It's not often that a computer game crosses over into blog-worthy material, but The Darkness goes against that by being a cross between crime and horror, a genre combination that's a semi-obsession of mine. Mostly because I'm trying to write a novel that does just that, but also because I think the two genres are a natural mix.
And it's a not-so-sneaky way for me to plug my article running in issue 19 of Crimespree Magazine, titled 'Crime+Horror=Thriller'.
From Wikipedia: In modern day New York City, Jackie Estacado is a young Mafia hitman just turning 21, and finds himself the victim of an assassination attempt orchestrated by the don, his "Uncle" Paulie. Surviving the explosion meant to kill him as he crashes through a window, Jackie begins planning his revenge. A voice in his head manifests, calling itself "The Darkness", and demonstrates the power it has over Jackie by controlling his body and enabling him to use supernatural appendages and powers to violently eliminate all of the hitmen sent to make sure that he was dead.
In terms of both genres, you can see that the premise is filled to the brim with stereotypes. Mafia hitmen and demonic supernatural powers all exist within one young man that just happens to wear a long black leather coat and has long black flowing hair. On the surface, it seems fairly straightforward, but the presentation of the whole makes the game hang together beautifully.
The voice of the demonic presence known as 'The Darkness' is none other than Mike Patton of Faith No More, Mister Bungle and probably too many other side projects for me to name. Patton has possibly the most demented control over his vocal chords in the world, save for the Satanic bluesman himself, Tom Waits. Patton's voice isn't the only one that's top notch. The main character, Jackie, strikes just the right note of tough and cool, New York, 'I don't give a fuck' style ever heard in a computer game.
And I must give points for a great start to the dialogue: "I remember the night of my 21st birthday. That was the first time I died." Another happy line comes in the form: "Is there a way out of this fucking cemetery?"
Graphics are suitably moody and (dare I say it?) dark, with the demonic tentacles that represent Jackie's supernatural powers slithering menacingly all over the screen, making you feel as if they are growing out of your own shoulders as you walk around the neighbourhood laying waste to all the mafia types that get in your way.
I'm only part of the way into the game, but I'm told that the story hangs together well, which is a difficult thing to do in a computer game. You want to give the player a feeling of freedom, but not too much. The Darkness does well here because the player is forced to feel what the main character is going through by using a solid and immersive first person perspective.
The story is fleshed out with a third person voice over where we see Jackie gesticulate in time to his speech over a more than decent soundtrack. And something I haven't seen done in a computer game before: they put the effort in to make you care for the characters before they're killed.
Okay, I'll admit I'm a gamer. Not obsessively so, but a definite regular. What pulls this game above the rest is the attention the makers have put into creating an actual story. I'm tempted to say it's one of the finest examples of interactive fiction I've ever come across.
Gamers, go buy it. Readers and writers, see if you can look into it, as long as you don't mind a game that allows the player to devour still-beating hearts from victims.