Summary: Chronicles of Riddick was a surprise hit from Starbreeze studios. Can they follow that up in their new IP, The Darkness? JCal is the man with the plan... er... answers.
Your playable character in the single player portion of the game is Jackie Estacado, a mob hit man in New York City who is celebrating his 21st birthday. The game begins with an exciting sequence with your character on board a convertible with two other hit men that are being chased by the cops. It's a sequence that is like an souped up into to a Half-Life game; instead of a slow moving intro you get a fast paced rail sequence (complete with voice credits) that promises a lot for the full game to live up to. The sequence ends with a crash as Jackie has to fight off various enemy mobsters while at the same time trying to see his girlfriend Jenny who knows nothing about what Jackie does for a living. Jackie is in for a rude awakening on his birthday, however, as he discovers that in addition to his shooting skills he has supernatural powers which seems to have a voice and mind of their own at times. The power, which calls itself The Darkness, increases more and more as Jackie uses it but a series of events in the game (which we won't go into here) causes Jackie to make some rather brutal choices in order to save his girlfriend and to solve the mystery of what The Darkness actually is.
The Darkness powers increase the more you use them as they manifest themselves as snake like tendrils that come from the back of Jackie's body. Your powers come from the dark itself; staying in the dark or knocking out lights recharges your abilities in the game. You progress through several levels of powers in the game as you eat the hearts of your various victims. You start with a rather neat ability; one of you tendrils can move while you stay in once place for remote kills or opening up specific doors and sections that you can't reach on your own. Later you get an arm that can pick up and throw people and objects and later still you get access to mystical guns that pack a mean punch Finally you get a black hole power that can create a vortex that's nifty to take out groups of enemies at onces.
The Darkness also gives you a way to manifest AI controlled "Darklings", lizard-like demons that can have separate abilities, from shooting to melee attacks to kamikaze explosions to a way to get rid of light sources (they also can be quite funny in a dark way). The game also gives you access to normal hand held weapons like pistols, shotguns and machine guns (no grenades, oddly enough).
The load times as you go through each section also take a while which breaks up the flow of the game as you sometimes have to go through four or five levels to accomplish a task. It gets tedious and old really fast. One thing that we did think was odd is that in the game your human mob enemies don't really seem to care much that you have a demon power that you can manifest. We think they should be scared our of their wits but they only mention these abilities in passing.
One thing that the game can't be faulted on is the graphics. Starbreeze's proprietary engine is as good or better than any other graphics engine out there in terms of visual candy with high polygon character models, normal mapped textures and impressive lighting effects.It's not perfect; for some reason the game's facial animations seem a bit off when Jackie talks to anyone in the game which can be a bit distracting. We didn't notice any difference at at between the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions in terms of graphics One cool thing is the game's ability to put in video content in television's inside the game. You could watch full movies like To Kill A Mockingbird or The Man With The Golden Arm if you wanted or even Popeye cartoon shorts.
The Darkness also has a multiplayer mode with standard gameplay features like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag, along with a mode called Survival (be the last human standing). You can play as a standard non-Darkness powered human or you can play as a Darkling which allows you to run on walls and ceilings along with giving you a melee attack. Why you can't play a human with Darkness powers in multiplayer is an odd choice for us. The game has up to eight players in multiplayer mode but seems to have been a project put into the game in the last minute (much like F.E.A.R. multiplayer game was)
The voice acting in the game is a mixed bag. As the voice of The Darkness itself, Mike Patton is excellent with some truly evil sounding timbers as he taunts Jackie in the game. The same cannot be said on Jackie's voice actor Kirk Acevedo delivers his lines with a dull and static presentation. The script is written at times like a bad Sopranos episode with mob figures saying the same old, same old statements we have heard a thousand times before in various mob movies and TV shows. One thing to keep in mind is that nearly everyone in the game is pretty much a bad guy, including Jackie. If you have an issue with playing a game that has some nasty characters in it with no real hero you might want to stay away. Jackie does have some redeeming features (his love of Jenny being the main one) but he is a mafia hit man and that never really goes away.
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