The Darkness is a first-person shooter developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 2K Games in 2007 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. It's an adaptation of the comic of the same name, starring the hitman Jackie Estacado who awakens to his titular dark ability on his 21st birthday and uses it to take revenge on his mafia uncle, Paulie, who tries to kill him out of fear of betrayal.
The plot of the Darkness is a simple mafia revenge story littered with surprising detail and heart. And a bunch of near-cosmic horror, of course. Let's begin with our lead, Jackie.
For a thug in a black trenchcoat, Jackie is rather somber and reserved. He never speaks outside of cutscenes (and his excellent loading screen monologues) and when he does, he does so in a really articulate and controlled fashion.
He does get angry (mostly at Pauli), but even then, he doesn't sound like the edgelord he looks like. He isn't heroic, but the game does make it easy to empathize with him. He makes for good counterbalance when compared to your run-of-the-mill FPS protagonist who shouts at everything.
The Darkness makes for a really unique presence. It has a constant presence in the game as it whispers to you, much like SHODAN in System Shock. Mike Patton does an amazing job of selling himself as a creature of the ancient dark domains where mankind have yet to trespass. But even so, there is something pathetic to the way the thing acts, in spite of all the evil it radiates. It's not allmighty, but should be feared.
Even when Jackie awakens to his powers, the story doesn't derail to focus on them. He basically shrugs it off to focus on the here and now, leading to an awesome scene where you can sit and watch ALL of How To Kill A Mockingbird with his girlfriend Jenny. It really sells their relationship.
The game truly shines (heh) when the Darkness drags you to hell, which is this nonsensical endless repeat of World War 1. Seeing as you're channeling the Darkness, it's not a scary enviroment, but the disfigured soldiers and impossible vistas really paint a pretty gruesome picture.
Frankly, the story is more of a mood piece than a narrative, even if all the required pieces are present. It gives the game a really unique feel, especially for a shooter. The rocking soundtrack helps too.
Much like the story, the shooting also has an unique feel to it. You can tell they aimed for consoles, with little care for an eventual PC release. Combat is almost always in mid-range and there is no aiming button. Instead, you get auto-aim and the ability to dual-wield small firearms.
The lack of grenades and the ability to reload (Jackie reloads whichever gun runs dry, so alternating is important) tells me that the game wants the player to keep moving as much as possible. I like the flow of things, even if it can feel a bit amateurish sometimes due to the physics of dropping bodies.
Outside of his nasty close-quarters executions, Jackie doesn't have anything more to him. This is where the Darkness comes in. By summoning it, you're instantly given better sight in the dark and a shield to protect you from harm.
As you progress, you get a few more abilities to your name and gain more types of Darkling minions to summon. None of these abilities are truly needed thanks to plentiful ammo, but having the choice to lob black holes at people is nice.
Of course, to make use of these powers, you need to stay in the dark and shoot out lights, as light drains your darkness energy. It's pretty fun to slowly conquer an area, but enemies really don't try to bum rush you before you've put out the lights, which feels like a wasted oppurtunity. They're content with just standing back as you build back power in the dark.
The only optional upgrades are those to your stock of dark energy, which is gained by eating the hearts of enemies. If you eat all the hearts you see, it's paced pretty well. But a few upgrades to the actual powers would've been good as well.
Outside of combat, you use these powers for a few simple puzzles. In spite of their simplicity, they are rather difficult to solve, since the game does a terrible job of signalling what needs to be done. Thinking about your end goal and trying every power gets you through them, but it's very easy to get stumped. The game permitting only one save also sucks!
Most of the game takes place in two districts of New York, which remind me slightly of the way hubs work in Deus Ex. There is some fun detail to be found, the TVs especially. They have a good selection of weird shows, music videos and cartoons. Nothing like watching Popeye or Flash Gordon after murdering some mobsters.
There are also small quests to be found, but they're of little substance. They just introduce you to someone quickly and can often be solved in a few minutes. You're rewarded with phone numbers (there are many of these to find strewn about as well), which can be dialed for some weird answer machine messages. It's unique, but not exactly rewarding.
As much as I like the grit and style of the game, time has not been kind to it. I know it's unfair to rag on an 11-year-old (!!) console game, but there are a few inexcusable parts of the visuals. The framerate dies during certain fights, a few textures are beyond terrible and the lips of character models barely animate. It doesn't ruin the experience, but it certainly catches the eye. Makes me wish for a remaster or a PC port.