This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of VICE magazine (UK edition).
By the time you're reading this, the world will know whether or not the newest, fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is a glorious new adventure for Johnny Depp and company, or a stinking, sunken shipwreck of a production. (As it turns out, bit of a sinker.)
Pre-release, though, the most notable piece of the film's marketing has been a wonderfully weird photograph of former pop idol turned veggie-sausage-scoffing, I'll-do-almost-anything-if-the-money's-right (see: Destiny) so-called icon for hire, Paul McCartney. Which immediately got a bunch of listicle-penners perusing the 'net for other instances of poppers and rockers rolling into motion pictures.
Springsteen, Prince, Rihanna, Madonna—they've all been at it, and countless more beside them, mostly appearing in wholly forgettable roles. But video games, right, you know those things—they've also hosted a plethora of pop sorts, and not just in those play-along music titles with their Actual Likenesses in them.
Iggy Pop showed up as a gruff gangster type in Driv3r, and Marilyn Manson voiced an alien in the PS2-era shooter Area 51. Speaking of beings from the beyond, Bowie couldn't say no to a starring role in the dodgy Dreamcast adventure Omikron: The Nomad Soul. And 50 Cent was 50 Cent in not one but two 50 Cent games, in which he, just like real life, gets shot at a bunch of times but doesn't die. Except, he does, but you can just continue from where you left off. Video games.
My favorite musician turned video game voice-over artist, however, is the one and only Mike Patton. You'll know him from such bands as Faith No More, Mr Bungle, Peeping Tom, Tomahawk, Fantômas and a whole bunch more. From his yelps and barks, croons and curses, he's a frontman apart, regularly walking the knife's edge between relative accessibility and arse-disappearing experimentation for experimentation's sake. I totally dig a bunch of his stuff. And The Darkness is absolutely amongst it.
In 2007, the still-new-next-gen of video gaming hardware was finding its feet, staggering around in the shadow of the dominant PS2. Many titles were pitched across several platforms, spanning generations, aiming for a broad reach. The Darkness, a comic book-based supernatural gangsters-and-ghouls first-person shooter from Swedish studio Starbreeze—who'd go on to produce the heart-breaking Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in 2013—aimed straight for the future, however. Releasing solely for the Xbox 360 and PS3, the consoles with grunt enough to deliver its tale of mafia ties undone by a mysterious malevolence that gives the game its title.
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Watch Danika tour the show floor at this year's E3 in Los Angeles.
"You" are Jackie Estacado who, on his 21st birthday, is marked for assassination by his own uncle, a New York mob boss voiced by old A-Team weirdo Dwight Schultz. Which is a pretty shitty turn of events—but things get a whole lot shittier when, hiding from armed goons in a cemetery, Jackie becomes possessed by "the darkness"—which ultimately manifests as a wealth of demonic powers that Jackie can wield to tear through his enemies. And here's where Patton steps up to the proverbial plate and smashes his performance out of the park–in his first-ever gig in a game's voice-over booth.
You need someone to provide gurgling, grotesque mumblings and rumblings, rasps and hisses for your snake-headed manifestation of an ancient evil? Naturally you call the guy who, in his Day Job, can be found maniacally repeating the mantra of "the cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river" over wailing electric guitars. Patton as the Darkness, in The Darkness, is perfect. As the blackness slithers out from Jackie, strangling and stabbing and consuming the hearts of so many fallen foes, so Patton croaks and belches, arming the game with a greater, skin-prickling menace than all of its bad guys with big guns combined could never add up to. And it's you who controls this monster, for the most part.
Because, when the final confrontation with the hit-issuing Paulie comes around, Jackie is barely Jackie anymore—the Darkness has consumed him, become him, and Patton's having an absolute ball. "All control of the vessel is mine," he declares with a macabre cackle, sounding like he's talking through a mouthful of clotting blood—and The Darkness provides no happy ending, Jackie forever cursed to carry the wickedness with him.
There's a lot to like about The Darkness, from its robust gun play and its grimy New York locations through to a surprisingly tender portrayal of a relationship violently torn asunder. And then there's the entirety of To Kill a Mockingbird that can be watched while Jackie and his girlfriend, Jenny, are killing time at her apartment—one of video gaming's greatest idle animations, in a way.
Ten years on, it remains a fascinating shooter, mixing mobster clichés with monstrous magic and, of course, that voice over. It's the best any musician's ever sounded in a video game—like themselves, but utterly removed from expectations founded upon work in other mediums. Nobody does Patton like Patton, and in turn, nobody can ever do the Darkness without him.
Patton reprised his role, albeit in a somewhat hammier fashion, in The Darkness' bombastically fun if frustratingly brief sequel of 2012 (from which all of these screenshots are taken), and followed up on his video gaming debut by contributing mechanical growls to Valve's imperial puzzler Portal, and voicing the protagonist of the 2009 reboot of Bionic Commando. But it's this breakout role that got under my skin, much as the Darkness does Jackie's, where it remains to this day. Somehow, whether the movie was decent or not, I can't see Macca dolled up as a rancid pirate leaving the same impression.