If you're a fan of intense, visceral shooters, you should definitely give The Darkness a look.

User Rating: 8 | The Darkness X360
Over the years, numerous games have dealt with the subject of organized crime. And, of course, dozens have dealt with hellspawned demons and other similar forces of evil. The new first-person shooter from Starbreeze, though, may be the first game that tosses these two disparate elements into a single game, and, at least in the case of The Darkness, these are two great tastes that taste great together.

The Darkness is a story-driven game that casts you as Jackie Estacado, a mafia hitman whose 21st birthday is full of surprises, to put it mildly. The game begins with a knock-your-socks-off opening sequence in which Jackie wakes up in the back seat of a car to learn that things have just gone sour on an errand he and a few other guys were supposed to be running for Jackie's uncle Paulie, the local mob boss. A bit later that night, Jackie's trying to do what he can to make things right when he suddenly finds himself manifesting the powers of the Darkness, a mysterious and clearly evil force that takes shape in the form of two demon heads that sprout out of Jackie's shoulders. As the game progresses, things for Jackie will go from bad to worse, and as he's put through hell, he'll find that the Darkness is both friend and foe, and he will have to go to great lengths to control it while also harnessing its power to take revenge on some very bad cops and criminals. The game's first act is extremely compelling and powerful, and although the game's later stages never recapture that same level of intensity, the story is nonetheless unusual and interesting throughout.

The Darkness plays like your standard first-person shooter, with the powers that you acquire from the Darkness functioning as unusual and very enjoyable weapons. (It's worth noting that on the game's default difficulty setting, the aiming assistance is extremely helpful and the game is rather easy, but there are a nice range of customizability options to make things tougher for those who prefer a challenge.) Early on, you acquire the creeping dark, which lets you take control of this slithery thing to sneak through small areas, scout out areas ahead, and kill unsuspecting foes. You'll also get the demon arm, a large appendage you can use to impale bad guys (Satisfying!) and to throw objects around; the darkness guns, two powerful guns tbat fire dark energy; and the black hole, which sucks in and kills nearby enemies. You'll also be able to summon a few different types of demon helpers, called darklings, which you'll need to do to solve the occasional puzzle and who will also help you fight, but don't really have a huge effect on the game. All of these powers are in addition to the usual assortment of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and the like which you'll pick up off of your fallen enemies. If you use one of these guns on an enemy up-close, Jackie, killing machine that he is, will perform an extremely brutal execution move on him. All in all, the game's action is visceral and thrilling.

The Darkness also functions as a protective shield, so you'll want to keep it happy, and in order to do that you'll need to stay in the shadows, so you'll spend a fair amount of time destroying light sources. You'll also want to make the Darkness stronger, which you'll do by consuming the hearts of evildoers. Yep, that head on your right shoulder will tear right into your enemies' bodies time and time again to rip out and feast on their hearts. If you think this sounds needlessly gruesome, you should probably avoid The Darkness. If you think that sounds pretty cool, then there's a good chance this game is for you.

Most of The Darkness takes place in a pertetually nocturnal New York. When the game first begins and you're just starting to get your bearings, the city can seem quite large, but eventually you'll realize that there are only two subway stations and a handful of areas off of each one that you'll visit numerous times throughout the game. The backtracking in the game can get a bit tedious at times, especially since you'll sometimes find yourself just slowly walking through mostly empty environments trying to get from point A to point B. The city may not be massive, but the environments are richly detailed, and things like the moody lighting and the very authentic graffiti you see all over the place go a long way towards bringing the world to life. Perhaps nothing does this more, though, than the game's exceptionally lifelike characters. The people you meet don't just sound terrific. Every nuance of their facial expression, every gesture they make as they're speaking to you seems natural and fits perfectly with what they're saying. And although you're looking through Jackie's eyes throughout most of the game, the frequent loading times are masked by shots of Jackie, alone in a dark room, narrating his own story. This is a clever touch, and getting to know Jackie better as the game progresses helps pull you deeper into the story as you play. The game's sound is pretty great overall, too, with the voice acting being the highlight, although the mournful music and sound effects are definitely up to par, as well.

The Darkness offers online modes, but in contrast to the single-player experience they all seem downright ordinary and probably won't hold your attention for long. The single-player game will probably take most players about 12-15 hours to complete, and it packs more memorable moments than some games that are twice as long. If you're a fan of intense, visceral
shooters, you should definitely give The Darkness a look.