The Darkness

Review

posted 7/23/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: 360
Then. Genuine tragedy strikes. Someone near and dear to Jackie will be lost, you'll beg the question, "Why me?" And thus begins the Anger and Resentment stage. The entire time The Darkness giveth and giveth, until it finally taketh away. And that's when you'll be triggered to fight against The Darkness. The storyline may be persuasive in this nature, but trust me, you'd draw the exact same conclusions against The Darkness with or without prompting from a cut scene at that point. The anger corrodes your nature further, and you'll question whether all of this couldn't have been avoided. Or the consequences somehow lessened. But it's too late, and your emotional connection to the person you've lost will stain you with resentment, and you'll then turn The Darkness against itself, burrowing deeper into self-loathing and hatred so that you can finally face the enemy that triggered your emptiness.
 
Until all you're left with is Denial, if you're left with even that. And again, it's not you that's evil here. Not you, Jackie Estacado. You're the just the right guy … at the wrong time of your life. The road to vengeance is long and winding, fraught with an Otherworld that is a notable cliché by now, but is still disturbing by proxy of its severe imagery and distressed landscape. The chained birdman. Upside down crucifixes.  Suicide as a means to further your plot for revenge.  A machine built to the exacting specifications of the Estacado family tree's legacy of war and violence. This game will keep you up past the witching hour for several nights, and its effects will continue to linger during the day. It works to greater psychological effect than the typified cat-jumping-out-of-a-closet scares that give you a painless shock in F.E.A.R. or even Constantine.
 
But it's definitely not just disturbing M-rated visions that give this game teeth. A superb level of atmosphere goes into the subway system that connects several New York City neighborhoods:  Tons of real world artist-rendered graffiti, characters both shady and enlightened, sturdy populations of payphones (remember those?), and wall posters that pay homage to the developers' influences -- like an ad for Chakra Assassin that displays the back of another famous video game hitman's bald head, the twin ballers replaced with kitchen knives. Head up to street level and you'll find brightly-lit city maps on the sidewalk, lights and shadows carving up the alleyways, still more graffiti (plenty of it angst-written; they're not all hip hop tags), and there's even those arrows with the word "locate" next to them spray-painted on the street by city workers. It's all lovingly and fully realized, as every area unlocks new quirks in the city's personality.
 
Speaking of personality, I haven't even touched on the darklings yet. Another bevy of bastardized followers, drawn right up from the Otherworld that dutifully hack, shoot, electrify, and suicide bomb your enemies. And they do it with plenty of colorful commentary to boot. I crack up every single time I hear a Berserker darkling shout out "Yeeaaarrrgh! [Pause] Well … that's all I have to say."
 
To write this one off as a first-person shooter with uneven pacing would be a disservice to the painstaking artistry, storytelling, and character development that turn The Darkness into a rare beacon of bold and beautiful interactive gameplay. The Darkness is no doppelganger to other superstars in the genre, and it may not possess the sheer variety of gameplay mechanics as a Half-Life 2, but it certainly deserves to sit at the right-hand side of similar thoughtful FPS-adventure titles. 



A-
The Darkness baptizes you in its unholy immersive waters, lingering in your memory well after you've shut down the console -- and well after you've shut off the lights. Its psychological horror, plus its polished performances, minus any mind-numbing pace of pre-packaged FPS meals-ready-to-eat, equals a nuanced and pendulous journey down one man's dark, downward spiral.



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