Starbreeze, the same company that brought us The Chronicles of Riddick, is back at it again, and just like with Riddick, they don't disappoint. This time around, they're turning down the lights for The Darkness, their new horror action game. You'll be placed in the boots of Jackie Estacado, a mob-working killer. His main problem is that his crazy uncle Paulie is ticked off out of his mind, and you'll be locked into a very dramatic saga with him for the majority of the game. Right from the start, the game doesn't let you rest. You wake up in the back of a car with two mobsters blabbering away in the front. Before you know it, you're in a heated car chase, and you're handed a shotgun and told to fire away. Sweet.
First off, this game is fantastic visually, in both a sheer technical sense and in an artistic sense. If you played The Chronicles of Riddick, you know the kind of artwork Starbreeze is capable of. The environments are simply awesome. You'll spend your time on the streets of New York, and it is alive with a dark city feeling. Graffiti covers the sides of buildings and walls of the subway with often entertaining designs and words. You can spend a good amount of time simply walking around and exploring the scenery. The people around the city and in the subways blend in beautifully, and are all unique and have different things to say. All the monsters and characters fit their parts perfectly, and you'll thoroughly enjoy looking at everything. As far as the technical graphics and animations are concerned, they do not disappoint either. The way all the creatures and humans move is very realistic and believable, right down to the darkling creatures crawling around. A la The Chronicles of Riddick, everything has a nice gloss to it, making it always a lively experience.
The sound in this game is also superb. In terms of voice-acting, I can't think of another game that matches this one. The voices are all distinct and believable, and Jackie and the Darkness specifically are done remarkably well (and are significantly creepy). The music is fitting, if not anything special, with dark tunes and dramatic melodies that wonderfully fit the situation. The sound effects of the guns and the like are nothing special, but they do the job - no complaints here.
One neat addition is that in between levels, during the loading times, Jackie will show up and give a short, usually very interesting or entertaining monologue giving some background to the story or setting the stage for what's to come. It's a brilliant distraction from loading, and hopefully other games will utilize this method in the future.
All the brilliant presentation in the world is wasted if the gameplay doesn't hold up, and thankfully that is not the case with The Darkness. The gameplay is very solid, even if it does get a bit repetitive and dry as you get farther through the game. As far as the controls are concerned, it's a pretty standard FPS. The movement is good for the most part, although it can be a bit jerky at times when trying to maneuver-but that's only a small complaint. The gunplay is pretty standard, and you'll be working with the usual set of weapons (dual pistols, dual subs, shotgun, assault rifle.). It's a pretty generic set, but it's satisfactory. You can adjust the amount of auto-aim you want, which is very helpful because aiming without it can be very tricky as well as frustrating. When you are right up close to an enemy, you'll use an execution move, which is a really cool (and brutal) addition. There are a bunch of them, and it helps to keep the gameplay fresh.
Obviously, the aspect of this game that sets it apart is the Darkness itself. Early in the game, Jackie and the Darkness join forces in the form of two snake-like monsters attached to his shoulders that are shown on-screen. In order to keep the monsters going, you must stay in the shadows. You can do this by shooting out lights everywhere you go (and there are a ton of them to shoot out-thank goodness for auto-aim). This game incorporates something called the "Darkness Level," which basically means how your monsters are progressing. As you move through the game, you'll become more powerful and acquire more and more special skills and attacks. For example, one such skill lets you send one monster arm out for long distances along the ground and stealth-kill enemies. Another allows you impale enemies or knock lights out with the arm, while another lets you bring 4 kinds of creatures out of the ground to fight some of the enemies for you. I won't ruin this for you, as you'll want to discover those for yourself.
As far a depth is concerned, this is a pretty short game. On easy or medium, it will probably take you about 10 hours to beat. Bump it up to hard, and that time will jump a little. But be warned, hard level is not easy (obviously). It will take you a while to get through some parts, but it is very satisfying when you do. One thing Starbreeze did a great job with was not giving you everything all at once. They spaced out the weapons, powers, and skills very well so that even deep into the game, you can still acquire new things. This method goes a long way in keeping the game exciting and compelling to play. The multiplayer does add another mode, but it feels very tacked on, and is not a lot of fun. It was a bit clunky, and lagged around. There also do not seem to be very many people playing online at any given time. If you are a sucker for collectables, you're in luck here. There are tons of collectables to find, coming in the form of pieces of paper with phone numbers on them, which you can call from the subway phone to get various hints and secrets. It's a nice touch, and adds a layer of depth for those willing to take the time to find them.
Overall, this is a very solid and original action FPS. Its story is one of the most interesting and engaging stories (albeit dark) that I've ever seen in a video game. If you're a fan of the FPS genre, and are into some exciting action with plenty of intense moments strewn about, then I can easily recommend this game.