The Darkness II|
We were first introduced to Jackie Estacado back in the summer of 2007 when 2K Games released the original game, The Darkness, a unique hybrid of FPS gameplay mixed with the narrative style and dark violence typically found in comic books. Back then Jackie was just your everyday hitman for the mob celebrating his 21st birthday by trying not to get killed by his uncle Paulie, but a lot of things have changed between those events and when we catch-up to Jackie in The Darkness II.
Jackie is now the reigning mob boss, ruling the crime family from his luxurious penthouse suite. He’s learned to suppress the Darkness these past few years, ever since it forced him to stand by and watch the love of his life, Jenny, get executed right in front of him. For those who never played the original (and I highly recommend you do the next time you have a spare 8-10 hours) you can get all caught up with a nice “Previously On…” narrative that takes you right up to Jackie stepping out of his limo and entering his favorite restaurant for dinner. Little does he know, events are about to unfold that will change his life forever.
It seems Jackie has become the target of an organization known as the Brotherhood. This fanatical religious group was previously in charge of keeping the Darkness entrapped in a device called the Siphon, and now that Jackie has once again started manifesting signs of the Darkness (basically two hungry snake-like tentacles protruding from his shoulders) they want it back, but Jackie has to release the power willingly, and while he doesn't want the power anymore, he doesn't want it to fall into the wrong hands either.
The Darkness II is a much tighter game this time around. There are no more full-length TV shows being broadcast on TV’s in shopping carts and there are no more phone numbers to collect and call from pay phones. This game is all about combat…brutal, vicious, bloody combat unlike anything you have ever experienced. Honestly, if it weren’t for the new style of graphics I’m guessing this game would have surpassed even the Mature rating standards – it’s just that visceral.
Of course the big hook for the sequel is “quad-wielding”, which is only slightly accurate in phrasing. Yes, throughout much of the game you will have four appendages but they don’t all “wield”. You can dual-wield any combination of small firearms in your hands - shotguns and rifles take both hands – and your left tentacle can pick up items like rebar, fan blades, pool cues, garbage cans, garbage can lids, parking meters, propane tanks, and even rip the doors off of vehicles. Basically, if it exists in the world and it's pulsating purple you can grab it and use it, and believe me, there is nothing more satisfying than ripping the door off a taxi and using it to shield yourself from gunfire as you advance on the enemy then fling the door at the gunman and watching two equal halves (or maybe just his head) sink to the ground.
The LT and RT control your hands and whatever weapons are in them. If you only have one then LT acts as your iron sights for increased aiming accuracy. The LB controls your left tentacle, which can grab things and people while the RB controls the right tentacle used for attacks or smashing through obstacles. You can even direct the right tentacle with the stick for precise vertical or horizontal swipes. The carnage gets creative when you start exploring all the wonderfully sick, twisted, and even demented execution options, and since you’re about to kill a few thousand people, variety is king.
Before you can grab somebody they first need to be stunned, either by hitting them with an object or smacking them around with your tentacles, but once you have them in your python-like grip you can finish them off by plucking out their heart (required for restoring your health), remove their head, slice them at the waist, or grab both their legs and “make a wish”. The game rewards you with XP for each kill and the more physical and inventive the kills, the more XP you earn. XP or Essence is collected for kills and also by finding Dark Relics scattered about the levels. You can then spend this Essence at special power-up portals to purchase numerous talents divided amongst four categories.
The Talent Tree (actually a wheel) allows you to customize your gameplay experience even further by adding and upgrading numerous skills that will boost your healing, your gun skills, your tentacle usage, or even allow you to summon a Dark Swarm that will incapacitate and damage the enemy, allowing you to follow-up with more creative ways of executing them. While it is impossible to acquire all the talents and maximize their effectiveness in a single play-through, there is a New Game+ mode that will allow you to build on your progress from the first trip through the game and tie up any loose ends like collectibles and achievements.
Another modification from the original game is the Darkling, and whereas before you were able to summon a variety of types, this time you only get one Darkling, which I found much more enjoyable and effective. He plays a more vital role in the sequel, and while autonomous for the most part, you can at times pick him up and fling him toward a specific enemy, and there are two parts of the game where you even get to play as the Darkling from his unique point of view. He also offers the occasional hint or humorous banter as well as plenty of sight gags like farting or pissing on the corpses of his victims.
As you might imagine, light plays an important part of a game titled, The Darkness II. Jackie must stick to the shadows and avoid bright lights, even to the point of shooting out lights or whipping them with his tentacle, or destroying generators or fuse boxes. Sometimes you’ll have to dash through a lighted area to reach a new patch of darkness, but whenever you are exposed to light you can no longer heal and your tentacles will temporarily vanish. What really amps up the whole light vs. dark thing is that now the enemies are onto you and your powers and will come at you with spotlights, flash grenades, or even use car headlights to diminish your powers. What used to be just another environmental obstacle is now being used as a dangerous weapon capable of stripping you of your powers just when you need them the most.
The Darkness II has a lot more heart than the original, and not just the ones you are eating. We get to explore Jackie’s relationship with his men as well as his Aunt Sarah and even Jenny through some eerie Darkness-induced visions. One instance with Jenny in the diner reminded me of the moment in the first game where you are on the couch with Jenny watching a movie. These rare touching moments are a nice break from the otherwise nonstop bloodletting that will occur every time you step into the elevator to leave your penthouse.
The main story clocks in around eight hours but then you have these cool Vendetta missions which really help extend the gameplay and tell some important parts of the narrative. Many of these missions directly relate to the core story and allow you to play as one of four henchmen, each with their own Darkness powers. You can play these alone offline or go online and team up with up to three others for some interesting cooperative gameplay. While these Vendetta missions don’t offer the endless replay value of competitive multiplayer, they essentially double the content of the game and allow you to share the experience with friends.
I was browsing the screens from the original game, which was pushing the high-tech ceiling or realism at the time, so it was interesting to see just how much of a difference this new direction in cel-shaded art style contributes to the overall flavor of The Darkness II. It’s easy to get jaded when game after game strives for photo-realism, so it was a refreshing change to dive into this living graphic novel. Honestly, this is one of the most memorable visual experiences I’ve had in 30 years of gaming. The only thing that comes close is XIII, the cel-shaded FPS that Ubisoft released back in 2003. Frankly, I don’t think I could have stomached the excessive blood and guts if they had gone with a more realistic approach. It would have been overkill. Don’t get me wrong; the game is plenty gory. Don’t take my word for it. Go talk to Butcher Joyce in the bathroom, or just enjoy the show as you bite heads off of necks, rip a man vertically in half, or stake a man to a brick wall with a pipe through his face.
The audio portion of the game is pure genius with quality voice acting throughout, a fantastic score and plenty of licensed music tracks I wouldn’t have expected in a game such as this but certainly appreciate. Hearing Jane’s Addiction playing the first time I explored my apartment or listening to Ton Loc’s “Wild Thing” while I massacred the population of the local pool hall or just dancing with Jenny to the 1934 hit, “I Only Have Eyes for You” were memorable moments. And if Mike Patton doing the voice of the Darkness doesn’t leave a wet stain on your couch, you are fearless my friend.
The Darkness II is definitely a step up from its predecessor, both in gameplay and story. I was much more connected with the characters this time around and the story missions and progression of difficulty was much more refined with some of the later boss fights truly testing my “quad-wielding” and talent tree skills. The Vendetta missions were another great addition that not only added more story content but a nice multiplayer co-op alternative.
Gamers wanting to experience some of the bloodiest combat you’re likely to see in any FPS this year, or those wanting to revel in perhaps the most visionary graphic novel-style presentation of the decade need only look as far as The Darkness II. It’s a wild and non-stop ride of gore and carnage with gameplay that uniquely adapts to each person who plays it. It has surprising moments of heart and storytelling, but most of all; it’s a bloody good time from start to finish, and a game you’ll play at least twice just so you can experience it all.