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Monday, November 19, 2007

A Dark Weekend

There's nothing better than sitting down to play an Xbox 360 game and having achievements unlock all over the place. I managed to squeeze in four hours of The Darkness this weekend, unlocking seven achievements worth 140 gamer points! Now that's a good weekend of gaming - especially for a husband and father such as myself.

There's always a strange juxtaposition between my life in the real world and the characters I play in video games. If you were to compare me to someone like Jackie Estacado, protagonist of The Darkness, no two more different people could you find. Perhaps that's why I enjoy playing darker characters in games: perhaps these games give me some sort of release of anger, aggression, and other dark feelings that might be boiling somewhere deep inside. Or maybe I'm easy-going, non-violent, and extremely passive in real life because I've always played video games?

What am I getting at? Nothing at all. All this is just to say that I like video games and the proof is in my restless pursuit of gamer points and unlocking achievements.

The first achievement that I unlocked this past weekend was the Ghandhi achievement. It was an easy 10 gamer points to get, assuming that you know what to do in advance. There is a guy that you need to speak with in the game and you have a couple options when seeking an audience with him. Your first option is to simply kill everyone in your way - but that is most definitely NOT Ghandhi-like. The second option is to play things cool and avoid all bloodshed. I chose the second option, spoke with the guy as required by The Darkness' storyline, and then killed every last person in sight.

After a little more gameplay, I made it to the end of Chapter 1. I give top marks to Starbreeze Studios for taking the game to the next level by finishing up the first chapter of The Darkness as they did. Dark, gritty, and gripping: dark heroes in dark stories should be put in awful situations that test the boundaries of human sadness. Not only did I get the pleasure of watching all the horror and misery unfold on my screen: I also picked up the Beginnings achievement worth a whopping 25 gamer points.

As Chapter 2 begins, Jackie finds himself "somewhere". In Hell? Perhaps. In a dream? Possibly. From the streets of New York to the trenches of World War I, Jackie must now figure out where he is and how to escape from this reality and get back to his own reality [ed. note: In order to avoid spoilers, I've simplified the story here and purposely obfuscated some of the game's truths from the reader].

Right off the bat, Jackie obtains a brand-new Darkness power: the Demon Arm. This new demonic appendage allows Jackie to knock out lights, toss small and large objects about with ease, and skewer opponents. The demon arm is a great way of saving ammo and really knocking the spit out of your enemies. I've had a lot of success using it, though I wish the developers had put a little more work into aiming the arm. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to target one enemy with the demon arm, only to have the arm skewer someone else instead (usually a lifeless corpse on the ground). I've also had the demon arm impale an innocent nobody on the streets of New York as I try to knock out a street light. All in all, though, the Demon Arm is a pretty cool tool for Jackie to use in his quest for revenge and its acquisition resulted in No Man's Land being added to my list of achievements (along with 25 GamerPoint).

Ok, back to WWI...

Jackie soon finds himself involved in a plot that involves acquiring a couple guns from a man on a cross (not to be confused with the man on the cross). To accomplish this task, Jackie must fight his way across a battlefield teeming with a number of creepy and eerily accurate enemies. To make matters worse, the sky is constantly lit up by lightning which seems to have a number of ill effects, including the random teleportation of Jackie around the battlefield and arbitrarily turning off Jackie's darkness powers.

In the end, I managed to get Jackie to the man on the cross and acquired the Darkness Guns. These guns are pretty crap-tastic in the real world though I hear that they are quite good for taking out enemies in the nightmarish WWI setting. Frankly, all I cared about was getting the Hills achievement worth 25 GamerPoint!

The Darkling Master achievement is another easy achievement to unlock. Once again, there was no special effort required on my part. Acquiring all the Darkling types was a natural by-product of playing The Darkness. I picked up this achievement and 15 GamerPoint before getting Jackie back to New York.

Of course, I also unlocked the Legendary Summoner achievement by summoning 50 Darklings over the course of the game. Each time I came across a portal, I summoned a Darkling to do my bidding. Roughly ten minutes after getting Jackie back to New York, I found a portal, summoned a Darkling, and was awarded both the achievement and another 25 GamerPoint. I really love it when the achievements start coming fast and furious (i.e. the "score-gasm")!

Finally, I grabbed the Obsessive Collector achievement after mailing some of the letters I found in the nightmare world. Much like phone number collection in the New York setting, the WWI setting has a number of hidden letters scattered around. By finding these letters and then mailing them back in the real world, extra game content is unlocked and progress is made towards the "collection" achievements.

I just happened to find enough letters to cross the "75 collectibles unlocked" mark. There are still more letters to be found later in the game and these will inch me closer towards the Completionist achievement (unlock 100 collectibles); however, I'll have to backtrack to find some missing letters and phone numbers at some point. There is definitely something a little screwy in how The Darkness tracks the letters and phone numbers found in the game and I constantly find myself missing collectibles that I know I've already found.

I'm going to try and play The Darkness this evening. I'll most likely be working towards a few achievements:

  • One With the Dark: This is awarded after maxing out Jackie's Darkness level. I believe this requires devouring 180 hearts. I think I've devoured about 150 hearts so far; another 30 should be do-able tonight.

  • Heart of Gold: I won't be able to clear this achievement tonight, but I'll be working towards this goal as I continue to help out various NPCs with their problems.

  • Ripper: Skewering 30 enemies with the Demon Arm shouldn't be a big deal. I think I've already managed to take out half that number so far.

That's it for today. I'll be back tomorrow with some more about The Darkness or, if I fail to get any time to play tonight, I'll discuss the games that are topping my Christmas list this year.