As we continue to look at some of the titles that made our Top 30 Games of the Generation, Matt Reynolds tells us about one of his personal favourites; the underrated, beautifully twisted The Darkness. Read on…
Before its release, The Darkness was not on my radar. I kept reading previews in numerous magazines and nothing they were telling me gave me reason for excitement – I’d never even heard of the comics let alone read them, and the screenshots weren’t exactly setting my world on fire. June 2007 was a fairly barren month for new releases as is usually the case; so feeling the need for something new to play I took a punt on The Darkness, expecting to be fairly bored.
How wrong could I have been. At the end of this eight year-long generation, I still look back on The Darkness as one of its greatest moments. A first person shooter boasting a rich atmospheric world dripping with grim character; it was released to a gaming market that was yet to experience the narrative clout of Bioshock, the terror of Dead Space or the atmosphere of Deus Ex Human Revolution. The Darkness may not have been the first FPS to feature a strong narrative and memorable characters, but it was certainly one of the boldest, most complete and adult experiences to date.
The game tells the story of Mafia hitman Jackie Estacado; who is targeted for assassination by his boss (and uncle) Paulie Franchetti after a job goes badly wrong. The night happens to be the eve of Jackie’s 21st birthday; and as he comes of age a terrible, primal force is awakened within him. The Darkness (an unforgettable vocal performance by Faith No More singer Mike Patton) is a gleefully homicidal force of evil as old as time, and manifests itself as two monstrous, razor mouthed tentacles that sprout from Jackie’s back. They eviscerate the Mafia goons sent to kill Jackie, and he sets out to get his revenge on Paulie and discover the origins of his horrifying new powers. It will take him from the grimy streets of New York at night to the horrors of the first World War in a search for the black place where The Darkness lives.
The game’s setting of New York is dark, relentlessly grim, and haunting. Developer Starbreeze created a perfect noirish world for Jackie and populated it with brilliant characters. The members of Jackie’s Mafioso family might be clichés but they are knowingly so, and everyone is acted fantastically. In addition to the goons sent to kill him at every turn, Jackie has to deal with the wonderfully repulsive and corrupt police chief Eddie Shrote. Shrote is vile and commits an act in the game so unspeakable that you genuinely can’t wait to take him down. Balancing out these morally bankrupt figures is Jackie’s girlfriend Jenny. Starbreeze knew that in this sea of horror, the violence would be all the more brutal if tempered with moments of peace, and Jenny provides the calm in the eye of the storm. The famous scene where you can cuddle up with her and watch the entirety of To Kill a Mockingbird is rightly remembered for its brilliance. It makes the terrible events to come all the more powerful.
The game is not afraid to pull its punches – are their many other games you can name where the protagonist commits suicide as you watch helplessly? The violence is uncompromising and vicious, and as far as I know it was the first game to drop the c-bomb in its dialogue too. But there are plenty of moments where you can just wander the subways of New York talking to people, and there are little side quests to distract you that offer small side story moments. And the music – its amazing. In turns a haunting, ambient score and a blast-beat filled gothic metal feast; it compliments Jackie’s world perfectly. The graphics deserve a special mention too – although showing their age a bit now, for the time the character models and animation were super impressive.
The Darkness only reached number 27 on Low Fat Gaming’s games of the generation feature; but on my personal list it was number 3. Atmospheric, narrative-driven FPS have been common this generation, and some since have been slicker and better received, but for my money this game is right near the top of the pile. Sadly, and in my opinion, its 2012 sequel might have been more faithful to the original comic but in doing so lost practically everything that Starbreeze had made their own. It was a pale shadow of the first game that attempted to recreate the emotional story beats and failed. Luckily you can pick up the original game for around £3 now, and at that price you’d be mad not to if you’ve never had the (dis)pleasure. Its impact on the genre can’t be understated; and its like has not been seen since.
We might be on the cusp of a new generation and will likely not see another Darkness game, but I will forever hear that black, malevolently insane voice in my head…
– Matt Reynolds. He’s on Twitter @thelostmoment
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