It’s the month of spooks, or Cawrror Month for a bird/horror related pun. With that in mind, this weekly “Past And Future/Will We See X?” series will be focused on some horror and supernatural games for the next month.
Supernatural weirdness and the Italian mob feel like two complete opposites when it comes to influences, but pushing these two opposing forces together has proved to be magic in the past. Proof of that comes in the form of The Darkness, a comic book franchise that perhaps had its longest moment in the spotlight as a video game series of the same name.
Unfortunately, while the comic book series has been going on for 25 years this year and is set to return from a long hiatus next year, the game series only received two releases before being left on a cliffhanger. Fans have been waiting for a follow-up ever since, so today, during the month of big spooks, we’re asking the question: will we ever see The Darkness 3?
The History Of The Darkness
As a comic book property, The Darkness’ history dates back far before the first video game. Founded in 1992 by Marc Silvestri, Top Cow Productions is a comic book company responsible for the likes of Cyberforce and Codename: Strykeforce, two comic lines about a group of super powered individuals banding together to defeat evil, usually with lots of guns. This was the 90s, after all.
Top Cow really sprung to life in 1995-96, with the success of both Witchblade and The Darkness, two parallel stories that featured plenty of crossover characters and arcs. The Witchblade series, which is still a key part of Top Cow and parent company Image Comics’ portfolio and is being worked on today, received plenty of adaptations to TV and even manga, but it was The Darkness that got its shot at video games. However, we’re skipping over a decade here.
The Darkness was created in 1996 by Silvestri, David Wohl and Garth Ennis. If any of those name are going to ring any bells, it’ll be Garth Ennis, as he’s the writer responsible for comic book cultural touchstones like Punisher MAX, which went onto inspire both the Netflix Marvel series and the film Punisher: War Zone, along with Preacher and The Boys, both of which have become incredibly popular TV shows on Amazon Prime (maybe one more popular than the other). Of course, this is only a small snapshot of what Garth has accomplished in his career.
Anyway, The Darkness series is about a supernatural, chaotic entity known as The Darkness which has existed throughout the aeons since time immemorial. The curse of The Darkness is passed down through the generations from father to son, with the powers awakening in the bearer on their 21st birthday. The series follows Jackie Estacado, a mafia hitman and latest host for The Darkness, who uses the powers to both navigate the New York criminal underworld and deal with a host of cults and supernatural threats who want to annihilate The Darkness or claim it for their own ends.
After almost a decade of wowing comic book fans with monthly comics, the rights to the series were obtained by Majesco Entertainment in March 2005, who would have published the game while Starbreeze were on development duties. At the time, Starbreeze were responsible for The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, which many considered to be a surprise success. Paul Jenkins, who had previously worked on The Darkness comics, was also attached to write the story and script, so that combined with Starbreeze’s pedigree regarding adaptations led to a lot of optimism for the project.
However, plans almost came a cropper as 2005 proved to be an incredibly rough year for Majesco. To put it into context, Majesco started the year with a respectable stock price of $16.40, but by the end of the year, that price had plummeted to $1.35 as noted by a report from GameSpot. The Darkness was scheduled to launch in 2006, but Majesco were forced to sell off the rights to the property and others by the end of 2005, earning $8 million for their troubles. At that point, the new publisher was unnamed, but they’d make themselves known later.
In March 2006, 2K Games announced that they’d acquired the rights to publish The Darkness, with Starbreeze proceeding as planned with development on their adaptation. The press release also mentions a film adaptation of The Darkness was also in the works, but that never came to be. According to the press release, the release date was a vague “next winter”, suggesting a later 2006 to early 2007 launch, but it’d take until June 2007 for The Darkness to emerge from the shadows.
The Darkness launched in June for Xbox 360 and PS3, though the PS3 release in Europe was delayed until July for unspecified reasons. The game followed a similar plot to the comic book series, though borrowed more from mob politics and family drama than the supernatural. Jackie does travel to the Underworld for a few sections, but you’re not out there fighting demons and the like. For the most part, you’re gunning down guido goons and eating their hearts for breakfast, but there’s also Hell, and it looks like World War 1 for some reason.
As the name implies, The Darkness and its powers would only work in dark areas, meaning light is just as much of your enemy as the gun-toting punks. The core gameplay essentially felt like first-person Splinter Cell by way of the supernatural, with gunfights spent shooting out lights so you could recharge your health, summon darklings to sic on your enemies or, by the end of the game, conjure up black holes to cause utter bedlam. Lovely stuff.
Upon launch, critics loved the combination of gameplay and story that The Darkness offered, with the game earning an 82 on Metacritic. Though the graphics and certain gameplay ideas didn’t work as well (the Underworld levels in particular), critics felt the story and character matched up. One particular star was Mike Patton, the Faith No More frontman who put in a memorable turn as The Darkness itself. The general public seemed to agree with critics too, with The Darkness selling over one million copies worldwide.
While The Darkness could easily be considered a success by anyone’s estimations, Starbreeze themselves weren’t exactly impressed with themselves, according to former Starbreeze lead designer Jens Andersson in an interview with 1up.com: “We aimed to do a 90-plus title, and it ended up being 83 or whatever. And no one was really happy about the reception it got. It sold OK and everything, but…there were no easy fixes for that. We knew about all the problems, all that kind of stuff. We tried to do too much…our ambitions with what we wanted to do combined with the IP made the scope bigger than we could pull off, really. At the same time, it’s a good game. A lot of people appreciated it and liked it and everything, but we were kind of tired of it when we were done, and didn’t really want to work on the sequel at that point.”
If 2K wanted a sequel, they’d have to shop around.
What Happened To The Darkness?
2K shopped around.
Canadian developer Digital Extremes were approached by 2K Games in order to develop The Darkness 2, with the team working on the game for 3 years. While Andersson’s comments suggest that Starbreeze might not have wanted to work on a sequel if they were asked, CEO Mikhail Newmark (who unfortunately passed away very recently) suggested otherwise in an interview with former magazine CVG [archived by Engadget]: “The decision was not up to Starbreeze, and when it was decided to do a sequel we had already started working on a new project.” That new project proved to be Syndicate, which didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Digital Extremes’ approach to developing the sequel was to take what worked about both the previous game and the comic book franchise as a whole. From the last game, writer Paul Jenkins returned to pen the game’s story, while everyone’s favourite demon voiced frontman Mike Patton returned to provide the vocals for The Darkness.
As for the comic books, The Darkness 2 utilised a hard painted graphical style that looked like it was lifted straight from the original pages. According to project director Sheldon Carter in an interview with VG247, the look was achieved via “high contrast” and “hatching”. The visual style popped, and certainly looked a lot more appealing than the first game’s more drab and muted style. The Darkness 1 aimed more for ultra-realistic graphics at a time when that basically meant every texture was covered in Vaseline, but The Darkness 2 gave the franchise a proper visual identity.
Far from resting on the laurels of the previous game’s work though, Digital Extremes would focus on improving the gameplay of The Darkness 2, with a feature that the team would dub quad-wielding. Essentially, players would be able to control both of Jackie’s hand and two of The Darkness’ tendrils using the triggers and bumpers to become an all-shooting, all-swinging/stabbing/launching instrument of death. Abilities like Black Hole also return, but they’re tied into random reward drops when consuming human hearts, encouraging the players to get stuck in to reap the best rewards.
When speaking about quad-wielding to VG247, Carter states: “We improved the core shooting in the game, and we went to this quad-wielding to let you do multiple things at the same time. You walk into an environment, and, well, you could easily play that encounter we went through with no guns. You could just walk in there and be like ‘ok, grab this, toss this, eat a heart, get the bladed demon arm, start slicing some guys up.’ You can kind of mix and match your strategies.”
The Darkness 2 launched on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in February 2012, and despite the changes and improvements to the core gameplay formula and graphics, The Darkness 2 couldn’t quite improve on the original game’s Metacritic score, earning the highest score of 80 for the Xbox 360 version. Critics still appreciated the game’s story, along with the fun gameplay, though the brief campaign length, dumb AI and certain glitches meant the game didn’t live up to its full potential.
Unfortunately, it seems like the series will never get a chance to succeed again.
Will The Darkness Ever Come Back?
According to a now deleted post from TheNexusNews.com [archived by an Xbox Achievements forum post], so take it with a grain of salt, Digital Extremes were planning on making some DLC for The Darkness 2, which might have at least addressed the game’s cliffhanger ending, but the game underperformed, selling just 540,000 copies — just over half of what 2K Games were expecting from the sequel. Combine that with the incredible success of Borderlands 2 at the time, and 2K seemingly made the decision to kill the DLC off to save money. It also seems to explain why they’ve been gunshy about bringing the game back.
As for if we’ll ever see the game come back, it’s hard to say. Again, 2K doesn’t seem to be willing to invest money in a franchise that’s flopped before, though those NBA 2K microtransactions probably mean that they have more than enough money to greenlight a project like The Darkness. Developer-wise, Starbreeze have been in a spot of trouble for a while, but seem to be in good fortunes again after entering a publishing deal with Koch Media for Payday 3 earlier this year, so they’re going to be busy for a while. Meanwhile, Digital Extremes have their hands full with the smash hit free to play game Warframe, so they’re probably busy too.
One potential developer could be MachineGames, which was founded by former Starbreeze talent who left the studio in 2009. The studio has since cut their teeth working on the well-received Wolfenstein franchise, with The New Order, The Old Blood and The New Colossus all earning heaps of praise. The less said about Youngblood, the better. However, MachineGames are owned by Bethesda, who in turn were acquired during Xbox’s purchase of ZeniMax. The idea of working with a third party publisher like 2K for The Darkness seems a little too far out of reach.
However, it is the franchise’s 25th anniversary, and no one seems to recognise that more than Top Cow Productions, who are launching a brand new series next year. It’s been described as a relaunch for The Darkness, so perhaps it’ll retell the story of Jackie Estacado with some new twists and turns along the way, but it’s a more promising future than the series has had in a while. A series was set to launch in 2019, but was delayed indefinitely.
Returning to the game adaptation of the series in celebration of the comic book’s anniversary would be cool, but I’m not sure what would be the best way to make that happen. A new entry that addresses the second game’s cliffhanger is the pipedream option: ideal, but never happening. A remake or remaster of the first two games, particularly a PC release of the first game, feels like a solid pick, but seems at odds with Top Cow’s desire to completely relaunch the property. Why tie a remaster into a celebration of a series’ new beginning? On top of that, a remaster wouldn’t guarantee a follow-up game, meaning that cliffhanger still wouldn’t receive a resolution.
Guys, I’m really just still hung up on that one cliffhanger from nearly a decade ago. I need answers.
The Darkness holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers around the world, myself included, and while 2K might not see value in returning to NYC’s criminal and tentacle filled underworld, a lot of other people would. There’s every potential that Jackie Estacado will go out on one more adventure in the future, but that’s going to require some convincing.
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