Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Your spine shakes with chills as your heart begins to race. Your mind wanders with the fear of the unknown, and just when you think you were safe from whatever hunts you, you feel it’s grip across your throat. It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means, a series of reviews on some of the scariest horror themed games out there today! Welcome to my 13 days of horror reviews, where we honor the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky side of video games, both past and present. Today, we look at The Darkness.
First person shooters and survival horror games typically don’t mix. Games like Resident Evil Survivor and Dead Aim are now just vintage classics that were poorly executed, and survival horror games with a lot of gun-toting elements lose their fright tactics and end up being more of an action title.
Enter “The Darkness,” a game based off an obscure comic book that I think only two people may have read before. You star as Jackie Estacado, an effeminate Mafioso who, en route to see his uncle in New York City, gets trapped in a subway by the cops and his uncle’s hitmen. It turns out the bastard is trying to kill you, but thankfully you get possessed by a demon known as “The Darkness” to take him out. Mayhem ensues as you go through a story of revenge and intrigue, with some predictable plot twists thrown in.
To be fair though, the plot twists were well executed, and the storyline was actually decent, considering other stories out there. But the problem with The Darkness is not the story itself, it’s the characters themselves. Everyone is practically one-dimensional except Jackie, and it takes a WHILE to warm up to Jackie as well. It also doesn’t help that the pacing of the story is terrible, the game starts off real slow, easing you into the somewhat shotty control scheme and giving you assistance as to how to use your newfound powers, and only picks up midway through to a very satisfying climax.
The game sports two real systems, a standard FPS which makes Jackie a gun-toting mother and the powers granted by the Darkness, which can only be used in, you guessed it, the dark. These powers consume energy, kind of like a magic meter, and do have functions that help the game immensely, such as sneaking up on enemies, trapping them in black holes, or summoning annoying demons out of nowhere to move obstacles and harass hitmen.
But the problem with the two is that they don’t mesh well. You will more often than not be using your powers over your guns, unless if you’re forced too. And the scheme for them on the controller is adequate, but it feels very sticky, it takes a few seconds for powers to activate at times, and sometimes you don’t have those extra seconds, especially if it becomes overwhelming. The trade off is that the enemy, and helpful, A.I is really poor, so you can probably pick off guys without them even noticing you.
There is also tacked on side missions and a multiplayer to wash the sense of linearity away, but it actually detracts more than it adds. To give the illusion of immersion you can access a subway hub that can lead you to specific areas around New York. You can also access side-missions to gain unlockable content, such as artwork or extra costumes for multi-player. To the games credit it tries to make this more interactive, but it comes off as a chore that in the end is not even worth the aggravation of dealing with. Hell, there is one part when I can watch a TV movie with your girlfriend, and while a neat idea, I doubt anyone would sit through the whole of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Multi-player is also standard death-match, CTF affair, but it runs horribly and there is barely anyone on there worth playing for now a days to even warrant a try.
The game is gorgeous looking, using some dynamic lighting effects and really crisp graphics to give some texture to the city landscape. Everything has a fine detail to it, from the scraps of paper on the ground to the inky scales of the Darkness itself, it is clear that developer Starbreeze focused on making the game look good. Here they definitely succeeded.
Sound wise, not so much. The sound effects are pretty good, but the voice acting and music are fairly bland on most of the characters, which all seem wooden and forced. Jackie in particular sounds like a guy with no personality in him, which really hampers any sort of drama that the decent story may have. He does, however, grow a bit as the story goes, which is good, and I do like though that The Darkness itself is a character, and not some idle presence that you never see. And like any devil, his motives can be questioned, but you know he is up to no good. But overall it is more mediocre than it should be.
“The Darkness” is not the worst game out there, but it is a sub-par shooter at best. It has a lot of neat ideas that never fully meshed, but it at least is a decent romp to rent out for a weekend. It is not exactly a horror game either, but it has enough of the supernatural to keep gamers satisfied in that regard as well. So pick it up on the cheap, because it will give you a decent thrill for a few hours.