The Darkness

Review

posted 7/23/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: 360
A descent into The Darkness can resemble the well-known Five Steps of Denial to Acceptance … in reverse. All of the symptoms and stages composed of anger and resentment, bargaining, and depression begin a spine-locking backslide, starting with the opening chapter's high-speed cop evasion, and continuing through the entire storyline's distraught plunge down and down. And not every one of those moments is spelled out for you in this first-person adventure-shooter from Starbreeze Studios, the fine folk that took the abysmal Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay film and strong-armed it into a revered benchmark for movie-to-game adaptations. In like fashion, The Darkness steps out of the comic-to-game adaptations' shadows, and puts fluffier, Marvel-based superhero fare to shame.
 
The first of the five backward stages in The Darkness is Acceptance, which may be periodically underscored by the adrenaline-inducing prospect of becoming a marionette for evil. "This is out of my hands," you say. "I don’t have to answer to my conscience because this isn't my doing." The Darkness manifests itself around you -- Jackie Estacado, one of the most pensive and deep-dwelling anti-heroes to grace a game screen since Lucas Kane in Indigo Prophecy -- and the manifestation occurs as the church bells strike midnight on your 21st birthday. The scene is lurching and violent, faces get eaten, hearts are ripped from chest cavities, a void is opened that sucks your adversaries into a tumble dry cycle … But you used it (or more appropriately, The Darkness used you) to take out the bad guys. They're the bad guys. Not you. 
 
Or so you begin to tell yourself.
 
But you, the player, break the "fourth-wall" of staged cinema and realize it's only a game. And this is what the game is supposed to be; you're supposed to succumb to The Darkness. Without The Darkness to possess you, there would be no game. You're introduced to the unofficially-dubbed "Righty" and "Lefty," your two new cardio-starved serpents that, although awkward to control around dead bodies and multi-faceted wall structures, provide you with slithering-fast scouting abilities and kills, and use colorful means to convey technical info on an otherwise HUD-less game screen.
 
The second backwards stage you experience is Depression. The "It's really happening" stage. You move about the shadows to keep your powers strong, and The Darkness indeed grows stronger within you, leveling up in scope and power. The series of unfortunate events begins to interweave amongst your characters' relationships. And even as you shake hands with the rest of the stellar voice-acted (and motion-captured) roster -- Aunt Sarah, Butcher Joyce, Jenny Romano -- Jackie's disposition develops into something even more somber. All of which is punctuated by a DeNiro-laced performance by Kirk Acevedo, whose resume has touched on numerous critically-acclaimed TV productions like Oz, NYPD Blue, Law & Order, and 24. And while your in-game powers expand, your murderous mob boss of an "uncle," Paulie Franchetti, seems all the more untouchable as he's able to manipulate people and police forces just as much as The Darkness manipulates Jackie and his loved ones. 
 
The third backward stage to non-recovery is Bargaining. A little tit-for-tat with The Darkness. You'll want to stave off its exponentially frightening growth, and perhaps you'll attempt to get through a sticky situation without calling upon The Darkness to aid you. You'll dual-wield pistols, revolvers, and sub machine guns. You'll empty clips and shells from automatic rifles, tactical rifles, combat shotguns, and riot shotguns. And while your enemies aren't chess masters when it comes to firefight tactics, they behave much more realistically when they take a bullet. They aren't unflinching terminator units that continue moving and shooting until their health bar runs out: They stumble around, they cuss, they scramble awkwardly to get the hell out of the way. They actually act like they just got shot
 
But, in spite of the arsenal you bring to bear on your adversaries, it won't be enough. It never is. And you'll send out "Righty" to take down a troublesome cop that's ducking behind cover some 100 yards down a dank tunnel. And even though you can avoid it, you let "Righty" eat the fella's heart out because, well, "Righty" did the legwork, and he deserves a reward of sorts. It's like a doggy treat. Good boy. Good Darkness. 
 
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