to kill, the guns handle oddly (a shotgun doesn't feel like a shotgun -- the pellets don't seem to spread when they're fired), and worst of all, there's really no reason to engage in long-distance combat when it's easier and more practical to run up to a guy and press the trigger once, initiating a ruthlessly violent instakill animation.

However, I would have been willing to forgive these flaws had it not been for the unforgivably awful level design. The main problem with the world layout in The Darkness is that it attempts to mix a nonlinear world with an extremely linear gameplay style: as a result, the player will often find himself in the middle of a large city with absolutely no idea of where to go or what to do. The in-game map is all but useless, and certain aspects of the environment suggest incorrect paths.

By way of example, at one point in the game a chopper was shooting at me. If I didn't find cover, I'd be dead, and directly in front of me lied a huge, well-lit tunnel that seemed to literally scream that this was the right way to go in order to further the story. I run through the tunnel and end up in the pier. Whilst there, a bunch of goons come out and start firing at me -- again, another bit of game design that functions to tell the player that he is, in fact, in the right place. But after the goons are dead, there's nowhere to go. None of the doors open. No levers to pull. I (and, judging from the Gamefaqs forums, many others) spent about fifteen minutes running around the pier until I realized -- I was in the wrong area. When the chopper fired at me, instead of running forward through the obvious tunnel exit, I was evidently supposed to turn around and run through a small gap in a wooden fence that looked all but invisible beyond a distance of three feet. Put simply, this is poor level design. The problem is, this happens a lot, and it practically kills the game. Much of your time with The Darkness will be spent either wondering where the hell you're supposed to go (especially in the special, secondary area Nick mentioned), or slowly (and I do mean slowly -- Jackie's movement speed is some of the slowest I've ever experienced in an FPS) walking from one end of the city to another just to get in another quick, underwhelming fight.

In the end, the graphics are great and the Darkness powers are fun, but the story, gunfights, pointless sidequests, and leaden pacing rubbed me in all the wrong places. While there are some great moments of fun to be had in The Darkness, they're sandwiched between long, long stretches of underwhelming action, irrelevant narrative, and horrendous map design. As much as I will no doubt be mocked for my score, it has to be said: I cannot recommend The Darkness

Verdict: Forget It!

Score: 3.5

Destructoid Final Verdict

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Final Score: 6.8 

We round down with our star ratings. We are not savages.

Anyway, what do you think? Think someone was too easy on it? Too hard? Just right? Hit the comments with your own opinions of the game and/or our review of it.

 






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