Putting you in the picture of a Mafia hitman. With demonic powers.
Thankfully nothing to do with grating falsettos, taut Spandex or a sub-Spinal Tap rock gag that long outstayed its welcome, The Darkness is the latest gun-toting spin-off from a hip comicbook, this time focusing on the dark work of publisher Top Cow rather than more familiar behemoths such as Marvel or DC. But while most gamers are resting their trigger finger in preparation for the next instalment of Microsoft's all-conquering Halo series in September, The Darkness is still a worthy competitor to Master Chief's visceral gunplay that stylishly tweaks the first-person formula with stunning cinematics and a liberal measure of supernatural weirdness.
Developed by Swedish coders Starbreeze - whose last game, The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, elegantly eclipsed the patchy movie licence it was based on - The Darkness follows the adventures of a surly Mafia hitman possessed by demons and cursed with magical powers that can be callously turned against his enemies.
As the gory action unfolds, feasting on the still-beating hearts of fallen enemies unlocks a wild assortment of powers that can be used to solve puzzles and defeat adversaries: two enormous tentacles can sprout from the hero's shoulders, allowing him to impale cops, toss heavy objects or flick remote switches; a spiritual helper can be called on to scuttle ahead of your physical body and scout for dangers that lie before you; and the infernal mobster can also fashion a diminutive black hole that sucks screaming enemies and anything else that isn't bolted down into the void.
Most satisfying, though, are the mischievous Darklings that can be summoned to do your depraved bidding, the cackling imps using hammers, hacksaws and whatever else they can lay their claws on to dismember rivals in the cruellest way possible.
Crucially, however, these uncanny powers will only work when the hero is cloaked in darkness, giving rise to a clever gameplay mechanic where players must shoot out lights or lurk in the shadows to make the best use of their eerie abilities. And as many of the game's challenges are staged on the grimy streets of New York, players will often have to rely on their shooting skills rather than enchanted limbs to save the day, adding depth and variety to the carnage.
Imaginative slaughter aside, The Darkness also excels in its stellar presentation. Like Half-Life 2, many of the game's story elements are presented as cinematics in which you play an active role, rather than forcing players to watch pre-rendered movies that can make you feel isolated from the plot development. Moreover, the many characters you meet along the way - with whom you can have convincing conversations using the game's branching dialogue trees and get a different response each time - are all brought to life by alarmingly-convincing facial expressions that subtly convey emotion and betray hidden agendas, helping create the illusion that you're taking part in a slick interactive movie, rather than blistering your fingers in yet another conventional blaster.
On the downside, the enemies you'll encounter during the course of the game lack the cunning and guile of rivals in a shooter such as Gears Of War, and the controls - although tight and logical - can be confusing when getting to grips with your demonic powers. But as a game that transforms butchery into an art form and makes you feel like the star of a big budget Hollywood fright flick, The Darkness is essential.