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The Darkness

Gaming's Defining Moments - The Darkness

"Do you see a happy ending here Jackie?"

Five years and a change of developer obviously isn't enough for closure.

Next week's release of Darkness II will see numerous familiar elements return. Notably one of the most important, yet one you won't find on the back of the retail box, is mob boss Jackie Estacado's guilt-ridden conscience still chewing over the loss of his girlfriend Jenny Ramano.

We've discussed in previous missives whether a game can approximate the feeling of love between its characters. In 2007 Starbreeze, the Swedish developer known better for its dabbling with bald-headed killers and harsh prison environments managed to nail one of the few moments arguably truer to real life relationships because it didn't come with sparks flying.

Neither was it heavily sexual, arousing or even titillating: it was just resolutely real. The key scene, a quiet moment between the hefty bloodshed that marked the original Darkness title, saw two childhood friends, now lovers, comfortably curled up next to each other in a ramshackle apartment, watching television.

The Darkness

Starbreeze had bought up hours worth of television shows and films that could be watched on any television set. Such as the one propped up on a removal box in front of you. To Kill A Mockingbird blared out in front of you. The picture quality was crappy, the screen small. You had the option to leave. We didn't.

Stay long enough and the camera pans around as Jenny pulls your head to her - and leans in for a kiss. Her closed eyes dominate the screen for a few moments, and with that, she pulls away and nestles against your shoulder. Its a surprisingly tender moment.

It's also easy to laugh at, and the perspective makes it awkward to look at. The Achievement that unlocks due to it - "Romantic: Real guys stick around for their ladies" - could be seen as cheapening it. But I witnessed the scene while reviewing the game in a bustling office full of writers usually ready with barbed comments. Such comments never came. Typing had stopped as the scene unfolded. Come the kiss there was a deeper silence that was neither awkward or embarrassed gravitating from behind me. A single word, more impressed exhalation, then fingers started typing on keyboards again.

The Darkness

Heavy-handed or subtle, the scene was necessary to emphasise the heartbreak that was to come next. It would be easy to off Jenny. The game signposted such an action well before the actuality. Yet despite foreknowledge, or perhaps because of it, the moment was on par with Eli Vance's execution in Half Life 2: Episode 2. We knew instinctively control would be wrested from us: even if we could do little more than move the camera our hands would have been clutched to mouths or heads as we witnessed Jackie's girl - our girl - held down and slaughtered. The car crash you're powerless to prevent and unable to look away from.

What happened next was even more powerful: grabbing the still loaded gun that killed Jenny, Jackie put it into his mouth and pulled the trigger. We knew that couldn't, somehow, be the end of the game, but the suicide was a blood-soaked ending to the title's first half.

It was a powerful push in Jackie's development. Digital Extremes is smart enough to return to the memory of Jenny. It doesn't feel like a retread or a lack of ideas, but homage to one of the worst breakup in gaming history.