Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed) | PS3 | PC
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: 2K Games
Playing through The Darkness was an absolute joy, well maybe with the exception of the multiplayer, thanks to a mix of guns, supernatural powers, crazy little minions, creepy visits to the realm of The Darkness, an amazing story, and a bucket load of blood that left us wanting more. However, since finishing off his murderous mission of vengeance Jackie Estacado’s been living the high life whilst keeping The Darkness locked up inside himself and like all of us in the real world it’s been screaming to join up with its host to cause chaos yet again. Luckily, a powerful and illusive enemy is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to strike and Jackie will need to embrace his old friend if he wants to survive.
First of all, for fans of the original game who were fretting about this one, I can safely say that this is a worthy entry in the series. I don’t want to say much about the story because the mystery behind it is half the fun when you’re charging around on your first play through, but what I will say is that it’s definitely on par with the first game. Whatever you do when you fire up the game for the first time, don’t skip the previously on The Darkness section, otherwise you’ll miss out on the awesome comic panel recap that’s been prepared for you. It’s evident right from the get go that things have changed in Jackie’s world, he’s on the top rung of the Mafia’s ladder and reaping all the benefits including being treated like a King at restaurants and living in a huge mansion. You’re also jumping into Jackie’s shoes at a time in his life when he more or less knows how to use The Darkness to best serve his purposes even if he is slightly reluctant to use it in the beginning. Those of you who were hoping to jump back into the twisted First World War environments might be disappointed to learn they’re gone this time around, the only other place you’ll be visiting is the mental institution which I believe is infinitely better thanks to the clever way it plants doubts and ideas in your mind.
When I first played the demo for the game back in August I noticed the difference in visual styles almost immediately and I have to say that I was a bit disappointed in the move away from realistic visuals in favour of a cell shading technique reminiscent of XIII and A Scanner Darkly. My attitude has changed dramatically though: I now love the way The Darkness II looks and I think it should be praised for making you feel like you’re walking around a living breathing comic book. Characters and the majority of objects strewn around the environments have a black pen outline and when you take the time to have a proper look around you can see all the hand painted details in all their glory. Unfortunately though it doesn’t always pay off and can look a little bit cheap at times.
Charging around blasting your enemies with guns whilst simultaneously slicing up their friends with The Darkness is great fun. You can purchase extra abilities through the skill tree using Darkness essence you’ve collected by killing your enemies in various ways, consuming their hearts and also by finding hidden relics. These relics really make you search through the environments and once found you’ll get a snippet of background information about The Darkness, which should make you jump back into the fray once you’ve completed the game in order to find them, unless of course you’ve grabbed them all on your first play through, in which case I applaud your skills!
There are a limited number of guns featured in the game and they fall into either the pistol, shotgun, SMG, or assault rifle categories. Aiming down the sights can only be done when you’re brandishing a single weapon and they’re fairly accurate, which should allow you to pick off enemies at a distance courtesy of a satisfying head shot. Only pistols and SMGs can be dual wielded, which comes at the cost of accuracy, but to be honest when you’re running into a fight spraying bullets in every direction it’s more than likely that you’re going to hit something!
Now lets talk about The Darkness powers that have been handed to you. As with the previous game, Jackie’s got two Darkness arms at his beck and call. The left one can be used to grab objects in the environment which you can then throw at enemies to take them out, or if you prefer you can just grab your enemy following which you can perform a gruesome execution move. The right arm can slice and dice people as well as swatting away pesky annoyances such as electric lights. That leaves us with gun channeling and swarms. Rather than creating a couple of guns out of The Darkness itself, Jackie can now take conventional weapons and fill them with Darkness essence for a brief period of time, which increases their power and allows you to eliminate a large group of enemies in a matter of seconds. If you’re pinned down and running low on health then it’s probably time to unleash a swarm on whoever’s shooting at you, which should distract them long enough for you to horribly dismember them and carry on your merry way. Normally in games that give you a lot of powers to play with it’s fairly hard to cycle through them all in a single battle, but in The Darkness II it’s incredibly easy and allows for some hugely varied combat.
Instead of being able to summon various types of Darkling, only one’ll be scurrying around doing your biding. When he first turns up you’re not quite sure what to make of him, his British accent is so appalling that you can only tell he’s British based on the Union Jack that he’s wearing and his actions are incredibly crass; he’ll jump up and down on the bodies of enemies that you’ve dispatched and in some cases he’ll literally piss all over them! Don’t be fooled though he’s incredibly useful, particularly once you’ve grabbed the upgrade that allows you to hurl him at people with one of your Darkness arms, following which he’ll rip them to pieces with ease. He’ll also rush off to find objects that are useful to you when you’re in a tight spot or can’t work out what to do next. There are a couple of occasions where you can posses him and zip around in a similar fashion to when you were using the creeping dark in the original game, and one of my Darkling highlights in this instalment occurred when I was crawling around some air ducts and could hear him humming “Rule Britannia” to himself. The great thing is that he becomes a real companion to you that you feel for as you progress through the story and you can’t help but smile when you suddenly hear “Hello monkey!”, which usually heralds his arrival.
I think it’s worth noting that the majority of hostiles you’re up against this time around have been specially trained to deal with The Darkness and its host, so they pose a real threat to Jackie even though he’s got a supernatural edge when it comes to protecting himself. What this means is that you’ll frequently shy away in the heat of battle, like a vampire retreating from the sun, when an enemy appears with a powerful spotlight to hold you off whilst others throw light grenades at you, or a group of them turn up in a vehicle with its headlights blazing to keep you at bay.
The campaign is an absolute blast, which is why it’s such a shame that it comes crashing to an end so quickly; you’ll easily plough through it in an evening and it really leaves you wanting more. When you do reach the end it’s a tiny bit disappointing because it’s one of those cliffhanger endings that makes the overall product feel very much feel like a set up for The Darkness III, although having said that I’d happily play another game in this series! Once you’re back to the main menu, you’ll notice a new option in the form of New Game +, which allows you to start again with all the upgrades and relics you’ve built up. As a result you’ll really be able to tear things up in new game + right from the get go.
I think the memories of the awful multiplayer in The Darkness made me dread checking out the Vendetta co-op mode, but I needn’t have worried because it’s a great alternative to the main game. It can be played online or offline and you’ll be taking control of one of four assassins who all gladly accept jobs from Jackie Estacado and his family. They’re intriguing characters in their own right and you can’t help but want to know a little bit more about them. The story behind the Vendetta mode nicely marries up with the main game, but if you’re not bothered by that then you can just carry out specific hits on various targets. The formula of the gameplay is simple there are plenty of enemies to take care of as you creep ever closer to your goal. Once again you’ll have access to a skills tree to upgrade your abilities, but the assassins can only use one Darkness power, although they do each have a special weapon some of which are far more useful than others.
I’d say that despite one or two minor flaws, The Darkness II is a great game that you can easily lose yourself in and it’s hard to rip yourself away from. Unfortunately, the main game’s over far too quickly and you can’t help but feel a little cheated, then again I’d happily run out and grab a copy of this one for it’s full retail value and I hope that another game’s in the works because this series has been one of the best we’ve seen on this generation of consoles.
- Great story
- Awesome combat
- The cell-shading style really makes you feel like you’re in a living breathing comic book, but . . .
- . . . at times it feels a little bit cheap and nasty
- The main game is far too short
- You can only posses The Darkling twice in the entire game
The Short Version: Taking control of The Darkness once more is a truly fantastic experience and to be honest you should probably stop reading this so you can go and buy yourself a copy.
First published on Dealspwn (15 February 2012)