The Darkness is quite possibly the best example of immersion in video games ever seen. Once you're sucked in, it won't pull its tendrils out of you, and I wouldn't want it any other way. From exploring the beautifully rendered New York, to taking the subways, to just watching entire movies on televisions simply because that's your prerogative, The Darkness does a lot to bring you into its world with astounding success.
Outstanding immersion isn't all that's here, though. The Darkness is a video game, after all, and it's a damn good one. You take the role of Jackie Estacado; a tough guy mobster, with a sense of humor, and by the game's end, some serious issues. On the night of his 21st birthday, his mob boss uncle Paulie decides the world would be a better place without him in it, and attempts to assassinate Jackie. Things don't go according to plan, however, and that's where this game's narrative picks up. After an ancient being awakens to possess him and give him powers, of course.
Enter The titular Darkness. A being as old as time that takes hold of Jackie and refuses to let go. It's initially unknown to Jackie why this being has decided to use him as its host, but spending time through the lengthy campaign will reveal the truth to Jackie, parallel to his attempts at exacting his justifiable revenge.
The character of The Darkness is a wonderfully eerie one, and a sight to behold. I've never seen anything quite like it achieved in an FPS game, and the mechanics working around it are implemented wonderfully. With The Darkness as your possessor, you gain powers to aid you in battle and exploration, along with the interesting gun-play. Jackie moves slowly across the screen in comparison to other action games, but this was done for the sake of realism. He doesn't sprint across the screen at 200mph, ala Doom or Vice City, and for what the game is trying to achieve, it works out well, though it can sometimes make exploration feel as if it's dragging on a tad bit too long. The gun-play is also heavily aim assisted, to the point where headshots are more commonplace than anything else you'll achieve by shooting the relatively small arsenal of weapons, but Call of Duty this game is not, and it never aimed to be. The Darkness isn't about its shooting mechanics. It's about its narrative and the adventure you partake in.
The Darkness powers lend themselves well to different strategies you can implement throughout the 12 to 16 hour campaign. You can creep around as Darkness manifested tendrils from a third person view to get the element of surprise on your enemies to achieve stealth kills, or to solve intelligently designed puzzles. After any kill you achieve, it's strongly advised that you (brace yourself for this one) press a button to eat your enemy's hearts. This. Is. Awesome. It also has a couple of useful benefits, such as increasing how long you can use certain Darkness powers, or even gaining new ones.
You also have the ability to rip through space/time to summon black holes, that swallow enemies at the cost of a lot of the Darkness' power. It's a great dynamic, as it's strongly advised to always keep your Darkness tendrils out during combat, as they not only give you the ability to use these powers, but act as a shield, effectively giving you the ability to sustain much more damage than you normally would.
Along with these black holes, creeping around, and other Darkness powers come amazing visual effects for the time. From screen distortion, to an almost cel-shaded lighting effect when you're enveloped in Darkness (something that's also strongly advised, so be prepared to obsessively shoot out every last light you see in the game) the game is certainly no visual slouch. The motion captured actors and rag-doll physics certainly don't hurt either. This is one of the single best looking games that came from the mighty 2007 gaming year, and the atmosphere shines through these visuals.
The game constantly feels dark and cold. Quite appropriate, given the subject matter. Cold color tones were used to great effect, people move realistically with convincing weight distribution and animation, their faces can appear worn and worrisome. It's a dreary game, and this tone never lets up. Rather than questioning this design choice, it absolutely ended up immersing me even more into this game's world.
The sound design isn't lacking either. You'll hear everything from a range of hardcore metal tracks to melodic, mood setting, ambient tracks. The sound effects are appropriately gruesome, and the voice acting is top-notch. In fact, the voice work in this game, at least for its time, was probably the best around, as the actors used play their parts perfectly.
The Darkness is a dreary FPS adventure, with a strong focus on narrative and atmosphere. It succeeds in most everything it tries to do, and I would recommend this title to anyone. It's a shame it's as overlooked as it is today.