The Darkness adapts a 10-year-old comic book about a mob hit man who gains demonic powers, and yet the most unbelievable part of the game has nothing to do with the paranormal. The game's lead, Jackie Estacado, is just celebrating his 21st birthday, but his voice (courtesy of The Black Donnellys' Kirk Acevedo) is gravelly and worn. He's supposed to be hard from spending his teenage years as an assassin for the Franchetti family, but his leather trenchcoat and Trent Reznor locks don't tell the same story.
If The Darkness weren't so ambitious, it would be harder to take this trumped-up shooter to task for such character details. But the game's creators aimed high, and sadly, they fall flat on their faces nearly half the time. The Darkness attempts to combine shooter, role-playing game, and actioner elements, like a mix of Shenmue and Half-Life. Neither the gunplay nor the imaginative superpowers really work. When overtaken by evil, Jackie can whip deadly tentacles at enemies, summon darklings to do his bidding, and project killer tendrils that simulate the low-to-the-ground "shaky-cam" creatures from the Evil Dead movies. None of these powers really come together, though. The tendrils constantly get mired on the lips of walls, and the darklings rarely do what they're commanded. Even the shooting is unsatisfying, since more bullets are spent dousing lights (to create much-needed shadows) than ventilating baddies.
Beyond the game: In a genius bit of casting, Faith No More/Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton was tapped to gurgle the creepy threats of the evil that has taken hold of Jackie. Unfortunately, his lines feel random and unfocused, never revealing much about the creature. Captain Howdy from The Exorcist is better drawn, with a fraction of the dialog.
Worth playing for: The Darkness includes some exceptional moments of first-person storytelling. From Jackie's point of view, players bond with girlfriend Jenny (Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose) on the living-room couch. It's possible to watch the entire movie To Kill A Mockingbird on the in-game TV while Jenny falls asleep on your lap.
Frustation sets in when: Crippling lag makes online play nearly impossible. The ability to transform into a speedy but small darkling on the fly seemed like an intriguing new wrinkle.
Final judgment: The Darkness is an overreaching, frequently clumsy genre hybrid with moments of brilliance.