Game On

Dim and Dimmer: The Darkness could stand to lighten up a little

The last hour of The Darkness is exactly what the game should have been from its opening moments: a magnificent, bloodthirsty mix of firepower and hellish wrath. Playing the role of Jackie Estacado—a hit man who inherited demonic powers via a family curse—you will spend the game's final act unleashing hell on those who've wronged you, knowing full well that as you give in to those powers of revenge, you're only damning yourself further. It's gloomy, morbid and even a little deep—but it takes way too damned long to get there.

You'd be forgiven for giving up on The Darknesslong before things get interesting; the majority of the game ranges from monotonous to unremarkable. It's barely worth a rental.

The action begins as Jackie discovers his "gift" on his 21st birthday. Initially only a voice in his head, "the Darkness" eventually takes form as a series of serpentine, razor-sharp tendrils that extend from Jackie's back and, frequently, into the flesh of hapless Mafia foes. Naturally, the Darkness withers in the light, so you'll spend much of the game carefully moving from shadow to shadow, blasting away at your opposition.

Not now. I'm brooding.
Not now. I'm brooding.

You'd think this would make for some interesting gameplay scenarios. In reality, not so much. Occasional action sequences hint at how a little creativity could've done wonders—at one point, Jackie's enemies stage a floodlight ambush to sap his powers—but most of the game is spent making sure everything's always sufficiently dark. Walking down the street? You'd better shoot out the streetlights. Entering a building? Blast the lights. Journeying to Hell itself, a nightmarish vision of World War I-era trench warfare eternally fought by walking corpses? Yes, you're still shooting out the lights.

Aside from being a chore that quickly becomes tedious, all of this lamp-leveling makes for a very dark game. The Darkness' entire color palette—not counting the frequent arterial sprays—is made up purely of grays, blacks and browns. It's a shame because the graphics are great: Finely detailed and carefully drawn, the visuals often look more like panels from a graphic novel than scenes from a video game. There are some nice flourishes here and there—watching your toothy appendages fight over a slain enemy's heart is straight-up awesome—but not enough to change the fact that a game set in shadows sounds cooler than it looks. It's all just so damned dreary.

Also contributing to the tedium are your travels around the city. Except for its version of Hell, The Darkness takes place in a weirdly vacant Manhattan. Though you're told where to go next, you're never told how to get there. So if you're, say, looking for a restaurant, you must wander the brown and gray streets like a tourist, looking for signs—an exercise that quickly grows boring, if not futile.

And it gets worse: The enemies you encounter aren't especially dangerous. There are no real bosses to fight. And then there's Jackie himself: a vaguely annoying, unsympathetic character whose black trench coat and whispered dialogue will play well with the Goth crowd and nobody else. Throw in an ill-conceived multiplayer mode that, bizarrely, removes all the stay-in-the-shadows gameplay as well as your best powers, and you're left with the most routine online shooter in years. Spend a little time with The Darkness, and you'll be dimming the lights for bedtime.

The Darkness from 2K Games for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Price: $59.99. ESRB Rating: M (for Mature). Score: 6 (out of 10).

 
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