The Darkness for Xbox 360 is a mediocre game pretending to be an excellent one. Despite the fact that I’m completely aware of this, I still can’t decide which side I land on. It’s kind of like how George Bush is so obviously a bad guy, and yet, he gets by well enough on some sort of dopey charm. The Darkness was developed by Starbreeze, creators of the best thing Vin Diesel ever starred in: Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay for the original Xbox. There are some similarities to be found here: the concrete-to-everything-else ratio is still 10:1, the most unsuspecting weirdos all seem to need your help with something, and there are a ton of collectables – this time it’s in the form of phone numbers which you call at payphones to unlock concept art and full issues of the original comic.
Yes, The Darkness is based on the comic series of the same name. I’d never read it before, but the fact that I could barely read the text at 1080p tells me the developers did, and decided it was best to spare us. The story of the game itself is interesting enough, though, despite the fact I normally champion stories that have grey areas and questionable heroes, the plot here is a bit overbearing.
You play as Jackie Estacado, a 21-year-old gangster who was brought up by a New York City Mafia boss. He looks like half the attendees at I-Con if they had less Mountain Dew and more HGH in their diet. Unfortunately for Jackie, he is suddenly possessed by Mike Patton in the form of a demonic tentacle monster with a horrible case of bronchitis. Throughout the adventure you meet dirty cops, dirty gangsters, and even dirty undead Nazis. Aside from a particularly poignant scene in which Jackie watches To Kill a Mockingbird with his girlfriend, the entire game is about as bright as Don Corleone’s asshole.
The gameplay is standard first-person shooter fare with evil demon powers thrown in for good measure. You spend a lot of time helping out random folks in the subway with various problems that usually involve killing people. However, at one point a batshit-insane old lady had me collecting quarters she dropped in front of an oncoming train. Imagine the scene: you, waiting on the tracks so this crazy geezer can toss a handful of quarters and watch you scramble wildly for her own sadistic pleasure. All told, she spent about five dollars watching me attempt this feat, and all I got out of it was another unreadable comic book.
When I wasn’t being harassed by subway kooks, I was shooting people or raping them with slimy black tentacles. More often than not, I went the rape-route, as I found the shooting mechanics to be about as fun as threading a needle, not to mention swinging a big black cock around is a concept I hadn’t experienced in a game before. They’re usually white, and small, and Japanese.
When I investigated the cause of my aiming troubles, I came across an entire suite of tools for modifying my sensitivity. No less than four sliders allowed me to adjust a host of values I didn’t completely understand nor were documented in the instruction manual. If I wanted to mess with this stuff, I would have applied for a job at Starbreeze.
The questionable design choices don’t end there. A weird cover system exists in The Darkness which, if I were the developer, I’d give some fancy name like “Procedural Weapon/Noggin Concealment” and slap on the back of the box. In reality, it means that half the time you peak over an object to shoot someone, Jackie reaches over with his guns-and the other time he simply peaks his head out like an innocent groundhog. I found that armed gangsters weren’t phased by my attempts to stare them down, and they typically took the opportunity to play Jackie-mole with my exposed head.
These glitches and control issues were persistent, but I quickly found ways around them. One of your powers allows you to detach one of your slithering sausage monsters and perform remote kills safely from a distance. By the end of the game, I’d dispatched half the population of New York City with the little guy. Nothing like the hero cowering behind trash cans the entire game.
Despite all the awkwardness, I have to say I enjoyed my 10-12 hours of time with The Darkness. There were enough clever little moments to keep things interesting, especially if you can grab it for $20 or so. Just don’t touch the multiplayer modes. Online play feels like a practical joke, with characters barely animating, a complete lack of responsiveness, and everyone I played with wondering what they’d gotten themselves into. If you’re into story-driven shooters with a dark tone, you can look past all the silly gameplay quirks, and if you’ve already played the far-superior Riddick, I’d say The Darkness is a good rental or cheap buy.