Horror first-person shooter titles have been making waves in the gaming community for some time now, and The Darkness is no different in that respect. The Darkness is a thrilling delve into a dark and seedy modern day New York, with a frightening supernatural twist, delivered in a highly polished package. However what The Darkness does do differently to other horror FPS titles is that it seems to be doing everything right. Well, almost everything.

In The Darkness you play Mafia hitman Jackie Estacado who runs into trouble with his “Uncle” Paulie, who happens to be the don. Paulie arranges a hit on Jackie on his 21st birthday, which unlucky for Paulie, is also the date that the Darkness shows itself for the first time by unleashing itself upon Paulie’s hit-men.

Needless to say you won’t be invited to the next dinner at Giovanni’s Trattoria with this don. The Darkness is essentially a supernatural power that has been inherited to Jackie lending him powers beyond his wildest dreams. However the Darkness is so powerful it takes over Jackie and feeds off his hate and his evil deeds as well as the darkness. The stronger it grows the more havoc it wreaks, and the more Jackie loses himself to the Darkness.

Without giving away too much, it doesn’t take long until Jackie is seeking revenge on Paulie, and this is what the Darkness grows off, well that and devouring the hearts of anyone that Jackie has killed...

Playing Jackie is as you would expect from an FPS. You have an entertaining arsenal of weapons with which to reign upon your enemies with, however which you use comes down primarily to personal choice. The violence is pretty graphic and The Darkness definitely deserves its R18 label.

As mentioned previously the Darkness feeds off the hearts of your downed opponents with a mere button press. The more hearts the Darkness devours the stronger it becomes, unleashing new abilities and making your current abilities more powerful. The Darkness however is only strong in the dark. This means Jackie will spend a lot of the time in the dark or extinguishing lights up ahead. If the Darkness powers are active and Jackie spends too much time in the light he will lose the powers until back in the dark, making him vulnerable to attack.

When the Darkness is active it absorbs damage and has attacks, including black hole and creeping darkness. The black hole essentially sucks anything and everything near it into its gravitational pull, and with another button press you can make it self-destruct. This is a dramatic and innovative weapon which is more fun to use than to talk about, and really has to be seen. With the creeping darkness ability it extends one of its tenticles/heads and creeps along the ground. Using this you can fit through vents and other such small spaces and stealth kill enemies as well as unlock doors from the inside.

The Darkness can also summon darklings to help you in your battles. There are four types of such minions to unlock: the berserker which has a melee attack; the gunner is self-explanatory, armed with a mini chain-gun; kamikaze, again self-explanatory but helpful when the path is blocked; and finally the light-killer Darklings which will extinguish any lights around you.

The darklings, however would at times be better suited to washing cars than helping Jackie. Their intelligence is severely limited and they become a burden at times when the gunner darkling shoots you in the back for crossing his line of fire, or they continually run into light and are destroyed.

All of these abilities and actions are rendered beautifully on the screen and are in most cases a pleasure to pull off aside from perhaps the creeping darkness which seems slightly flawed. The controls are good enough, although they really could be a bit tighter and more precise at times. The creeping darkness can be frustrating at best. It is difficult to move around and somewhat difficult to implement, although its not broken, and it definitely works, but it seems to lack some fine tuning and fluidity.

New York is littered with bystanders and an excitingly recreated New York transit system (subway) which you use to get around. Some of the people loitering around will have side quests for you, and although there aren’t too many, they really add to the spice of the game and draw you into the world like not too many manage. These side quests also have the effect of extending the playing time by a fair amount. Don’t get us wrong, for a FPS this is on the longer side, but it isn’t the longest either.

The difficulty level is enough to give you a fair challenge, nothing too easy but nothing where you will be throwing the controller at your TV either. A substantial number of save points in sensible places also make for an enjoyable game even when you do end up dying. A nice surprise is the Darkness' rendition of Hell.

The game progresses almost entirely in the first-person. You receive messages on your pager at which point you’ll have to find a pay-phone with which to call the person who sent the message, although pay-phones have more uses than just returning calls... All of this helps to make you feel part of the game. But what really helps in keeping the game flowing is the innovative rendered cut-scenes that appear instead of your usual loading bar. These add to the story and help to keep the players interest alive the reasonably short loading times. These cut-scenes look beautiful, as beautiful as the game itself.

Most NPCs look excellent and a huge effort has been put into this game to make it look alive. The lip-synching is a little strange as hardly any of the characters open their mouths more than a few millimeters. But The Darkness is easily one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360. Excellent lighting effects and amazing textures on the environments really have you feeling enthralled in what is a cinema like experience. Jackie’s own shadow seems a little rough for my liking and definitely lacks some aliasing and depth when up close to something with a light directly behind you. For the level of detail it is surprising how fluid the game runs, and there is only occasional slowdown but nothing game breaking.

The multiplayer would be the biggest gripe. The Darkness supports eight-player online multiplayer, and you can even take the form of darklings online for crazy mayhem. Unfortunately though it was nigh impossible to have a smooth match. If you can host or if you can play against friends on your friends list then its fantastic, but playing against Americans will mostly give you little joy.

That's not to say fun can’t be had, but it does take some searching to find a game with a decent connection. However the online mode does consist of some neat death-matches and some entertaining capture the flag style game-modes. This is where the darklings come into their own. Their fast movement speed makes them ideal for capturing flags and for darting around the map.

The Darkness is a spectacular horror FPS which really comes into its own. There's enough innovation here to impress most old hands and an edge of your seat story really keeps your blood pumping. Some of the Darkness abilities are so much fun to pull off you won’t want to put this down as you push the story-line forward. Amazing graphics and a reasonable frame-rate, as well as some amusing side quests make this well worth having a look at, even if the multiplayer is a slight let-down.