Games 7/4: The Darkness, The Bigs

The Darkness
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: Starbreeze Studios/2K Games
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

Arguably no game developer is experimenting with immersion quite like Starbreeze Studios, which most recently was responsible for a movie-licensed game (“The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay”) that was immeasurably more interesting than the movie that inspired it.

The concepts that surfaced in “Riddick” go into overdrive with “The Darkness,” which drops you into the shoes of a 21-year-old mobster who finds himself doing battle with both his crime family and a demonic possession that gives him some seriously scary powers. Fundamentally, it’s a first-person shooter, and much of the action that takes place is not unlike what might take place in any other FPS. But the devil is in “The Darkness'” details, and it’s the sum of these details that set the game so far apart from its peers.

Case in point: You’re looking for a certain building, but there’s no arrow or in-game display pointing the way — only a few “You are here” maps on various street corners. Even when you calculate (in your own head) the directions of your trip, you literally have to read the street signs in order to find your destination. That’s assuming you don’t need to take the subway, which you’ll have to learn in similar fashion.

It’s like being a tourist in a new town, only with half the locals out to kill you. This lack of hand-holding — and this is just one example — will feel excessive to some, but that’s more an indictment of gamer tastes than Starbreeze’s creativity.

To reveal too many details about the demon possession would be to spoil parts of a very story-driven game. Just know that the powers it grants — which include a number of stealth attacks and the ability to create black holes and summon demonic (and surprisingly funny) underlings to do your bidding — are almost universally awesome. “The Darkness” is home to a number of terrific and very challenging shootouts, but it’s these special powers that will truly drop jaws.

“The Darkness” comes equipped with an enjoyable multiplayer mode that allows you to play as one of the aforementioned underlings, but it’s more of a bonus than a chief selling point. That’s fine. It’s pretty clear where Starbreeze’s heart lies, and it’s refreshing to see a first-person shooter that not only heavily prioritizes its single-player component, but is so thoroughly able to do so in the first place.


The Bigs
Reviewed for: Xbox and Playstation 3
Also available for: Nintendo Wii, PSP and Playstation 2
From: 2K Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild violence)

The problem with most arcade sports games is that, by injecting fast-paced fun at the expense of strategy, that very fun tends to wear off a lot sooner than we’d like it to.

“The Bigs,” however, is not like most arcade sports games. To the contrary, 2K’s arcade baseball game gives more serious games a run for the money in the strategy department.

Unlike previous arcade baseball games, “The Bigs” doesn’t attempt to undo the balance of the game on which it’s based. The game’s fiercest hitters are more imposing than ever at the plate, but that holds true for the hurlers as well. Playmakers who like to hit and run, bunt guys over and shift the defense can still do all of these things. The buffed-up graphics are larger than life and the game is faster-paced than “MLB 2K7,” but you won’t feel like you’re playing some dumbed-down version of baseball here.

In fact, once turbo enters the equation, the opposite holds true. On top of everything else, success in “The Bigs” means managing your turbo, which accumulates through plate and mound discipline. Do you spend turbo to stretch a single into a double, or is it better to save it for a knockout pitch or clutch hit? Every factor of the game — defense included — benefits from turbo, but its status as a precious (and earned) commodity means you have to spend wisely.

As it’s implemented, the turbo system is an ingenious good time. Ditto for the on-the-fly mini-games that allow you to rob home runs and knock the ball out of a catcher’s hand. Everything that happens in “The Bigs” is an exaggerated concoction of ballplayer attributes and player skill, and the entire experience is both pleasantly accessible and startlingly deep.

If there’s a big problem with “The Bigs,” it’s the omission of some kind of season/franchise mode. Still, the rookie challenge — where you create a character and complete a number of challenges such as winning games, building skills and completing various scenarios — gives the game some good single-player legs. Online play is available on both systems, and you can even play with a human teammate in two-on-two play.

Lastly, there’s the home run pinball mode, which combines a home run derby, pinball and New York’s Times Square. It’s gimmicky as gimmicky gets, but good luck not being hooked after one play.