The Darkness pretty much blew everyone away at this year's E3 with its sinister graphic novel styling and menacing horror undertones. Following on from Starbreeze's equally gloomy and dangerous re-imagining of The Chronicles of Riddick, it was hardly a great shock to find that its use of next generation visual technologies were being put to very good use. Locations that drip with atmosphere, coupled with a sensitive use of the source material deliver a stark lesson in how best to use licensed material.
Following on from another excellent presentation that reveals more about how the game kicks off, we get an understanding of how and why Mafia hitman Jackie Estacado's "awesome and terrible" darkness powers awaken on his 21st birthday. With betrayal placed front and centre of the gameplay, you're "at war with your own Mafia family", and must master the Darkness in order to wrench control back of the Franchetti family.
Given 10 minutes to chat with lead designer Jens Andersson, we chat about how the two versions compare, whether there will be a PC version, the soundtrack and unearth some hints about how the multiplayer component is shaping up.
Eurogamer: Story-wise, how close is it to the original comics of The Darkness?
Jens Andersson: We've changed quite a lot but with Paul Jenkins, who's the writer of the comic, he's been with us and he's sort of represented the comic as well, so we've taken the liberty to adapt it pretty heavily. So we wanted to re-tell the section where he turns 21 because it's such a strong story component of the IP, and we couldn't really do it the way the comic does it because it wouldn't work as a game. So we changed a bunch of different stuff and combined some elements from a bunch of other different Darkness comics that Jenkins had written. There are also some elements in that are new for the comic fans, who get information on how the Darkness got into Jackie's family.
Eurogamer: Are you considering doing a PC version of The Darkness?
Jens Andersson: It's the same answer as before: we'd like to. We'd really like to. We're focusing on the console versions right now but we are developing it on the PC, so we have it up and running on the specific hardware. After the console version is complete I hope that we will do a PC version as well, but nothing's announced yet.
Eurogamer: You mentioned multiplayer - can you tell us more about that?
Jens Andersson: Yes, there's a multiplayer component in there - online multiplayer. It's not the super-big component of the game but it's in there and we can't talk very much about the different kind of game elements that we have other than you will be able to play as one of the darklings, crawling on the walls and ceilings and stuff, so it will be pretty fast paced..
Eurogamer: Did you mention how many players the multiplayer supports?
Jens Andersson: No I didn't [laughs]. Sorry, we're still working pretty heavily with all the different stuff for multiplayer so it's kind of hard to say. Single-player is getting the most focus of course. We play it almost daily.
Eurogamer: Are you looking at February?
Jens Andersson: Early 2007.
Eurogamer: Because originally it was supposed to come out in November, wasn't it?
Jens Andersson: Well... dates shift [laughter]. We never had an actual release date but before we got together with 2k to cover the project that was somewhere along there. I think they saw the potential of the project and they gave us a number of more months.
Eurogamer: I bet you're glad you're not still with Majesco anymore...
Jens Andersson: Oh yes. It's actually a great thing with having a small publisher giving you a lot of freedom and stuff you wouldn't be given with the project, but a big publisher with big marketing potential takes over then you finish the game with that.
Eurogamer: Do you think it's got the potential to really hit big?
Jens Andersson: Yeah. Actually I'm really positive about this project right now. Especially for the PlayStation 3 actually, because there's so little competition that I've seen on the PS3, and I think we've got a big shot at doing something really good. Of course we hope it'll get great reviews and stuff, but also coming out with little competition is key if you want to sell big as well.
Eurogamer: So you think it's got more potential on PS3 than 360?
Jens Andersson: Well the user base is more [on 360], but if you look at it as how many are on the user base by the end I think it will be bigger on PlayStation 3. Of course on the 360 I think we have a pretty good slot coming out as well, early next year. Gears of War coming out as well in November, and I'm not sure how good that is. Have you played it yet? It looks good, it looks pretty much like a traditional shooter, though. [Someone mentions it has more adventure elements] Oh really? [Surprised] Suddenly I'm much more interested in that. So it's got a big adventure component? I've only seen the gameplay video released on E3 and it was very straightforward shooting. Well, then it has a chance [laughs] of being a great game. I hope so. Other than that there are games like Bioshock coming up after us.
Eurogamer: That's a contender.
Jens Andersson: Yeah. Yeah, but we're not releasing in the same slot, but they're a bit different focus than us. They have the same problem - all the people who like first-person shooters are interested in more than straightforward shooting.
Eurogamer: Do you support 1080p on PS3?
Jens Andersson: No. Well, I'm not sure it's possible how we would upscale to 1080, but we're going to run in most probably in the same resolution on Xbox and PlayStation 3. The graphics hardware is performance-wise kind of similar, so...
Eurogamer: Do you think there'll be a definitive version?
Jens Andersson: They will look pretty much identical and feel performance-wise will hopefully be pretty identical. That's what we are aiming for anyway. The PlayStation 3 has a few capabilities that perhaps we can take advantage of, for example the Blu-ray, but it's going to be just nifty features, just cramming more extra content or more movie content in there on the Blu-ray, because we have the space, while on Xbox we have filled up.
Eurogamer: The movie we saw on the in-game TV screen. You said there will be a bunch of those - how do you license those?
Jens Andersson: Yeah, we have a bunch of full movies. Public domain actually. There are a lot of movies out there that are public domain, so the copyright has expired or for some reason become free. Nosferatu is one of those. There are a bunch of Hitchcock movies - a bunch of really good movies actually. Of course we can't really trust the site saying it's public domain so we had to research each individual movie ourselves and that sort of limits the scope of the stuff we can put in there, but it's going to be at least 10 hours, we hope, and on the Blu-ray we could actually fit like 200 hours. We'll see. Somewhere in-between hopefully.
Eurogamer: How many levels are there in the game in total?
Jens Andersson: Well, we wanted to do the game a bit bigger than Riddick so we are aiming towards 10-15 hours of gameplay for the single-player campaign. Riddick for an experienced player was like 8 hours playing through the first time, or 10 hours for a newer player. So it's slightly bigger but there's an online component, multiplayer, to keep it alive.
Eurogamer: Will the soundtrack include some famous names?
Jens Andersson: It's too expensive. So we were actually looking into especially the end credits having some special Darkness themed song that people recognise, but the numbers they want - like $100,000 to do a cover of a famous song. I think it's because there's this system set up with radio stations and stuff that works well for them, but to sort of use the content in a movie or something - I guess we fall under the movie classification, and they can make a bunch of money with that. And for the end credits on something that's not worth it. We've been working together with a lot of heavy metal people. So it's going to be a pretty metal-based soundtrack, especially when you're using the Darkness powers.
Eurogamer: Have you thought about getting Mike Patton to do the score
Jens Andersson: We tossed the idea around a bit - I'm not sure where it's at right now. We would like to do it - I still think it's pretty improbable.
The Darkness is coming to PS3 and Xbox 360 via 2K Games in early 2007.