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The Darkness (Xbox 360) artwork

The Darkness (Xbox 360) review

"Going past the main menu and into the first chapter of The Darkness, I had little idea what would be in store for me as the purchase came on a whim. It's going to sound a little peculiar, but The Darkness unfolds its pages to you with an introduction sequence that could honestly be the most exhilarating, well planned opening of any genre's game in the past number of years, bar none. I wouldn't guess that's what any gamer would generally be expecting of a standard fare first person ..."

Going past the main menu and into the first chapter of The Darkness, I had little idea what would be in store for me as the purchase came on a whim. It's going to sound a little peculiar, but The Darkness unfolds its pages to you with an introduction sequence that could honestly be the most exhilarating, well planned opening of any genre's game in the past number of years, bar none. I wouldn't guess that's what any gamer would generally be expecting of a standard fare first person shooter - so you can easily imagine my surprise.

You awaken as Jackie Estacado, hazy, informed of your recent smack down with an oversized bouncer by your two cohorts who man the front two seats of a yellow doozy of a vehicle. That oaf's one good hit is what apparently sent the mission you were on straight down the shitter. As your vision fully clears, you'll see the game's first and final moment of true daylight clipped off by the containment of a murky, two lane tunnel.

There, in those very first stages, you'll be shown a quality that presents itself masterfully over the rest of the experience, and will hopefully go on to be a substance that sets a lasting example for the coming years of game cinema.

The conversation between the two mafia goons quickly changes tone and it soon becomes more obvious that with that failed mission, something gnarly is about to go down. That belief should be further cemented for you when your driver begins to rubber band through the narrows between other cars, scrape against the walls with the sides of your own. In the next couple of minutes, you'll have seen a laundry list of shit-eating, grin inducing eye-candy, that I fear I'd be struck down for mentioning here and now. You'll just have to find out for yourself.

Should you?

A scene like that is defining and brilliantly sets up a view of what you can expect to see later on. There are a handful of these moments of excitement, terror and above all, emotional force. From start to finish, these are what will keep you going like the hard-edge mafia hitman that you are and the vengeance driven beast that you'll become. Speaking from experience, they may even make you fall in love with a certain female lead, who is portrayed realistically and as a compelling, three dimensional person. Through utterly human voice acting and motion capture, The Darkness is dead intent on stealing your heart with the passionately told story of a man possessed by an unknown entity.

Outright, it would seem like a stellar reason to put its name up for award nominations - but all of those instances from start to finish, are the only things keeping the game itself held together and going. In between, you'll see all of the pacing fail, and usually very hard, on a disappointing multitude of levels.

It's in the between times that the game is stuck with a lofty amount of empty time and space, where the objective is nothing more than to make your way from one point to the next and, thanks to Starbreeze and their attempt at adding an RPG element to the outing, is a tiresome task over a sprawling urban landscape that quickly wears itself out with its lack of design inspiration. You'll begin to bore and let your attention wander enough to be able to spot and pick out glaring flaws that leave themselves uncovered.

The Darkness is inherently pretty to look at, sure, and tidbits you may have heard about the otherworldly powers and gunplay are enough to get anyone interested. At its heart, the core foundation of gameplay, this one is just unable to stand up to contenders.

The entire demonic array is there for the taking, and I'm talking the power to devastate your enemies with black holes, snatch their faces off with a big-black tendril; even summon small, gremlin-like creatures from portals that litter the earth, acting as your gateways to the demonic realm. It's a badass concept, but two major conflicts stand in the way. The powers are too few and in other than a few specific locations, far too limited in use. Combined with the way the AI works, this is a large problem. Enemies often take cover behind stationary objects and send a hail of fire in your direction and usually bunched up in groups across a distance. They're not programmed to be smart enough to use combat tactics, but they've been made impeccably terrific marksmen.

Getting your ass shot full of holes will all but disable two of your four total abilities. One of them is practically useless either way, but I won't spoil it, as it's the only one that remains a mystery until the game's halfway point. The second is the strength to summon a miniature black hole; miniature, but still devastating. Because of how handy this skill ranks amongst the rest of them, it's too easy to become dependant on how it can take out an entire flock of opponents. In order to acquire a target, you're required to stick your face into the open no longer than a few seconds, which gives the action a crippling imbalance.

The gunplay on its lonesome, has the failure of being stale. For a game that's tried to innovate on its mechanics, the shooting that you'll be doing is generic; the list of arms doesn't pass the six count, the most extravagant being a tactical rifle that comes nowhere near balls-to-the-wall inventive, or amazing.

Certain graphical nuances are in the mix that certainly add to the entire atmosphere, like being able to slightly tug at the right or left trigger on your controller and watch Jackie's corresponding finger gradually squeeze down. Atmosphere is a big deal here, and gratefully, there's a graphical prowess that can be noticed all over the place, whether it be a perfectly straight line or something like the way that the room is lit. Things are intentionally gritty, dark and while too over the top for my taste, the use of stark shadow gives the different settings the same amount of unease and tension that are required to keep with the large doses of gloom.

There is no easy way to escape being torn by The Darkness. For every two examples of slogging backtracking and sleeping-aid styled segments of what is wrongly called 'role-playing', there is an instance of tremendous scriptwriting that will have you pitted against an unbeatable foe while taxed with chasing another across the rooftops above alleyways. Each three or four times you're faced with a curiously long and repetitious loading screen, you'll come out on the other side facing a character with something worthwhile to say. When the game's story fails to intrigue you with complexity or mystery, it grabs you around the emotional center and shakes you awake. As your attention starts to slip because of the monotony of battle, one will come along with a cause that you find worth fighting for.

On a solely cinematic level, The Darkness prevails in ways that I cannot do justice to, only generalize. The affects that are achieved throughout are priceless and endearing, despite being held back by an oftentimes ridiculous amount of pretext and disappointingly hollow build-up. This entity is neither sleeper hit, nor Summer smash. It simply is.

If nothing else, it will be remembered as the effort to prove that there is always a little bit of light in the darkness; and in this case, enough to make a bad game playable and more entertaining than it should be.

carcinogen_crush's avatar
Community review by carcinogen_crush (July 11, 2007)

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