The Darkness Xbox 360 Review
Let me admit something off the bat right now - FPS gaming on the consoles has never been a favourite of mine. After playing FPS's heavily on the PC for
years, I could never get past the controls and general rigidity associated with console FPS games in comparison to the PC. I knew that if I really gave a
console FPS a fair go I'd probably get used to the controls in time and warm up to the idea slightly, but to be honest, I never really found a FPS on the
console that either didn't have a PC
port which was
better, or if it was console exclusive, wasn't replaceable for a better recently released PC FPS anyway. That is until I got my hands on 2KGames' latest
release, The Darkness.
Heading up to its release this past week, there had been a reasonable degree of pre-release media such as trailers for The Darkness showcasing
the gameplay and the in-game abilities, and while I knew based off of these trailers and videos alone the game was going to offer something slightly
different than what the FPS genre is typically used to, I had no idea it was going to be this unique, and not only in its premise and concept,
but its actually execution too. Simply put, despite
some noticeable short comings, every FPS fan needs to play this game.
The Darkness, on the surface, appears to be like any other FPS - the human controlled character, Jackie Estacado, is a newly turned 21 year
old New York City Mafia hitman, who somehow manages to piss off the resident Don who, paired with some crooked cops, puts out a hit on you, and you're
left fighting for your life, forging allies on your way to making things right again. It's a story we've seen before, but where The Darkness
separates itself is with its second unrelated yet
intertwined storyline - on your 21st birthday, Jackie is possessed by an evil force known only as 'the darkness'. With this possession comes unrivaled
power for Jackie in his mission, and boy is that an understatement.
Being based on the reasonably popular comics books of the same name, The Darkness won't be a brand new concept for everyone, but for the FPS genre
in general, it's a type of premise we're
not used to seeing. Your character, Jackie, is not the underdog in this story per se. Like other FPS's, he may be a sole force up against what is basically
an entire army, but 'the darkness' has given Jackie so much power, it's really nothing more than a bloodbath - for them, that is.
After an interesting opening sequence on your way to a routine hit, the game doesn't take very long to get into the action because at the start there
isn't really any storyline to speak of - as you progress, events start to develop, and the game starts to take shape. This is pretty much how the entire game
is played from start to finish - you never really know where you'll end up next in regards to your mafia connections, and 'the darkness' possession side of
things is similar in that when it does reveal
itself, its power increases as you progress, as does knowledge of its purpose and origin.
So what is 'the darkness', exactly? Basically, as far as the gameplay is concerned, 'the darkness' is a mode you can enter during the game that allows you
to tap into your new found powers of pure evil. To enter this mode, you hit the left button/bumper, and sure enough, from your body a few tentacles
with demon heads emerge. Once in this mode, Jackie is more or less invincible - he can take damage, but 'the darknness' takes most of the impact,
consuming its darkness energy in the process,
which you simply replenish by standing in dark areas. Due to the extremely minimalist interface during gameplay, there is no easy way to determine your
current darkness energy level, but it replenishes very quickly and fades away when you are in well lit areas, so when you're in 'the darkness' mode, it's a
good idea to stay as far away from light as possible.
'The darkness' can do much more than just take damage however, it also has four distinct powers which shape the entire gameplay. While the game features
usual gun play from dual handguns to shotguns and assault weapons accessible in both normal and darkness modes, what you can do with
your possession far outweighs the simplistic nature of gun fights. At the beginning of the game, you will be given access to a power known as the 'creeping
dark', and out of the four this is actually probably the coolest, so
it was a good game design decision to have it appear very early in the game. This power allows you to control one of your 'demon heads' attached to your body
like it was a snake, allowing you to go into air ducts, through gaps in gates and doors, and basically anywhere else it can fit. You can kill enemies and
collect items such as ammo, guns and hidden objects with this demon head, but it too consumes your darkness energy so the more powerful you become, the
longer (and further) you can use it.
The 'creeping dark' really is a very cool element to this game and can totally dictate how you play. While it can be a nuisance to control at times since
it seems to want to travel along any surface it can often screwing up your camera angle, once you get the hang of it you might find yourself killing
more baddies this way than with guns, but it's totally up to you - there are only a few points in the game where using the 'creeping dark' is absolutely
vital, and these are usually for opening doors or
destroying locks. Perhaps the game should have put a larger emphasis on this power as it is generally far more useful than the other three darkness powers
that come later in the game - which are two weapons in the 'black hole' and 'darkness powered guns', and the ability to use a tentacle to pick up
or attack things (such as street lights to create dark areas) with a power known as 'demon arm'.
The Darkness Xbox 360 Review
As stated before, staying in dark areas maintains your darkness level, but there is another way to keep your energy up and also add to your darkness powers overall, and that's eating the
hearts of your victims. Once slayed, the hearts of enemies can be taken by simply standing over them and pressing "A", or by using the 'creeping
dark' power on them from a distance. This is a pretty gruesome and cool feature at the start of the game, but it does start to wear a little thin as you get
the game becoming somewhat of a burden, but then again the game does refer to 'the darkness' possession as a burden on occasions so I guess it
has got to have its drawbacks somewhere.
Finally, 'the darkness' also has one last major plus side, and that is the ability to spawn what the game refers to as 'darklings'. These are little
gremlin like creatures that each offer a unique characteristic. Like the major powers, four are on offer, consisting of a 'Berserker' which is like a scrappy
fighting sidekick, a 'Light Killer' which does exactly what it says (eliminates lights), a 'Gunner' which deploys a chain gun on any near by enemies, and a
'Kamakaze', who comes with a backpack of explosives
whiling to take one for the cause. These darklings are only available where the game allows via randomly places spawn points, and only one of each can be
used at a time, but you usually won't even get a chance to have all at once anyway. They are quite useful at times, but they can also be very dumb such as
trying to shoot through walls, and often don't listen to your direction commands, particularly when you do have more than one activated.
So, in a few paragraphs, that is basically what 'the darkness' in The Darkness is, and how it influences the game. The thing about these powers is
you are not really forced to use them much at all, in fact if you really wanted to, you could probably finish the vast majority of the game without entering
into 'the darkness' mode at all. However, this would take away most of the game's extremely cool and unique gameplay, which is no easy achievement in today's
FPS world, so it is definitely
should embrace as often as possible - which it often tells you to itself via its obligatory deep scary voice. As long as you stay in dark areas and as
long as the current map is "combat approved" (not all are), then you can stay in 'the darkness' mode for as long as you like.
Despite its coolness factor though, there is one underlying issue with 'the darkness' powers, and that is it can make the game quite easy. These powers
enhance Jackie so much, that it really isn't that hard to stay alive by making sure to stay or create dark areas where ever possible, because as stated
before, your darkness powers will take the brunt of bullet damage and at the same time replenish its energy when in darkness. Seeing as the game only very
rarely strays from human enemies with guns, there is
also little variation on offer combat wise so once you get the hang of how to deal with a few pistol toting thugs, the game doesn't become much more
difficult than that. Even if you do die, you are simply respawned at the last checkpoint, which are generally very regular in occurrence, because as
'the darkness' will tell you upon death, you are invincible, and "it isn't your time yet Jackie". The game does have three levels of difficulty that you can choose before entering the
single player mode,
but the mechanics of the game still remain the same.
With that said, in many ways The Darkness does rely heavily on its storyline to keep you going rather than overly challenging gameplay. It's a good
thing then that it is an interesting game in this aspect because, while it is perhaps one of the coolest FPS's ever made in what you can do and how you
do it, without the presence of an interesting storyline this coolness factor would probably wear off after a while and leave the game hanging. While as
already pointed out the mafia side of this game
is hardly the most innovative, it still feels authentic and even though at times your darkness side of things start to take over in very surreal ways, the
contrast between the two works well and does a good job of telling two stories at once without confusing you excessively - although confusion is definitely
part of the game as Jackie himself struggles to understand what is happening to him.
If I could offer one criticism for the game's storyline, it would be that not only does the game tend to rely on it heavily to keep you interested at
times as already mentioned, but it also occasionally relies on it far too heavily to play events out. Sometimes the game will take
over and do stuff that would have been better off leaving to you, the gamer. What's odd is these can occur in rather crucial moments too, and the stuff you
do while under the game's control are usually far more extreme than anything
you can do yourself during normal gameplay, so they tend to highlight the shortcomings more than they 'wow' you. Don't be too concerned though, these only
pop up on a few occasions and actually do have a practical reasoning behind it - that is, 'the darkness' is taking control over you and doing what it wants -
they just don't work as great as I'm sure the developers hoped.
Despite the unique gameplay relative to what we've come to expect from FPS's, perhaps the best achievement in The Darkness is the sensational job
it does creating its authentic atmosphere. Set in the gritty city streets and subways of New York City, The Darkness really does a good job drawing
you into its world, enthusing you to explore and experience what it has to offer. While the areas are not huge, and outside of the two subway stations
you have access to the amount of other people around
in the city maps is far less than what would be realistic, they are very nicely constructed in the game's superb physics driven engine, featuring
graphics up there with the better Xbox 360 titles. Unfortunately there were a few instances of frame rate stutter, but nothing that effected the game play
The Darkness Xbox 360 Review
It's not just the visuals however which help create the atmosphere in The Darkness. If you really get into the game and look out for detail,
you will find it. Take this for instance - in one moment early in the game, you visit your girlfriend Jenny in her new apartment, and sit down for an
intimate moment on the couch to watch a movie on TV. Sounds pretty normal, right? Well, while the game will allow you to get up from the couch and
continue on your missions any time you wish, if you actually
sit and watch for a while, you'll realize that on the TV happens to be the classic movie To Kill a Mocking Bird, and by this I don't
mean a 5 minute out take on loop, but the actual full movie.
Well, to be honest I didn't sit and watch it all, but after finishing the game I loaded up the level again and sat the game there for at least an hour and
it was still playing the movie without looping back to the start, so I can only presume it was the real deal. While this is only a black and white movie from
the 60's on a very small TV screen, it's just one example of the amount of detail this game has in its environment. Whether it's the blood pumping death
metal music that roars during a heated gun
fight or the edgy interview scenes with Jackie that are shown between map loads, The Darkness reeks of a game that took a lot of time to make with a
lot of attention directed at the subtleties. It would have been nice to perhaps see slightly larger and more lively environments people wise, but what the
game offers for its atmosphere is very rich in its design and execution. If I had to offer a comparison, I honestly haven't felt as in tune with the
environment of a FPS since Deus Ex on the
PC, and in a few ways The Darkness is actually quite a similar game.
Like a lot of FPS titles, when you do finish The Darkness, chances are you're probably not going to want to redo the single
player element again any time soon but the multiplayer mode via Xbox Live should help to keep the title fresh for a while. The game changes a little
online where you can control either humans or darklings, representing slower more powerful (humans) vs much faster but also much weaker (darklings)
gameplay. The modes are pretty much run of the mill FPS MP modes, with the exception
of a survivor mode pitting one player against everyone else, and the ability to enable a thing called "shapeshifting", which allows players to
change between human and darkling in real time. I don't think the multiplayer components of The Darkness will rock the Xbox Live world exactly,
but there is definitely some extra fun to be had online.
When it comes down to it, I have not been a huge fan of FPS games on consoles, but The Darkness really appealed to me. The game is just so damned
cool and so different than the norm in enough aspects that it offers stuff you really don't find enough of in the FPS genre regardless of
platform, such as some really unique gameplay mechanisms and a refreshing change in perspective from a storyline point of view. This game is not "just
another FPS", and while some of the risks it
takes don't work out as great as they could have, what you ultimately have here is a different and daring take on a genre which has become a tad stale in
recent times, and developers Starbreeze and publisher 2KGames should be commended for it. Simply put, The Darkness is an absolute must have if you
want some action packed FPS fun without sacrificing innovation and