The Darkness: The best of 2000s “edge”


Tiger Media Network

Warning: This article will contain some spoilers for the story of “The Darkness.”

The term “edgy” is one of those words thrown around that, for the most part, is seen as a complete negative. There was a certain era of video games that prided themselves on being edgy and cool, and more often than not, took themselves way too seriously. Those games were cringy at best, and laughable at worst, usually suffering from cringy tough guy dialogue, hilariously shallow characters trying their best to seem cool, or color pallets about as bright as a 14-year-old emo’s wardrobe. There’s also the type of game that is so unbelievably dark and edgy that it becomes completely miserable, devoid of any semblance of fun or enjoyment other games of its caliber may have. Either way, it’s easy to understand why edgy has become somewhat of a faux pas nowadays. 

That being said, there are also games with an undeniably edgy tone and deposition, but are still able to have interesting characters, a worthwhile story, and provide a fun experience despite very bleak and depressing moments. To me, there is really no other game that captures this feeling better than “The Darkness.” 

A first-person shooter based on the comic book of the same name, “The Darkness” is often seen as a forgotten gem. Most people who played, despite some issues on the control side, have enjoyed the experience, but it has sadly been largely forgotten by the general public, no doubt in part due to the lack of a PC port. It’s a genuine shame, because “The Darkness,” despite some issues, is still a fantastic experience that makes the best of its gritty and bleak setting, featuring memorable performances and characters and a unique take on the first-person genre and crime fiction. It really is one of the best examples of the 2000s “edge.” 

Release and additional info: 

  • Released in June of 2007 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, never receiving a PC port
  • Developed by Starbreeze Studios, best known for “The Chronicles of Riddick” games, and published by 2K.
  • Based on the comic book series “The Darkness,” published by Top Crow Productions, part of Image Comics (Known for “Invincible,” “The Walking Dead” and “Saga”).
  • Followed by “The Darkness II” in 2012

Taking place in New York City, “The Darkness” focuses on Jackie Estacado, a hitman working for the New York Mafia, specifically the Franchetti Crime Family, led by Jackie’s “Uncle” Paulie Franchetti. On his 21st birthday, however, Jackie is attacked by Paulie who, out of sheer paranoia that he would try and take his place as the Don, orders a hit on Jackie’s life. Shortly afterward, Jackie is possessed by the Darkness, a malevolent entity that has been in his family for generations, granting him supernatural powers but asserting harsh control over him. Using these newfound powers, Jackie, with backing from various members of the mafia who see Paulie as a liability, begins undermining his operations. In retaliation, Paulie bombs the orphanage Jackie grew up in, and murders his childhood girlfriend Jenny Romano. Bent on revenge, Jackie begins targeting Paulie and his allies, including corrupt police captain Eddie Schrote, all while slowly learning to control the Darkness, rather than being its puppet. 

The story of “The Darkness” can be best described as “The Sopranos” meets “Constantine,” and that’s about as awesome as it sounds. Despite its premise, the game is surprisingly grounded and realistic in its approach, particularly when it comes to its portrayal of the mob. Every character present here, from members of the mafia to someone just sitting in the Subway, feel like real people, with Jackie’s relationship with Jenny being one of the most realistic portrayals of a relationship I’ve seen in a video game. Jackie himself is a fantastic main character, definitely helped by a great vocal performance from actor Kirk Acevedo. Even if he may look painfully edgy on the service, Jackie is a genuinely compelling and likable protagonist who you want to see succeed, especially as more terrible things happen to him. The scene where he is forced to watch Jenny get brutally killed by Paulie is an absolutely gut-wrenching moment, and one that gives even greater motivation to killing Paulie. Paulie himself is cartoonishly despicable, being this psychotic and paranoid mob boss who you can’t wait to see dead by the game’s end. 

There’s also the Darkness itself, a genuinely menacing presence who continually taunts Jackie, asserting its dominance over him, while also still relying on Jackie and his skills as a hitman. The entity is propelled exponentially by a fantastic vocal performance from Mike Patton, lead singer of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, whose vocal prowess really shines as he gives the Darkness a demonic, supernatural edge. There are also some really great side characters, including the foul-mouthed but well-meaning older mobster Jimmy the Grape, and mob cleaner Butcher Joyce, who, despite saying he doesn’t take sides, helps Jackie throughout. Aunt Sally, an older and much-respected member of the Mob, is also a highlight. 

The more realistic tone of this game is captured perfectly with the world present. Starbreeze really went out of their way to perfectly capture New York City. This is really shown in how you have to traverse the city. In between levels, several sections require Jackie to go to specific streets, or get off on specific subway trains, and instead of a map or an indicator, players must follow road signs and directional posts, like how New Yorkers actually would. On one hand, it’s a very frustrating and tedious design choice that makes navigating the area a bit of a pain. But on the other hand, it adds so much to the game’s world and atmosphere, and it does feel really gratifying when you can find your way on your own. 

Of course, these sections are nicely contrasted by trips to the Otherworld, a hellish landscape resembling a WWI battlefield, which gives more insight into the Darkness’ backstory and how it entered Jackie’s family. Both worlds present are great for different reasons; New York is excellent for how it truly immerses you into the city, with the Overworld being an intriguing and genuinely creepy place that explains where the Darkness came from to begin with. 

Gameplay in “The Darkness” is where the large majority of issues players have arise. For one thing, the core gunplay present is really solid. There is a good variety of weapons, from pistols, revolvers, shotguns and rifles, with more becoming available as the game progresses. Shooting feels satisfying and each gun has the right amount of power, and on top of that, Jackie can get up close and perform a pretty gnarly execution move with unique animations for different weapons. However, there are some minor but still prevalent issues with aiming and movement, in large part thanks to how Jackie’s model works. Basically, instead of being just a pair of floating hands, Jackie’s entire body is always present in the game world. This does create a cool detail, as you can see Jackie in every mirror or reflective surface in the game, and the fact that he’s rendered completely in full-time is commendable. But, because of this, the player is often fighting with Jackie, as things like turning and aiming feel much more janky because of his always present model. While “The Darkness” is still a fun shooter, it doesn’t feel as smooth as other games of its caliber. 

The Darkness also plays a role in the main gameplay. In the game, The Darkness appears as a pair of demonic tentacles emerging from Jackie’s back, which act as additional appendages for combat and puzzle solving. The entity, of course, feeds on total darkness, and as such, players need to shoot any light source in the area in order to fuel its power. While exposed to light, The Darkness begins to fizzle out and ultimately retracts itself, unable to be used until the light is snuffed out. Upon each kill, The Darkness can devour the hearts of deceased enemies, with each heart gradually leveling up the entity and unlocking more abilities, including a tendril that can slash enemies, the ability to summon dark-powered guns and a massive black hole that devours enemies. Players also have the ability to summon “Darklings”, demonic minions with different abilities: Berserkers pounce and attack any enemy in their sight, Kamikaze explodes and destroys anything in its path, Gunners shoot at enemies with a back-mounted minigun, and Lightkillers shut down any light source in its vicinity. While they are fantastically designed and their inclusion is appreciated, they outweigh their usefulness quickly. The Berserker and Kamikaze are often killed before they get a chance to do anything, while the Gunner is about as accurate as a blindfolded stormtrooper. The only Darkling that remains useful throughout is the Lightkiller, but even it becomes redundant, considering shooting all the lights out yourself is just as easy. The Darkness is a great, and important addition to the game, but gameplay-wise, it does feel a bit undercooked. 

Some other highlights: 

  • A great soundtrack, mixing more orchestral sounds with heavier rock 
  • Great use of lighting in the game world 

All in all, despite its dark overtones and atmosphere, “The Darkness” goes far beyond just being another painfully edgy shooter of the 2000s. Featuring an engrossing story, great characters and performances, a fantastic atmosphere and solid gameplay foundation, “The Darkness” is an excellent game that, despite some flaws, is more than likely to please most shooter fans. If you can get your hands on a copy, it is more than worth playing. 

Nick McCoy is a senior at Fort Hays State University, studying digital media and journalism. An avid gamer and music listener, he reviews video games and songs and hosts the radio show “The Understanding of Nick” for KFHS.