March 13, 2007 - Sometimes I don't fully realize what a cool job I have. It's always there in the back of mind. But every so often I forget how lucky I am. Today I strolled into the Clift Hotel in San Francisco, Ca., and bumped into The Darkness creator Mark Silvestri by accident. We searched through off-white hallways of the hotel, and I directed him to the right suite where, instead of finding a highly decorated room layered in black, it was instead all white -- off-white chairs, tables, walls, window curtains, floor, cabinets, you name it. It was like the Milk Bar in Clockwork Orange. Like a cleaning room in Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory. It was too frickin' white. Quite a contrast for the setting of a game based on an evil curse. A dark, brooding evil curse that enables its host to send out demon heads that spring from your ribs and rip out human hearts in a beat. Sill, there I was giving directions to a comic-book god. "Oh, do allow me. Right this way, sir."
It was too early in the morning. I had no coffee. I wasn't feeling especially evil, or for that matter, fanboyish. Just plain tired, and, somewhere beneath that veil of fatigue, I was passively ecstatic about seeing The Darkness for the first time since E3 2006. It's been that long since I've seen Starbreeze's first-person shooter based on Silvestri's Top Cow comic. My problem was that I just hadn't followed the game and I wasn't sure how a bunch of snaky demon heads would much a great FPS. The Darkness's premise centers on Jackie Estacado, a mafia hitman for the Franchetti crime family who, one day, has a family curse passed onto him. What kind of curse? That's the ongoing story of The Darkness, which will be told when 2K Games publishes the first-person shooter on PS3 and Xbox 360 this June. Jackie is voiced by Kirk Acevedo (Band of Brothers, Oz), while Mike Patton (lead singer, Faith No More) handles the voice of the Darkness, and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as Jenny.
By now, everyone has heard the basic stuff and seen the core levels. On his 21st birthday, when his dad dies, the powers of the Darkness are passed on to Jackie Estacado, Franchetti family mafia hitman. Jackie must learn to fully command the Darkness so he can take back control of the Franchetti family, which is ruled by his uncle Paulie. As Jackie, you control The Darkness, which manifests as evil snake-like appendages on-screen, and as The Darklings, creepy and evil little demons that find cruel and hilarious ways to kill anyone nearby. When the lights are out the Darkness can be summoned. When the lights are on, they sizzle and hide. This first-person shooter offers a full story mode and a multiplayer mode for up to eight players on both systems. Aside from some extra DVD content for the PS3, and the various online differences between the two systems (Achievements and Gamerscore), the two versions are the same on content.
Today, 2K Games showed off essentially exactly what a lot of folks have already seen, the game's introduction and the first few levels, the Tunnel, Grinders' Lane, and the Cemetery. Our Australian squad pretty much got the same demo treatment we did, and gave an excellent description of the demo (which I highly recommend you read) so I'd rather not cover a well-worn path. I saw and played those levels today and I'm not sure why, but I had fun. Sometimes, just playing a new game is fun. Today, the reason I had fun is because Starbreeze is such a distinctive developer. Yes, they did The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher's Bay, and we all know how cool that was. If you did play that game, let me call on your memory for a moment. Remember how well that game opened up? How brilliantly movie-like it was? The developer gave you a little demo of the mechanics, sucked you into the world, and then surprise, surprise, set you back up into a semi-interactive cutscene, one that led you, Riddick, handcuffed and beaten, into one of the worst slams in the known universe.
Using the same style of opening originally debuted by Half-Life, the game delivered a mesmerizing feeling only a videogame could provide. It enveloped you into its fold. Half-Life did it. The Chronicles of Riddick did it, and now Starbreeze is doing it again with The Darkness. The opening sequence is like one long Martin Scorsese car chase with no cuts, all sorts of foul language, car crashes, gun fighting, and a stylistic sense of graphic beauty and sheer intensity. Starbreeze sets up this incredible atmosphere, one you can almost smell, and then brings the gameplay in, slowly and carefully, providing the perfect audio-visual set up. Watching this game open up was like going to the debut of the first Alien and being floored by its design, beauty and frightening atmosphere, only here, I was able to play it.
The Darkness, of course, is different than Riddick or Alien. It's a comic book universe starring a really pissed off character who isn't an angel, but rather a mafia thug, a stone cold killer, who inherits this incredible power. But Starbreeze not only gets the comic book, it sucks in the comic's essence and exhales it into polygonal form with perfect clarify, direction, and style. If they gave awards for best opening sequences, Starbreeze would win every single time.