The Double-A Team is a feature series honouring the unpretentious, mid-budget, gimmicky commercial action games that no-one seems to make any more.
You can catch up with all of our Double-A Team pieces in our handy, spangly archive.
I played The Darkness for the first time years ago. This happened after a period of obsession with its sequel, a period in which I tasked myself with treasure hunting a PS3 copy of the predecessor here in Argentina. Every cell of my body wanted to know the origins of Jackie Estacado, the black sheep of a mob family who witnesses the murder of his soulmate by the same hands that adopted him at a young age.
Jackie, a mix of Marilyn Manson and Peter Steele, is possessed by an ancient force that grants him demonic powers. This being, rightfully called The Darkness, was performed by the Faith No More singer Mike Patton. It manifests itself in the form of heart-eating tentacles that can’t stand the presence of even the smallest light bulb. Oh, and you can also create black holes and summon darklings.
Yes, reader, all of this happened in a first-person shooter back in 2007. It wasn’t a new IP, mind, but rather the work of Starbreeze Studios and 2K Games toiling upon Top Cow’s comic series that itself spawned from the Witchblade universe. The Darkness also arrived in one of the most important years for video games, especially for the FPS genre. Bioshock, Half Life 2: Episode 2, Crysis, and Call of Duty 4.
In comparison, most of the game itself feels a couple of years behind all that. Attempting to aim and hit a target that isn’t close enough for Jackie to perform an unnecessarily gruesome execution is painful at best. The camera doesn’t help at all, even with six different sliders for it in the options menu. Performance drops constantly, too, making everything worse. Failing to shoot a lamp right across the street because I couldn’t turn quickly enough can be considered part of the appeal, perhaps, for better or worse.
Why is The Darkness a good fit for the Double-A Team, then? Well, despite its many technical issues and bland shooting, it’s remarkable in its own convoluted way. It’s a game that lets you take part in mundane moments that do not fit with the whole occult and mafia narratives – and it’s well aware of that fact.
Sure, Jackie and Jenny’s love story might sound ordinary from the outside, but you can watch the entirety of the 1962 Gregory Peck film “To Kill A Mockingbird” while you cuddle with her on the couch. There’s a fully interactive telly you come across every now and then packed with short animated films and rock music videos. And only recently, as I was replaying the game alongside a friend, we found out about a frightening side story involving Elvis and a secret alien society.
This odd addition is slowly revealed by calling 36 phone numbers in the correct order. The voice on the other side mocks you at first, but then gives a warning when you’re getting closer to the goal. “I can’t guarantee that you’ll walk out of this with your sanity intact,” they say.
But my friend and I were ready to face the consequences. As we dialed one number after the other, a second voice made itself present on the other side after hearing a gunshot, just when the unknown conspirator was about to tell us all about the secret society known as The Glorious Revelation of E.P.
This new presence told us that we were going to get ourselves killed if we kept calling. There were only a dozen numbers left, so what did we have to lose?
Once we reached the last number, all we could hear was the echo of the answering machine. Immediately after that, Jackie died all of a sudden, taking us back to a previous save point as if it had been an awful nightmare.
The Darkness is a prime example of an era in which first-person shooters were experimenting and taking risks in order to shape the genre. It’s a wonky ride for sure, but certainly one that you’ll have a hard time forgetting about.