The Darkness Preview

Starbreeze Studios — the developers behind The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay — is well underway with their next project, a gritty and dark next-gen shooter known as The Darkness. The game is based on a comic series of the same name created by Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl, and published by Top Cow Productions/Image Comics. It revolves around a young mob hitman named Jackie Estacado — but he’s no ordinary hitman. On his 21st birthday, Jackie learns he has control over a supernatural force known as the "Darkness." People who have control of this unique power are able to create anything they want with it (including sentient creatures), but their creations crumble in light.

I was lucky enough to spend some time talking with two of the guys from Starbreeze Studios — Jens Andersson (lead designer) and Mattias Snygg (concept artist) — about The Darkness, as well as witness the game in action at Comic-Con this past weekend.

First off, fans of the comic will be glad to know that Starbreeze is attempting to stay close to the source material. In fact, Paul Jenkins (one of the writers of the comic series) is working closely with them in regards to the game’s plot. Fans should also be happy to read that some of the designs and artwork Mattias has helped create make the game look more realistic and grittier than the comic. Of course, the comic itself was steeped in dark themes and images already, so you can imagine that this game isn’t aimed towards a young audience.

Jens and Mattias weren’t afraid to classify this game as a horror game, and from what I saw it’s very easy to understand why people may be frightened or shocked by what’s happening on the screen. For example, one of Jackie’s powers allows him to call forth small humanoid minions who make Kingdom Heart’s Heartless look like adorable little puppies. One of these minions was armed with what looks like a jackhammer, and he loved to use it on any enemies he came across (in this case, police officers controlled by the mob). While a portion of the game will be spent focusing on Jackie’s battle against the Darkness itself, Jens was quick to explain that one of the things which makes this game unique is that the player will be the primary cause of horror in this game, and the NPCs will be the victims. As he put it, "You will scare people."

Now, some of you have probably played Escape from Butcher Bay, so you’ll be glad to know that The Darkness employs the same mixture of FPS and action/adventure elements prevalent in Riddick. Much of the time the action elements will come from circumstances forcing the player to summon a creature, and then control the creature to get through a certain area (such as an air conditioning vent) or other similar situations.

The good news is, even the FPS aspect of the game brings some new features to the table, and they look amazing. Using the Darkness, Jackie is able to create extensions from his body which do everything from making attacks more effective to lifting objects the size of police cars and tossing them towards enemies. He can even lift large objects and use them as shields and/or blockades. One of the greatest actions I’ve seen performed in a game in recent history is a portion of the game in which Jackie used a dumpster to completely destroy a police blockade, and then took out the isolated police men with their own car; it’s a beautiful thing to witness.

There are many powers to be gained in The Darkness, and most of them will be unlocked as you progress through the game’s story rather than through an experience based system. At this time, not much is known about what other powers Jackie will have (if you’ve read the comics feel free to guess, though), but it was made clear that Starbreeze is looking to place most of the gameplay emphasis on the usage of powers rather than which weapons you happened to pick up off of dead enemies. The game itself will last between 10 and 15 hours, and online play will be present. Right now the online portion is still being worked on, but ideas are being thrown around for a variety of game modes, such as one where each player will control a small entity of Darkness. Obviously, we’ll see the standard play mode (deathmatch), but it will be interesting to see how Starbreeze incorporates the Darkness element in a multiplayer setting. It can’t be too unbalanced, after all.

Once again, the development team is using their own engine — the Starbreeze Engine — and it looks better than ever. Walls were shattered realistically by ramming police vans, glass scattered from broken lights, and items flew around blackhole-like creations of Darkness. All in all, the Starbreeze Engine looks just as good as Valve’s benchmark Source Engine. They did a great job at improving the impressive engine, and it’s very nice to see a studio create something catered to their needs rather than pay a fee to use something created primarily for a different game.

With incredible voice acting, a story written with the help of one of comics’ most renowned writers, a very unique (and dark) atmosphere, and gameplay elements never seen before, The Darkness is shaping up to be an incredible game. Even at these early stages, it looks better than almost every other comic-based game out there, and it’s hard to imagine it getting worse as we near the 2007 release date. Fans of the comic will be glad to know that there will be small tributes to the comic series throughout the game (objects in the background, conversations, etc.). Fans of Riddick will be glad to know that The Darkness is shaping up to be even better than Riddick was (and Jens is hopeful that they’ll add a commentary feature upon completion of the game). Fans of video games will be glad to know that in 2007 we will see one of the most original FPS games in years. But if I can’t make you understand how awesome the game is looking at this point, keep this in mind: a ton of fans of The Darkness comic book were stopping by The Darkness booth at Comic-Con, and they had nothing but praise to bestow upon the guys at Starbreeze Studios and 2K Games, and we all know how critical comic fans can be. So if you don’t take my word for it, take theirs.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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