The Darkness will soon be plopped into PS3s and Xbox 360s around the world. You can expect a review from us very soon, but in the meantime, we had the pleasure to have the game personally demonstrated to us by the enthusiastic Jens Andersson, lead designer from developer Starbreeze Studios. He showed us the first level of the game in action, which he said was mostly finished, and here are our impressions.
Note: Minor spoilers from the first level ahead. Read at your own risk.
What begins as a seemingly by-the-numbers tale of mob revenge quickly turns into something more eerie and otherworldly. The game opens with a mafia heist-gone-wrong. You’re sitting in the backseat of a speeding convertible. In the front, two fellow gangsters discuss the robbery and the consequences of their failure. Their conversation is laced with well-used profanity and detailed motion-captured facial expressions.
As the two gangsters in the front weave through traffic, you’re free to scrutinize the streets of New York that you’re dangerously being led through. The game looks absolutely fantastic. Using a modified version of the engine that powered the stellar Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (check out our Xbox and PC reviews), the designers at Starbreeze have once again proven that they can really make eye-catching games.
During the casual conversation between the gangsters in the front and the protagonist Jackie, a long-haired gangster celebrating his 21st birthday, we learn that we are being driven to a mafia execution. These hardened Mafioso are on their way to a construction site to kill four people that their boss wants whacked. But, along the way, the police interfere and you become involved in a deadly chase through the tunnels. You quickly move to the front seat after the gangster in the passenger seat gets his head demolished while leaning out a window and slamming his face against the backend of a truck.
This opening sequence is brief, but it’s intense and feels like something out of an action movie. This sets the stage for the rest of the game, which is something faster paced than The Chronicles of Riddick, as there’s more of an emphasis on gunplay than stealthy neck-snapping.
Despite this difference in gameplay, Andersson said “[Starbreeze Studios] tried to take a lot from The Chronicles of Riddick.” This can be seen when Jackie mysteriously gains the powers of Darkness. While Andersson had no problems taking down armed construction men with the help of dual pistols, these powers elevated The Darkness to something more than a gritty mob tale. Jackie now has two demons at his side, but they can’t be used in light, which is similar to Riddick, where illumination was the weakness of the main character. These “two friends,” as Andersson referred to them, can scout ahead, viciously attack foes, and they have no problem devouring the hearts of the evil men they kill to power up.
In this brief display, we also saw the Darkness powers summon another creature, which not only helped push aside a car that was blocking the way, but also attacks anybody that wants to hurt Jackie. This vile creature can also be assigned to move to certain locations, similar to squad mates in tactical shooters. These Darkness powers certainly were interesting, but the display of them was brief, so whether or not they can sustain the potential that they showed in the first level will have to be seen in the final review.
Jens Andersson stressed the fact that although the action is hyped by most media outlets, adventure/RPG elements plays a vital role in The Darkness, much like in The Chronicles of Riddick. There will be side quests to compliment the gore and violence. Side quests are handled in an interesting way: you collect telephone numbers around the world and then use public telephones to call the number and gain a reward. You will also be able to return to any area to collect previously missed phone numbers (there are 150 in all) via an intricate subway system.
Starbreeze has taken an anti-cutscene route to storytelling in The Darkness. Storytelling will be conducted through a visual narrative with the player interacting with the storyline rather than sitting passively and absorbing it. To make the world seem even more believable, random televisions are occasionally scattered about the indoor levels and Jackie can tune in to a variety of programs, including several full Flash Gordon episodes and music videos for Swedish rock bands.
Much of this preview has been filled with comparisons to Riddick, which might not be totally fair. The Darkness definitely seems unique enough to stand out from its predecessor, partially because Andersson said that Starbreeze has learned from the two main problems their previous game. First, the length of the game has been doubled, to roughly 12-15 hours. Also, multiplayer has thankfully been implemented. Andersson described the multiplayer mode as “simple,” but it sounds incredibly effective. Expect traditional deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes. Where The Darkness differentiates itself is with a “shapeshifter” mode. In this gameplay mode, players will be able to change their character’s skin at will – a human can transform into a demon and vice versa. You’ll never be able to easily tell who is friendly and who isn’t, which should prove very interesting. Andersson said the game can be played with teams or with a free-for-all.
Our look at The Darkness left us wanting more, mainly because the incredible opening sequence started things with a bang, and the look at the mysterious powers was far too brief to get a total feel for its capabilities. Look back to us soon for a full review of the The Darkness.