The Darkness ReviewJoe Shaffer
I wish I could say that The Darkness bears one or two issues. That would simplify reviewing it, because then all of my points would flow from one or two ideas rather than form a list of arbitrary grievances. Unfortunately the game suffers from multiple flaws, many of which are not quite interconnected. The best I can do to associate them is say that The Darkness is a victim of poor development choices.
I won't say that entire experience is a tour from one maligned concept to the next, as there were a few points in the game I appreciated. For instance, I loved the opening scene, riding shotgun in a vehicle while tearing through a tunnel and peeling cap after cap. It was an intense, cinematic gunfight, one that ended with Hollywood-style explosions, bloodshed, and calamity. That pales in comparison, though, to a huge shootout towards the end of the game in which you and several characters are holed up in an apartment while a horde of mobsters storm the premises. You'll knock out windows and gun down groups of gangsters while avoiding sprays of bullets. Part of what makes this scene unique and entertaining is that you can't rely on the game's gimmicky super power, which is what separates it from other FPSs. While this sounds like a drawback, it's actually quite liberating. That statement alone speaks volumes about the rest of the game.
The Darkness's main draw is that you're equipped with soul-consuming demonic powers, as is detailed in the comic series the game is based on. Extended from either of your shoulders are two serpentine beasts that draw their power from darkness itself and allow you execute some neat tricks. For instance, you can control of one of the heads and send it silently slithering a fair distance away. This allows you to scope out areas, flip out of reach switches, and even stealth kill opponents. From there, you can tear into their chest cavities and devour their hearts. Gobbling up these delectable muscles is akin to gaining experience in an RPG. With a certain number of them eaten, your powers will increase in effectiveness.
While the powers you attain are pretty cool, they actually serve as The Darkness's undoing. For starters, they rob many of the game's scenarios of challenge. Unlike abilities in most titles, this one doesn't have stringent requirements for restoring it like farming power ups. All you have to do is sit in the shadows and wait. Not only does this refill your powers, but grants you infinite use of them while you remain in the darkness. This means you can summon minions and send out the serpentine killers without much consequence. In fact, you can resolve just about any gunfight by stealth killing every opponent in the vicinity. All you have to do is destroy any and all nearby lights and hide behind an obstruction. Most of the enemies will not pursue you save for one or two who can be easily gunned down. From there you can send out the a demonic serpent and pick off any remaining foes, as most of them will hang around waiting for you to show your face.
Thanks to shoddy AI, enemies fail to notice obvious occurrences around them, even if you leave a few lights intact. They're somehow oblivious to a giant shadowy snake-demon approaching them, and are similarly out to lunch as all of their friends mysteriously die one by one. Never mind that something is ripping their hearts from their chests while they scream in agony. It's nothing important.
Right about now you're probably thinking that I should have left this easily exploitable system alone and just gunned down all of my opponents for added challenge. The only problem is that the shooter elements are not quite so fine tuned. Aiming alone is a huge problem, what with stiff control response on the prowl. Because of this, It takes ages for you to move your reticle onto a target, something that should be done with ease. To compensate for his mishap, the game auto-aims when you move the reticle close enough. This can throw you off and cause you to overshoot your target. What's more is it deprives the game of free and fluid combat. Action sequences would have moved smoother had you been able to aim unassisted and with proper control response.
Because of the stunted shooter elements, you wind up defaulting to the overpowered Darkness abilities more often than not. It's not only easier, but less frustrating and not as mechanically broken.
As if those issues weren't enough, The Darkness comes with a collection of smaller flaws that exacerbate the already irksome experience. For instance, the two demonic heads become irritating after a while. They tend to have their own personalities that like to hog the screen, obstructing your view and sometimes leaving you vulnerable because you can't properly see your targets. They especially love to do this when noshing on hearts, which is a repeated action in this game. It all gets old before too long.
Another nuisance involves destroying lights. In most FPSs, you only do this while messing around. In The Darkness, you perform this action all of the time. While it's neat that destroying lights serves a purpose here, it's annoying that you go through the entire game destroying lights every few seconds to a couple minutes just to maintain your abilities.
Destroying lights is still small potatoes compared to the annoyance of poor level design, especially as it pertains to finding destinations. While stages are amazingly detailed and carry a rich, dark atmosphere, they're mostly confusing to navigate. Some of them, like a stage referred to as "The Trenches," require you to wander ad nauseam until you happen upon your objective. Urban stages are much worse, providing you with directions to your next objective by giving you specific street and business names as you if you are a citizen of the game. I spent over an hour wandering the streets early on trying to find one damn restaurant. The least they could have done was provide a mini-map and a beacon to follow, but nooooo!
Throughout The Darkness you will wander, swear at the stupid demon heads as they block your view, curse the terrible shooter mechanics, and sigh as you grow tired of ending battle after battle with the same strategy. Deep down, though, you know there's a solid action title buried under the mountain of flaws. It's not the concepts that make The Darkness a painful game, but their implementation. With improved AI, less confusing stage design, solid mechanics, and a stiffer challenge, this game could have proudly carried the dark shooter torch once held by games like Doom and Quake. I've heard tell that such a game exists, though, and it's called The Darkness II.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.