PS3: The Darkness Review

After more than a decade of slow decline, arcade-style games have begun to resurface via the Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and Virtual Console.  For a small sum, gamers around the world have bought revived versions of corner-arcade and legacy classics, enjoying new features and improved visuals.  Super Stardust HD, a game in the same genre as Asteroids and Geometry Wars, puts the player in control of a planet’s only line of defense against the immense number of asteroids and enemies falling toward it.

The game is a retooled version of the popular Amiga title and enjoys a number of improvements.  Developer Housemarque allows the player full orbital movement around each of the game’s five planets, adding a surprisingly deep play experience where trapping yourself in a corner is impossible.  Visually, the game is spectacular: literally thousands of objects may be dancing around your screen during many of the game’s more hectic moments (rendered in 1080p at 60fps, no less), without significant framerate drops.

The game is played in one of three different game modes: Arcade, Planet, and Co-op.  In Arcade, you play through each stage in succession, while Planet lets you choose a single planet to practice.  Co-op lets two players cooperate in an Arcade-like session. The lack of online capabilities, outside of the worldwide leaderboards, is a bit disappointing, since the Co-op’s lack of splitscreen severely limits mobility.

You’re given access to three weapon types: the “rock crusher,” a spread cannon for use against rock-type asteroids, the “gold melter,” a flame thrower that works best against golden asteroids, and the “ice splitter,” a long-range blaster for pulverizing icy asteroids.  You can switch between them on the fly by using the the top triggers, allowing you to pick the best tool for the job, whether it be dismantling a field of rocky debris or cornering some of the more agile enemies.

In addition to the “destroy everything” derivative, you’ll find yourself mining asteroids for a glowing green mineral.  Contained inside this mineral is an assortment of bonus tokens that give you extra ships, empower your shields, improve your weapons, or add bonus points to your score.  Though bonus points will be the most common, it’s easy to get carried away when you see the colored token that upgrades your weapons; luckily, getting anywhere near these tokens will pull them toward you.

Each stage, and accompaning boss battle, has its own music, and while energetic enough to fit the game’s hectic style, it’s all rather repetitive.  Sound effects seem fairly natural, but are nothing to write home about:  with a game this exciting, audio is not something you’ll have time to listen for.

The best part of this game is most certainly its “come back and play again” appeal.  The controls are easy to pick up, and within a few minutes, you’ll find yourself dodging rock shards to grab that extra man with the best of them.  The basics are most certainly not enough to get you through the second planet, and moving forward to the last two planets will require some education in tactical use of bombs and your quick boost.  Once you’ve plowed through all five stages of all five planets, dextrously defeating each boss, you’ll have plenty of fun maximizing your point intake and sharing your conquests on the leaderboards.  You may even enjoy improving upon your game stats, which are stored each time you play.

This is most certainly the best $7.99 you can spend on the PSN, and the possibilities for additional content are numerous. The difficulty scales well for all skill levels and even the best thumbs will have plenty to do.  It looks great and feels great, and the only lacking features are more online capabilities and additional levels. Go steal your mom’s/girlfriend’s/roommate’s credit card and get this game on your PS3 before the top Arcade scores become any more disheartening:  last I checked, the top spot was held by someone with over 650million points…keep in mind, the better players seem to average around 10-15million per planet.

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