April 1, 2009

Complete: The Darkness

The Darkness was one of first 360 games I bought, but I didn't get very far in it to begin with, but I finally finished it last month. It was a rarity for me though, while I found the gameplay interesting, it didn't strike me as all that gripping, luckily it was made up for with its excellent story. There will be spoilers here, as the story is what I mainly want to talk about.

The Darkness is a game that is based on a comic. Jackie Estacado is the main character, he is a hitman for the New York mafia with a heart of gold. Uncle Paulie, the mafia's don, is Jackie's boss, and a very unscrupulous man. Jackie is returning from a hit, he is betrayed by Uncle Paulie and a high speed car chase ensues, ending in a crash, with Jackie narrating that the event was "the first time he died".

Jackie wakes up in a cemetery and finds that he is the host to a supernatural being known as The Darkness that gives him inhuman powers of regeneration and other abilities while Jackie is standing in darkness. These powers are shown off in an empowered first person cutscene showing destruction done by The Darkness in first person. The gameplay mixes using those supernatural powers, be it by skewering enemies with a tendril of The Darkness's, or sending out one of The Darkness's hungry mouths to bite people's faces off. I thought the gunplay was a little lacking, and mostly I was using bullets as light switches to ensure Jackie's Darkness powers were available. You also have the ability to summon minions to do battle for you, but they seemed far too stupid to ever be of any help to me.

I should point out here that the voice work for the game is amazingly done. The real standout character is The Darkness himself, he's voiced by Mike Patton(of Faith No More, Tomahawk and even Portal fame) and is just the perfect evil sound. Jackie is narrating the game during loading screens as you play, and it's actually interesting hearing what he has to say, as it fleshes out the game's backstory a little further. I really wish more games would put at least some sort of content into loading screens, beyond turning them into elevator rides.

Shortly after Jackie leaves the cemetery, where Jackie hides his predicament from his girlfriend Jenny and relaxes on a couch watching tv with her. What made this payoff emotionally was that shortly afterwards, Jackie is forced to watch while Jenny is murdered by Uncle Paulie and a corrupt police chief. The Darkness is holding Jackie back, stopping him from saving her. Directly afterwards, Jackie pulls a Romeo and commits suicide in an effort to end his emotional suffering and rid The Darkness of his host.

Jackie is resurrected, but he is now in hell, where The Darkness has complete control over him. Here, Jackie actually gains more powers, but has to fight The Darkness to regain control and return to the world of the living to get revenge on Uncle Paulie. As Jackie starts to pursue his goal of revenge, he goes on a murderous killing spree of Uncle Paulie's henchmen, with The Darkness sometimes taking control, with more cutscenes showcasing just how powerful he makes Jackie. At the end, Jackie is holding a gun to Uncle Paulie's head while he begs for his life and The Darkness coaxes Jackie on. As he pulls the trigger, he surrenders himself completely to The Darkness and the game begins a final dream sequence. This is a touching sequence that is mirroring the moment that Jackie and Jenny shared on the couch at the beginning of the game, and actually brought a tear to my eye as the game faded to black.

I've never been much of an advocate for story in games, seeing them mostly as a tacked-on addition, but this one showed me that when story is done right, it can be very rewarding.


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