Starbreeze Studios blew the doors off the original XBox when they released Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a game that gave us Doom 3 graphics, hints of Splinter Cell and Vin Diesel's excellent voice acting (Iron Giant made you cry, no sense in denying it.) But after that gem, and just before 2k publishes their massive game changer Bioshock, Starbreeze silently passes The Darkness, a game I will never, under any circumstances, trade in or sell.
Hit the jump and find out why!
When The Darkness opens you start in the shoes of Jackie Estacado: strangely mature sounding 21 year old hit man for his badass mafia "Uncle Paulie." From the start you're swinging the camera left and right, flashbacks to Riddick's opening scenes of being dragged into Butcher Bay. Action leads to tutorial as Jackie is handed of a pair of classy heaters, and he's off.
Feeling through the minimalist UI, the early levels of The Darkness are challenging to adjust to. The game has a bit of a finicky aim-assist and an equally meh menu system, but the blazing and exciting gun play had me hooked from the beginning. Execution moves can be performed by pulling the trigger at close range, with any kind of weapon. Soon I was capping capos left and right, and then the game sweetened the pot by giving me control of the eponymous main character. Not only was a destroying the mafia now, but I was destroying them with style. Once or twice I got a little stuck, but the game has a soft "hint" system, with Jackie delivering monlogues during load screens to let you know you're heading into the correct direction. Elegantly handled. Soon I was meeting side characters I loved, being yanked through history and fighting through an incredible, unforgettable climax and ending. Nothing but net, yeah?
The game's not without its hiccups. The animation of people's faces is doughy and flat at best, despite the graphics themselves being standard Starbreeze excellent. Jackie and Co's voice acting is par for the course at best, aside from Mike Patton (Of Lovage) who steals the show as The Darkness itself. The only other downside I can think of is the abysmally empty multiplayer. At this point I have no reason to ever select that option, no one is ever playing. The truth is that the charm just barely outweighs the lack of polish. Get the PS3 version, watch the full-length of the film To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as some Flash Gordon, Sony Chiba and The Man With The Golden Arm. Find all the hidden phone numbers, akin to the packs of cigarettes from Riddick, and listen to some inspired answering machine messages, get some artwork in return. The little things keep adding up, but they stay little. It's a quest to quest little jaunt, over all too soon, through a claustrophobic world with Pretty Good(tm) game play. And you can get it from any game stop for less than the cost of lunch, or coffee for two.
There are few first person shooters that really deliver that good and fresh feeling game play that we need in a FPS. Not just for novelty, but for that crucial longevity. I only keep the few that take the genre in a new direction. Borderlands, Shattered Horizon, Time-Shift, Medal Of Honor: Frontline and Half-Life 2 are great examples of shooters that broke some conventions, or established a few. I have a feeling we're going to see something new with Bulletstorm, what with all the wacky ways we'll be punting and whipping enemies about the place. The easiest way to get lucky with an FPS is by understanding its limitations and designing a game that gives the player seamless access to interesting things to do (Portal, Mirror's Edge). The Darkness stands as one of those games that holds back from being the bald space marine shoot-fest and stands as a firm example of what an FPS can be when you balance the importance of a world's feel with its game play. Just a little flawed, but so-so-SO worth the time and effort.
So give The Darkness a shot, especially if you're a fan of games like Oblivion, Chronicles of Riddick, Dark Messiah and Half-Life 2. It's cheap and it's good, and I'm definitely keeping my copy.