Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Darkness - Let It Consume You

When I first heard of The Darkness as a game, I thought the idea sounded pretty cool, given the promise of being able to control the power of darkness as well as summon creatures called Darklings to do your bidding. It was later that I found out, during my first time playing, that the game was based on a still-running comic of the same name by Top Cow Productions, so I became curious of its source material, though I eventually stopped playing the game without completing it. Since then, while I haven't read very much of the comic overall, I found what I did read to be quite entertaining, though I should warn you that it's definitely not kid-friendly. With the release of The Darkness II on the horizon, I decided to come back to this game as a more experienced player, although I played on Easy because I'm not well versed in First-Person Shooters; while I enjoyed this title, there were some small issues I had with it.

Jackie Estacado is a mafia hitman for the Franchetti family, headed by "Uncle" Paulie Franchetti, who targets the hitman on his 21st birthday on account of suspected danger to the don. When this attempt fails, Jackie soon discovers an ancient force called The Darkness has awakened within him, having been passed down between generations. As Jackie figures out how to control this new power, he sets out on a mission to kill Paulie as payback for the assassination attempt. While the origin of The Darkness itself is similar to that of the comics, the approach to the story overall is the sort of thing one would expect to see in a live-action movie, which I mean in a good way.

The voice acting of this game is at the very least decent, with characters from the comic being given especially well-chosen voices and great performances (I praise Mike Patton's role as the titular Darkness). While the acting at times sounded slightly off to me, this was thankfully scarce and I liked it (the acting) for the most part. The action of the game is accompanied by some really amazing music, from a soft violin tune when it's quiet to a truly epic, evolving guitar riff during important battles. If the original music for the game was put out on CD, I would totally go out looking for it.

The basic gunplay of this title isn't too different from any other FPS at this point, but it overall manages to stand out. For instance, when Jackie holds any one-handed weapon, the system of dual-wielding kicks in and he is holding, for example, two pistols (two-handed weapons such as shotguns still operate realistically). Though you'll half the time be using your bullets to kill lights, the system of reloading is more realistic in that if you, as another example, decide to reload while your gun(s) has extra bullets left, you are ditching those spare shots in favor of a new clip. The guns themselves, particularly the pistols, are extremely accurate to where if the reticle is aiming at a light from a great distance, a single shot is enough to destroy it. Switching between your arsenal of guns is very simple and quick, making it fairly easy to switch to whatever it is you need/want at the moment.

On the subject of shooting lights, there are a multitude of Darkness powers you have at your disposal, so long as you're away from any sort of light source. These go from performing stealth kills with and manipulating a Darkness tentacle to dual-wielding guns powered by darkness and summoning a black hole to quickly take care of a large group of enemies, the last two of which I enjoyed using to where I tried to activate them at every opportunity I got. These powers run on Darkness energy, drained quicker by using them in light, which is easily replenished by devouring hearts or simply being in a dark area. Devouring hearts from enemy corpses also increases your Darkness Level, allowing you to use your powers for a much longer period of time. As mentioned previously, you also have the ability to summon an army of Darklings, creatures created from The Darkness that aid you in taking down enemies by attacking from a distance or blowing themselves up, among other things. Listening to these things talk can be hilarious, given the kinds of things they say and how they seem to almost converse with each other at times when you control a group of them. However, like The Darkness itself, these assistants are just as susceptible to light.

To increase the time you spend with this game, there is a variety of side-missions you can perform that will award you with unlockable content, including concept art, behind-the-scenes videos, and even full issues of the Top Cow comic. These are given to you through phone numbers and letters found on the ground, some of which require using The Darkness to obtain, which you redeem by using a telephone in the subways or a mailbox respectively. If you look all over every level, you can also find (fictional) phone numbers to note down and dial manually into subway phones in order to learn a rather interesting secret. In fact, you may find yourself spending about half your time alone searching high and low for these secret numbers.

During my bout of controlling the forces of pure darkness, I ran into a few odd glitches. At one point far into the game when I used a Darkness power to move a police car to use as footing, all of the lights from the vehicle remained in the same spot they were in, effectively becoming disembodied in the process. Also at least once when I used a phone number to collect an unlockable, Jackie went through the dialing motions twice, the second time during the beginning of the actual call. This next criticism is not a glitch, but while I appreciated the attention to detail in the level design, I sometimes couldn't help but think Jackie could at least walk just a little bit faster to make travelling across an area somewhat less time consuming.

The Darkness also has a function for online multiplayer, although I don't have very much to say about it. The options for a type of match merely cover the basics, so it's not exactly fresh meat. From what I could see there's surprisingly still barely any sort of community left (though it was probably thriving when the game first came out), and the one match I played suffered from huge amounts of lag before the server disconnected.

While this is an entirely new take on the tale of The Darkness, I should note it has some changes from the comic, at least from what I know from the little I've read of the overall story. I'm not going to comment on any design changes, but I can say that while in the comic Jackie's powers are only rendered moot by strong light, tension is added to the game by making his weakness any sort of light period, though he retains his creativity for getting around this. Adding to my comment on the approach feeling like a movie adaptation, the name of the don of the Franchetti family went from Frankie in the comic to Paulie in the game, though I'm not one to complain about this. Having read the very first few issues of the original comic via trade paperback, I was expecting the characters of Sonatine and the Angelus to appear, but the story does a good job of telling itself without them; thankfully though, it retains the character Butcher Joyce, who has a prominent role in the game.

Even if you are not familair with the Top Cow comic, I would suggest giving this game a try if you are of age. As you advance in the engaging campaign it becomes more and more fun to use The Darkness as you wreak havoc on those that stand in your way. It may even make you curious as to what the source material is like, as I did when first playing (from my small library I recommend the Coming of Age trade and the Four Horsemen mini-series). That said, I can't wait to see how The Darkness II improves on what this game has laid out.

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