I won’t say anything more because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but by this time you should be totally hooked. Once it hits its stride, The Darkness is wonderfully paced, and Starbreeze prove time and time again that they know just when to throw in a huge set-piece, when to give you a new power to play with, and when to keep you constrained or allow you to unleash your full supernatural armoury. Additional summoned minions, adding covering-fire or kamikaze bomb attacks, are a constant source of pleasure, and the black-hole Darkness power is one of the most spectacular weapons I’ve seen for a while.
What’s more, The Darkness has some of the best set-piece shoot-outs I’ve enjoyed since F.E.A.R. – you have to love the levels set in a deserted subway station and an abandoned Turkish baths – and some of the most genuinely unsettling sequences I’ve had outside of a major survival horror series. It was clear from Riddick that Starbreeze understood how to put together a cinematic game, but The Darkness is full of little directorial touches that make the game as cohesive and engaging as anything Valve has ever managed. It’s reasonably lengthy too. Several times I’ve found myself fearing that the game was about to reach a premature end, only for a whole new chapter to unfold.
Of course, there are some areas where you can pick holes, and most of them have to do with the underlying technology. Visually, the game is indisputably magnificent, building on the normal mapping and lighting technologies used in Riddick to create convincing characters and urban environments, or nightmare vistas of mud, fog and rust. Ambient lighting and blur are employed with skill, and the use of post-processing effects, texture and colour is as good as GRAW2 or Gears of War. The audio is equally strong, with a great, responsive score and some fabulous use of 5.1, both for atmospheric noise and the full-on bang and blast of battle. All the same, even I have to admit that its slightly off-putting that so few doors on the average street can be opened, and that the streets are so empty of citizens. More seriously, I also have to admit that the AI is more along the hide-and-fire lines of, say, Call of Duty 2 than the aggressive, co-operate and outmanoeuvre lines of F.E.A.R. As a result, there are times when The Darkness feels like a throwback to the days of Deus Ex than a true next-generation shooter.