The game plays as a traditional first person shooter with distinct horror overtones and places you in the shoes of Jackie Estacado. Jackie works for his Uncle Paulie as an assassin for their mafia crime family, until things turn sour. As a gift for his 21st birthday Paulie double crosses him but he doesn't anticipate the demonic inheritance Jackie receives. This essentially gives him the appearance of someone attending a Matrix convention but with more razor toothed tentacles.
The Darkness is an ancient power which gives its host a series of abilities that can only be used effectively in the shadows. They also provide benefits such as offering a protective shield, the ability to summon small fanged creatures called Darklings and looking very impressive.
The game starts strongly with an eye-popping car chase through a tunnel followed by a series of heated gun battles in a construction site which provides a gripping introduction to the environment and the outstanding graphics. The visuals are realistic and show off the next-gen platforms well, textures being particularly detailed.
Other strengths of the game are its detailed story which carries depth and is handled with maturity. Quality voice acting also adds immersion and helps characters to stand out and aids motivation. I was also impressed with some fancy technology which allows for TV's in the game to actually play footage in real time, there are even whole films that can be watched on the in-game stations.
The powers themselves are also interesting and add a new twist to the FPS gameplay. There are 4 main powers, a controllable tentacle which can tear people's hearts out, a tentacle which can skewer people and throw objects, some guns made from The Darkness itself and finally a doom vortex which virtually annihilates anything in a 20ft radius.
Yet, here is where the nagging issues start which plagues the game. All the powers are demonstrated to you at the beginning of the game, yet you only access them the further you progress, without any explanation whatsoever. It feels like your parents showed you your Christmas presents early then kept them on the top of the cupboard, only giving them to you in the first few weeks of January with no explanation.
Other problems with the powers, is that the later ones are so effective in killing waves of enemies that you never use the earlier ones. The powers are introduced by making you solve a problem with them, then they are rarely ever used again. Yet, inevitably 3 hours later you become stuck on a puzzle which requires you to remember a power which hasn't been remotely useful for ages.
The Darklings, whilst initially appearing cool are never terribly useful. There are 4 types which all serve a unique purpose, at least in theory. They consist of a melee attacker, mini-gunner, bomb carrying kamikaze and one which extinguishes lights to allow your Darkness powers to be used. In short, they are worthless.
Their AI is awful, the gunners often stand and empty thousands of rounds into a wall, the light killer seems like an afterthought and it never extinguished a light for me, plus the melee Darkling usually gets shot before it can do any damage.
Be prepared to spend a lot of this game shooting light bulbs. Now this seems like a strange criticism, but when you shoot more lights than enemies in a game of this type things aren't looking great. What really rubs salt into the wound is that when you are forced to backtrack frequently to areas you have already visited, the lights have magically repaired themselves. This often means you run out of ammunition in the earlier stages, until you reach the middle section when you are suddenly deluged with it after you discover the Darkness guns with infinite ammunition, creating an annoying imbalance.
Having such amazing graphics means that there have to be frequent loads between areas. In order to disguise this the developers seem to have decided to have Jackie deliver a series of character monologues to the camera which breaks the immersion significantly. Quite often they don't advance the story at all and instead have him posing with some guns or looking moody. Yet amazingly they don't last long enough, so you have to sit through a loading screen anyway, which defeats the objective.
Side quests are an addition which only provides more backtracking and they never offer any real rewards other than some concept art, which renders them largely irrelevant. If they had followed a Deus Ex character upgrade style then I feel that it would really have enhanced the game.
Other problems include a map which doesn't show your locations, making the disorientating World War 1 flashbacks as confusing as possible. Still, this lengthened the game making me wander around for half an hour being teleported randomly to help make me feel even more bewildered. A mandatory vehicle turret section in a WW1 tank which can miraculously travel at almost Burnout levels of speed is also a misstep.
The Darkness also includes the British stereotyping found in virtually every game which really annoys me. When an English solider says "Tally Plonk", with only the vaguest hint of irony, I was nearly left with a smashed Dual Shock.
There is also a multiplayer feature of the game, however I was unable to test this myself due to some technical difficulties. A friend did comment that the multiplayer was quite fun although it did suffer from some lag issues, even on his fast internet connection.
The problem with The Darkness is that it occasionally has flashes of brilliance which make you really see what a great idea and how much potential the game had. However, usually these are followed by a niggling flaw which just serves to remind you of what could have been. There are some stand out moments, a quiet night near the beginning of the game is unique and really adds to the character development without resorting to clichés. Some of the action set pieces are also memorable with a shoot out in a church being a real highlight, as well as the grizzly aftermath...
The very last section of the game is really stunning, the last level in particular. Whilst playing through I was really enjoying it and was pleased that the game would end on such a high point, when suddenly the frame rate dropped and the action slowed. This experience is typical of the game, handing you something enjoyable and different and then having something else diminish it.
The Darkness isn't a terrible game, it has some fresh and innovative ideas, but it does have its fair share of problems. I picked this up cheaply and still felt a little disappointed at the overall experience, but if you are a real fan of FPS games or horror titles then you will find something to enjoy.
The Darkness (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
First things first: The Darkness has a brilliant concept. The idea of a mafia hit man who also possesses evil supernatural abilities which flourish in the dark is a pretty exciting basis for a story. However, the game doesn't always live up to its potential and suffers from some annoying issues.