The Darkness – “Chiaroscuro”
The first thing one notices when playing “The Darkness” is the incredibly stylized visual aspect of the game. It seems fair to assume that a game called “The Darkness” would be dark… but the game isn’t just dark, it’s pure darkness. The game starts of in New York City and it’s a shock to see every street, corner and alley so gloomy and absent of light, with only a few lamps bursting small, but bright, rays of light. But even those are not warm pleasant lights; they’re cold, dry white lights that contrast perfectly with the blackness that surrounds them. The result is similar to the “chiaroscuro” (“lightdark”) style photography that will reminisce with anyone who has ever seen a “Film-Noir” or a German expressionist film like “Nosferatu”. Though it’s a common technique in cinema, this is the first game that actually was able to emulate it on a game (and so many have tried), and for that fact it must be commended. The way the lighting shapes objects and scenarios is superb, thanks to the quality of the volumetric lighting engine and the sheer detail of the sets. Whether it’s the New York subways, with its grayish and slab tones, or the hellish land of the Darkness, engulfed in its dead brown and fiery red, every environment of the game feels unique and organic, pulsating with life and death.
The dark visuals fit perfectly as the counterpart to a story of corruption that transpires in the soul of one man: Jackie Estacado. Jackie is a “wise guy” from a crime family ruled by his Uncle Paulie, and on his 21st birthday, he’s possessed by a demon-like being called “The Darkness”. Coincidentally, on the same day, his uncle decides to have Jackie killed. “The Darkness” will agree to save Jackie by giving him power, but in return, will demand a significant price to pay. The story is beautifully crafted, filled with fatalism and dread; in a nutshell: it’s “The Godfather” meets “Faust”. Not a bad combination, is it? And though it’s based on a comic book, don’t expect a cookie-cutter plot; it’s not revolutionary, but it’s engaging and deep. Narrative develops through dialogs and cut-scenes where the player has control of the character (“a la” Half-Life 2); and this is where “The Darkness” shines really brightly, with character animations bordering life-like, thanks to one of the best motion capturing ever seen in games. Add great voice-acting, and the result is a series of emotionally powerful sequences that actually resonate with the player, and thus give a whole new level of dramatic impact to the plot.
As a FPS, “The Darkness” fares well: it’s not groundbreaking, it’s not perfect, but it is enjoyable. The main character can use a lot of guns, which feel extremely powerful, thanks to the care given to model and sound design. But apart from the ability to use of some cool finishing moves, gun use feels a bit formulaic and shallow. Adding spice into the mix, are the “darkness” powers that allow the disposal of enemies in a number of “unpleasant” ways. Stick a huge tentacle through your enemies’ bowels? Check. Summon a kamikaze imp to blow everything to smithereens? Check. Darkness powers are fun, and do a nice job of adding a touch of dark-humor to the otherwise serious tale. The downfall is that most powers don’t seem well implemented, and more than once in a while, their effect will be unpredictable, either because the controls aren’t responsive enough, or because the AI just doesn’t cut it.
Level Design is ok. Action sequences are balanced and straight-forward, allowing the game to flow smoothly. But, “The Darkness”, like the companies’ predecessor (“Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay”) also has a few RPG/adventure elements that add variety: speaking to characters, finding collectible items, and performing small quests are just a few of the possibilities. The problem here is that, unlike “Riddick”, levels are enormous in size, and usually, have little going on in most of their areas. This means, the aforementioned elements become long and somewhat boring fetch games filled with backtracking . So unlike “Riddick”, instead of helping the game, these elements end up hurting it.
Like its “Chiaroscuro”, “The Darkness” is game of contrast; on one hand, there’s a powerful and moving story, beautifully told through the sights and sounds of the game, and on the other, an uninspired game, that doesn’t show the same amount of care and production value as the rest of the package. All in all, it’s a great game for those who don’t mind suffering some uninspired shooting to appreciate some great artistic design and a cinematic narrative. So if you don’t belong in this group, then forget about “The Darkness”, but if you do… embrace it.