Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Xbox 360 - The Darkness - Two Hours In

The Darkness, an Xbox 360 game I picked up recently, is a first-person shooter with a horror twist. The player steps into the shoes of Jackie Estacado, a mob enforcer who's in trouble with his boss Uncle Paulie over a botched collection job. But Jackie has been possessed by The Darkness, a spirit creature that gives him the power to destroy his enemies with a variety of demonic abilities.

The portion I've played involves the immediate aftermath of the snafu'd collection, Uncle Paulie's attempts to kill him, his possession by The Darkness, and his flight to his girlfriend's apartment.

Gameplay is pretty standard shooter fare, plus the demonic powers that draw their strength from darkness (so shoot out the lights!). The demonic powers are pretty nifty and include the ability to summon and direct hell-spawned imps, to see in the dark, to send a demon snake to spy on enemies and kill them, and snake-headed tentacles that can dispatch enemies at close range. Life is the now-standard automatic recovery when not taking damage, so there are no health-packs to worry about. It's competently done.

The graphics are, as is now standard in a current-gen title, very pretty, with all the little details one has come to expect in today's games. Sound is exceptionally good, particularly the voicework and the distorted voice of The Darkness.

But is it scary? Not so much. Scary is being afraid that something horrible out there in the dark or fog is going to get you. Scary is having to open the door into the room with all the wet noises coming from it, knowing that you'll probably be the next wet noise if you do. Scary is feeling hot breath on the back of your neck and feeling drool drip onto your shoulders as something prepares to slurp you down whole. Scary is not being the ghostie or ghoulie or long-legged creepie that's going to get the poor human. Fun it might be, but not frightening.

So is it fun? It's okay but not great. There's a certain amount of enjoyment to be had from taking down cocky thugs with the powers of darkness, but there's a kind of grimness to it that puts a damper on. Perhaps I've been spoiled by being the Overlord in Overlord and the Alien in Aliens vs. Predator, but I found being evil in those games far more enjoyable than in this one.

What's left? The story. I found the story (two stories, actually - not really related to each other) somewhat interesting. It is at least engaging enough that I will play again, if only to see how Jackie's conflict with Uncle Paulie plays out, and to learn more about The Darkness.

The Darkness is a competently produced and directed shooter with a supernatural horror twist that is interesting to play mostly for its pair of stories. I don't know that I'd pay full price for it if I had it to do again, but it's certainly worth a rental to see if it's your cup of tea, and perhaps picking up when the price drops in a year or two.

Grade: B

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