It's not an exaggeration to say The Darkness has looked better every time we've seen it. That's not to imply it ever looked bad to begin with, but after developer Starbreeze set the quality bar so high with its last game, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, we've been expecting a lot from this new game based on the sinister Top Cow comic series of the same name. Publisher 2K Games has trotted out the same three-level demo of The Darkness several times during the past few months, all of which was set in similar areas of New York City and consequently left us wondering what other, more disturbing surprises the game would have in store. Now that we've seen some of the grislier and more stirring scenes from later in the game, we're more excited than ever to finally play through it at the end of June.
As a quick refresher, the game casts you as Jackie Estacado, a young mob hit man who's coming of age to find he's being screwed over by his uncle Paulie (along with some help from a corrupt police captain and several other shady characters). But Jackie's got a secret that will help him fight back. He possesses the Darkness--or maybe it's more accurate to say that the Darkness possesses him. At any rate, Jackie has a malevolent dark presence that, in practical terms, means he's got a couple of gnarly demon-snake heads jutting out of his shoulders that can rip apart his enemies and give him all sorts of cool powers. These include picking up heavy objects with a giant tentacle and creating a black hole that will basically delete his enemies from existence. Jackie even has command over the darklings, a group of darkly humorous creatures that will visit all sorts of unpleasantness on the mobsters and other bad guys that get in your way. Naturally, the only catch here is that you'll only have full use of these powers when you stick to the shadows.
Previously, we only saw selected sequences from earlier in the game when Jackie was just discovering his Darkness-given powers and fighting uncle Paulie's thugs. According to 2K, you'll spend about three-fifths of the game in New York City, taking on not only your uncle's goons but also some very corrupt members of New York's finest. (In fact, we got to see one particularly rousing ambush scene involving the NYPD's finest that we can't show you just yet.) But the remainder of the game will be spent in a place called the Otherworld, which is located, well, somewhere else. We're not sure if it's an alternate dimension, a dream world, or purgatory. But we do know it's an unpleasant place from what we've seen of it so far.
The Otherworld is styled after what 2K refers to as "a never-ending world war." In practical terms, this hellish environment seems to be modeled after a mixture of both World Wars I and II because you'll see both trench fighting and wide-open battlefields that stare off into a murky, featureless abyss. Your enemies look vaguely Nazi-esque, judging from their uniforms, but closer inspection reveals that their faces and bodies are stitched together from disparate pieces of flesh. The segment of the Otherworld we got to see didn't involve any environmental puzzles, as we've seen in the New York areas, just a lot of killing these zombie soldiers. But you will have your Darkness powers at your disposal. For example, we saw a segment where one power--which involves using a Darkness head as a stealthy camera that can climb up walls and kill silently--came in especially handy while infiltrating an enemy bunker. Interestingly, you'll be fighting alongside allies in different-colored uniforms who also appear to be created from body parts à la Frankenstein's monster. But again, we're not sure how they figure into the storyline just yet.
While we don't know what the Otherworld is exactly, we do have a good idea of how Jackie ends up there--but 2K has respectfully asked us not to spill all of the game's secrets just yet. Suffice it to say that Jackie will have some nice catastrophic events to deal with during the course of the game's storyline. In fact, from what we've seen, this is one of the more creatively violent and downright disturbing games in recent memory. But that shouldn't be surprising because Riddick had its share of shankings, broken necks, and so on.
Starbreeze continues to apply little touches to The Darkness that are fully bringing it in line with the studio's last impressive outing, at least in the areas of graphics and presentation. More subtle motion blurs and lighting effects have been added, which amounts to one of the nicer-looking Xbox 360 games we've seen yet. There's a lot more we'd like to say about the game, but that will have to wait for a few more days. Considering the game seems on track to meet its late-June release in just over three weeks, you'll get to check it out for yourself soon enough anyway. In the meantime, don't forget to read a new Q&A with Starbreeze conducted by our sister site, GameSpot Australia.