My Demon Cock Will Devour Your Heart

by Arthur B

The Darkness on XBox 360 doesn't have much to recommend it - except for a very special appendage.
Let there be no doubt about it: The Darkness is not a good game, not by a long way. Between the graphical glitches, terrible voice acting, and sparse plot it feels more like a third-rate Half-Life 2 mod than a full-blown FPS in its own right. It's not even entertainingly bad for the most part; it exhibits that dull, lifeless sort of mediocrity which usually drives me away from games fairly quickly. But there's one thing that never got tiring in the game, and made me keep playing until the very end.

That was my huge glistening demon penis.

But first, some context: The Darkness was a comic book series co-created by Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl in the mid-1990s, and published by Image Comics. Based off the free issues of the comic you can unlock in the game, it was in a similar vein to Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld's work at the time, all violence and ludicrously bad anatomy and ATTITUDE! But the series was good enough for the movie option to be picked up, and Starbreeze Studios picked up the licence for a game adaptation. And that's how that big ol' dick got into my XBox 360.

As with the comic is based on, The Darkness follows the story of Jackie Estacado, an orphan who is raised to be a Mafia hitman by his uncle Paulie. He dresses like a tosser trying slightly too hard to be Totally Gothic, and his hair looks all greasy and horrible, and his voice actor is for some reason doing a Steven Seagal impression; the mixture does not come together well. Anyway, Jackie is celebrating his 21st birthday by being driven around by two incoherent guys who don't make much sense who are apparently giving him a lift to the start of the game, and does his party trick of taking an inconceivably long time to load a shotgun. This sequence is supposedly interactive, but you physically can't turn around far enough to shoot at the chasing police cars, and I'm pretty sure you don't die even if you ignore all the bad guys, so all you ever achieve with that particular shotgun is shooting out the windscreen on your vehicle pointlessly.

Anyway, once the car accident is over with the plot begins to make a bit more sense: you've supposedly been sent to whack someone at a construction site, only it's a trap set by your Uncle Paulie because he wants to get rid of you because he is not very good at HR. Paulie's plan is foiled because it's your 21st birthday, and there's an old family tradition that the firstborn sons of your family line get possessed by the demonic Darkness (voiced by the demonic Mike Patton from Faith No More and Mr Bungle) and get superpowers on their 21st birthday.

The Darkness manifests as a bunch of tentacles growing from somewhere in the back portions of your body; two of them are particularly chunky, and have eyes and big toothy grins, so when you manifest the tentacles it looks like you are running around with two evil glove puppets. It thrives in - duh - Darkness, and if you try to manifest it in bright light your Darkness energy will be drained - when you run out of energy, the Darkness hides in your rear and you're left with your usual human faculties. Just about all the light sources in the game can be destroyed or switched off in a variety of ways - the only exceptions are in places where the Darkness either won't or can't come out to play anyway - and the game has a nice feature where when it gets pitch black you see weird shimmering lines outlining all the surfaces, so you can still see. The Darkness has a couple of useful powers that work on a passive basis; it shields you from damage, giving you an important edge in a fight, and when you are in a dark place it sucks up the shadows.

As the game progresses you also gain a number of additional faculties. You can summon tiny demons to do your bidding; they tend to be useless except for those few occasions where you need to get one to move an obstacle out of your way, except for the ones that carry gatling guns around - those are decent bodyguards. (Oh, and they bear an unfortunately close resemblance to the goblins you summon to serve you in Overlord.) You can devour the hearts of your slain enemies to replenish your Darkness energy and increase the size of your Darkness reservoirs. Eventually, you will be able to smash large obstacles out of the way with a contemptuous slap of a tentacle and create miniature black holes to consume your foes.

But the designers make a crucial mistake: they give you the most potent, deadly, and game-breaking power at the beginning of the game, a power which makes the game so much easier that playing without it would be repetitive and frustrating (due to all the death and restarts), and at the same time so ridiculously fun that you won't want to refrain from using it.

That power, ladies and gentlemen, is your smiling devil penis.

It's not called "Smiling Devil Penis", of course, it's called the Crawling Dark or something silly like that, but it is immensely phallic. Essentially, one of your major tentacles - the big slimy gristling ones with the toothy smile and the glowy eyes - can extend itself to a ludicrous extent and go exploring on its own. Controlling this slithering, slobbering appendage, you can run along on any surface you like, smash all the lights, scout out every location, and perform unblockable one-hit kills on every enemy you come across, munching their heart out so you can keep slithering for even longer. The killing is the really fun bit; it never gets old, partly because it gives you an amazing sense of godlike power, partly because the AI is dumb as bricks in a hilarious way. The programmers didn't think to provide the enemies with the means to distinguish between you and your rampaging trouser snake, beyond making the devil dong more difficult to spot; when they do stop you, they yell "You're in for it now Jackie" and try to shoot you. (If your penis gets shot too much it doesn't hurt you; it just gets retracted. At which point, if you have been sensible and stood in a dark place, you recharge the power and try again.) If they don't notice you, then you will be witness to such wonderful exchanges as this:
Racist Italian Stereotype 1: 'ey, Luigi, he's-a not showin' up!
Racist Italian Stereotype 2: It's-a okay, Mario, he'll-a show.
Penis Monster: OM NOM NOM
RIS2: 'ey, Mario, did you-a hear-a somethin'?
Yes, sometimes your adversaries will completely space on the fact that their compadre is having their heart ripped out of their chest by the serpentine schlong of Satan.

As fascinating a subject as my penis is, there are other aspects of the game I should discuss. The Darkness adds some mild RPG elements to the mix as you interact with various NPCs, and in fact offers more side quests than most FPS games do, although sadly these tend to be quite trivial and repetitive. That said, the one conversation where you do get some nonlinear choice is a pretty good one - Jackie visits his girlfriend, who's moved into a new apartment and made him a birthday cake, and as lovely as this all is Jackie doesn't really have time to sit around while the Mafia hitmen are trying to track him down. You get to choose whether you want to be honest with her about what's going on (well, not completely honest, Jackie keeps the Darkness to himself) or brush her off with a lie, and you get to choose just how long you're going to sit on the couch with her watching To Kill a Mockingbird before you sneak off for more wangtastic cock violence. (If you wait until she falls asleep you get the "Romantic" achievement).

This is a delicately-handled scene with great writing and characterisation, which unfortunately makes it unique in the game. The rest of the plot is terrible, mainly because the developers seemed to have no fucking clue what game they actually wanted to design. There's two basic strands that the story follows - Jackie's feud against Uncle Paulie, and his struggles with the Darkness's increasing hold over his mind. Unfortunately, for much of the game these two threads are kept ruthlessly separate, and the designers only seemed to decide at the last minute whether the ultimate adversary would be Paulie or the Darkness. Until the climactic confrontation at Paulie's mansion at the end of the game, the Darkness is basically never mentioned in the gangster plotline; the Darkness plotline is confined to two interludes, both of which occur after Jackie has committed suicide and the Darkness has locked him away in a version of World War I being fought constantly in Hell while it recreates his body. Admittedly, the World War I sequences are extremely visually striking, but they are not even slightly well-integrated with the main focus of the game, which is kicking ass across New York.

To be honest, I really want to say The Darkness is a good game, but in good conscience I can't. I get the impression that it was extremely rushed; just a little more polishing and tightening could have made everything come together beautifully. Probably the most egregious pointers to the game being hurried out the door before it was ready are the opening and closing cut scenes, both of which are significantly less interactive than they were apparently intended to be. The climactic assault on the mansion is especially bad; once you get in the front door, the Darkness takes over and you see brief snatches of its full awe-inspiring being brought to bear, and you only regain control once all the fighting is done and it is time to go kill Paulie himself. While it is nice to see the Darkness letting rip, it would have been nice to do the letting rip myself. The gameplay is also quite repetitive, even with the hot penis action; it's hampered by the fact that you pretty much never encounter any adversaries whose powers even approximate your own (other than when you confront the Darkness to assert control over it, and even then if you know how to beat the fight it is piss-easy). When almost every character in the game can be killed trivially with a dick attack the designers have to work really hard to present genuinely challenging encounters, and they really don't manage it that much.

The Darkness is an interesting idea, poorly executed, with some really nice aspects; don't pay full price for it, but if you see it going cheap or for rental, and if you don't have anything better to do, give it a quick go. Your penis is a wonderful thing and there are so many things you can do with it, you should at least experiment a little to know what it feels like.

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