It was always obvious that The Darkness were going to be a fad band; Justin Hawkins’s high pitched whiny voiced simply wasn’t meant to listened to for years to come. It’s a bit odd that Starbreeze decided to create a gothic first person shooter featuring the long haired hippy, seeing that the group disbanded in 2006. What’s that? It’s based on a cult comic book? Ah, right.
Although only just out of his teens, the trench coat wearing Jackie Estacado already has a reputation for being one of the New York mafia’s best hitmen. Things don’t go quite to plan on his 21st birthday, however, the game starting off with an awe-inspiring car chase in a busy tunnel. Not long after that Jackie learns a dark secret: there’s something evil living in his genes. It’s bad news for him; this evil deforms his body causing him to sprout snake-like tentacles and fills his head with satanic whispers. It’s good news for us though: these tentacles are a whole lot of fun to use.
One handy trick is the ability to send one slithering along the floor to chew on the heads of unaware enemies. While using this skill you can also unlock doors from the inside, pick up new weapons and items and scout ahead. Later more skills become available such as a demonic arm that can be used to smash stuff up, while gremlin-like critters can be summoned to carry out tasks. They speak in a high-pitched tone and some of their snippets are amusing, which goes a long way to adding some humour. The rest of the game is usually very dark and morbid in tone – get up close to an enemy and you can carry out an execution, like sticking a pistol under their chin and pulling the trigger. And then you can rip their heart out and devour it to gain strength. Yummy.
It’s far from a mindless blaster – in some sections, such as catching the tube to go from one part of the city to another, weapons and the darkness cannot be drawn. Even when you can use the darkness, you have to make sure there aren’t any bright light around or it’ll weaken. Objects like telephones can be interacted with too and – believe it or not – there are actual full length programs being shown on the TVs dotted around. Sitting back and watching a full episode of Flash Gordon or some ancient black and white cartoons is a pleasure in itself.
It’s this sort of attention to detail that really makes The Darkness stand out. There are loads of surprises (spoiler: how does a trip back to World War II sound?), the set-pieces occur when you least expect them and the difficulty curve is nicely pitched. It’s a hard game, but never unfairly so and the menu screen provides clues on what to do next if you get stuck. The graphics are excellent too – nice and sharp and packed with detail. The street art painted around the environments are a particular highlight.
The online mode has clearly had a lot of tinkering with, feeling almost like a completely different game from the main story mode. The characters run faster and jump higher, and the music is louder and more upbeat. Capture the flag seems to be the most popular game type, although there’s also a mode where you can change from human to darkling on the fly. The darklings run at a fair old pace, but are weak and have poor attacks. They can’t use guns either. Rounds seem curiously short, although this does mean that you can get a fair few in before bed time. Just try not to have nightmares.