There was a fair amount of excitement and anticipation behind the release of The Darkness due to the success of the developer’s (Starbreeze Studios) previous action game, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Riddick was a top-tier title for the original Xbox so expectations were riding high, considering the graphical power of next-generation systems and the length of development time for The Darkness. With such a stellar previous outing, fans of the comic book and action games in general, considered Starbreeze Studios and The Darkness a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, heaven is the furthest thing from The Darkness and not in a good sense.The Darkness is based on the Top Cow Productions’ comic book and throws you into the shoes of Jackie Estacado who’s a mafia hit man turning 21 years old. You would think the guy would be happier than a New Yorker chowing down on a Coney Island dog and chasing it down with a cold one. Unfortunately for him, uncle Paulie is trying to make sure he doesn’t get close to his next birthday by trying to have Jackie killed. As Jackie, you get to try to turn the tables on “Unnkle Pawwlee” through your ruthless hit man experience and one other “slight” – your powers from the Darkness. You see, Jackie has inherited some pretty wicked powers starting with the two demons protruding from his back. In a rather uneventful transition, you gain the use of supernatural powers, which adds some uniqueness to the game but not enough to save it from its bland gameplay.The first problem is the limitation on what the demons can do. You would expect to be able to use the demon heads in various ways to dispose of your enemies – you know, chomping at victims at close range, swatting and picking up objects, and maybe even spitting out some vicious liquid. But what do you get instead? The ability to tear the hearts out of dead enemies and this is done is a somewhat clumsy way since you have to be in a relatively precise position (in relation to your victim) in order to get the button prompt for your piece de resistance chomp. What good is all of this when I just want to use the d** demons to kick some ass! Okay, all is not lost since you can go into Creeping Dark mode, where one of your demon heads detaches and you get crawl around freely. This is by far the best feature of your Darkness powers since you can crawl practically anywhere and head-munch at will (as well as tear hearts out). But again, if you can munch heads on the loose, why can’t you do it with the demon heads connected to you? There is a Demon Tail that gives you the power to slam and pick up stuff but you have to switch your Darkness power to this mode and it’s not all that intuitive to wield. It’s just isn’t the same as the possibility of being able to control those nasty b*****s on your sides. Speaking of b*****s, the game gives you the ability to use the services of the not-so-friendly but rather humorous Darklings, who you can summon when you’re in Darkness mode. There are four types of Darklings – Berserker (melee fighter), Gunner (machine guns ‘r us), Kamikaze (Terrorist Darkling) and Light Killer (i.e. bulb breaker). I found these characters were better at wisecracking then they were at going to a directed location and killing foes. The other noteworthy Darkness power is the Black Hole, which is really more of a tornado than an actual black hole. This is a pretty cool effect since you can spin enemies around in a tornado-like effect and watch them swirl around to their deaths.Rounding out the methods of attack are traditional FPS weapons, which are quite effective in knocking holes in things once you get passed the wonky auto-aim. The auto-aiming sorely needs an adjustable sensitivity option since it does too much aiming for you, which will initially put off FPS veterans. You ultimately get used to it but it definitely brings the shooter element a notch down. The other problem with the shooting is the fact it takes a barrage of lead to kill humans, which just irks the hell out of me. Yeah, headshots will bring a foe to his knees permanently but you’ll be fighting that pesky auto-aim to get pinpoint accuracy. The real p**er is the fact that enemies will get up after being shot and continue their spectacular marksmen ways. Oh, I almost forgot – the game’s save feature is checkpoint-based (no manual saves), which only adds to the frustration. The enemy AI is also wildly inconsistent since there were times when I would walk right up to an enemy and shoot them without them even noticing me (which does have the inadvertent bonus of performing an execution kill). Other times the enemies would be all over you with gunfire. Like to hear the voices of pain? Just shoot an enemy when he is already dead since he will continue to utter cries of pain. Are we sure this is the same developers that did Riddick?Since I’m on a bashing roll, let’s go to level design. The game’s environments visually look good but don’t expect Riddick-level Xbox quality, even with the higher graphical capabilities of the PS3. The biggest problem is the lighting, which seems too harsh and tends to flatten the textures in the game. Another issue is the emptiness of the levels. The city and countryside environments have everything you would expect visually except you’ll feel like you’re playing in post-apocalyptic times. City streets are virtually abandoned and the subway station has just a handful of people shuffling around and that’s it. The countryside environments have enemies scattered here and there but there should be a ton more, considering the time period you’ve been dropped into (and no, I wasn’t playing on easy difficulty). You move through these environments in a point A to point B manner that’s required for completing objectives and it isn’t long before you ask yourself, “That’s it?” The frequent loading screens between levels don’t help matters either. I don’t know about you but spending a bunch of time moving through near-empty environments is not my idea of fun. If I wanted to do that, I’d head over to the parking lot of the local mall and wander around the parking lot for a few hours before it opens. On the upside, the overall story is decent enough and the voice acting is good with the only exception being Mike Patton’s (of Faith No More fame) ridiculous demon voice for The Darkness. Dude, a word of advice – do not quit your rock-star day job.There is a multiplayer feature but it is strictly barebones and looks more like the marketing group demanded it be added to the game right before launch. There are the standard deathmatch (including team-based), CTF and Last Man Standing. The games have variations on using either human and/or darkling characters. Shapeshifting is also an option if selected by the game host. Good luck trying to find games to play online as the darkness runs deep in the multiplayer, literally. If you’re big fan of multiplayer, this game is definitely not for you.The Darkness can only be categorized as a major letdown coming from a proven developer such as Starbreeze Studios. I hate to beat a dead horse with the constant comparisons to Riddick but you have to, considering how good that game was. There are a few good ideas here but the developers really dropped the ball when it came to pulling it all together in one cohesive and fun package. The end result is a flat and uninspiring first-person shooter that relies too much on potential and nothing else. I just hope this was an anomaly since no one likes to see a talented group of developers being literally lost in the darkness when trying to make a game that’s worth playing and this one isn’t.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.