Somewhere in the heart of New York City, a cursed bloodline roams the darkened streets. A shattered man silently prowls, hunting down rival Mafia mobs as its host struggles to reclaim the fame he lost. Yet even as he surrounds himself with glory, nothing can fill the void that cut through him. A faded photograph sets on a shaky table decorated with withered rose pedals and a flickering candle. The woman’s smiling face pierces him as the voice of the Darkness mocks him, reminding him of the hell he is damned to live in.
The Darkness first slithered onto store shelves back in 2007. As a mediocre shooter, its presentation and atmosphere were greatly unappreciated but The Darkness has resurfaced again. Its ugly heads sprouting from its new sequel upon which I must warn now…Spoilers of the first game will be included. So if you have not yet played it, go out, get it, beat it in a Saturday, and then come back to read about The Darkness II. It will be the best seven dollars you will ever spend.
Two years have passed; Jackie (Brian Bloom) lived through the ordeal of the first but is still brooding over Jenny’s death. He has taken over as the Don of the Franchetti crime family in an attempt to move on with his life. He has learned how to contain the Darkness (voiced by glorious Mike Patton) still thriving within his veins. Despite being capable of boarding it up, the beast begins to long for freedom and on a fateful night after a hit, it gets its wish. Hell breaks loose (literally) as Jackie tries to regain control of the Darkness before an ancient organization steals it from him for their own personal gain. All while still suffering from haunting images of Jenny manifested by the Darkness itself to torment its host, on top of living in a questionable reality.
The game series has become a warped alternate universe to the comic series. While much of the darker elements regarding Jackie’s life have been left out, the events that occurred early during his reign as the Darkness host remain fairly close to the comic series. Just with changes in the chronological order of the events. The events of the second game were originally the beginning of comic series with Jenny’s death happening afterward. However, with the games, these events have been flipped but Paul Jenkins (one of the writers for the comic series) has been a fantastic job at crossing over the mix-matched moments.
Much like the first game, The Darkness II takes pride in its presentation and execution of its story telling. The gritty, realistic look of the first game has been replaced with a gorgeous ce-shaded appearance helping to captivate the comic book-like feel. Environments remain dark for atmosphere but are also lush and colorful; something we do not see in more modern games. Animations are as smoother as butter, making waving your Darkness tentacles around and jumping to any of your three firearms before impaling an enemy with a lead pipe flawless. The gameplay has been greatly improved with the controls feeling more fluent over its clunky predecessor. Attacks are much more gruesome this time around as well with more brutal executions to pull off. You now are scored on the creativity of your kills and are rewarded “dark essence” which is used to upgrade yourself on a talent tree. Abilities can be unlocked this way, like the good ol’ black hole and a few new techniques to better improve the Darkness’ capabilities against enemies.
However, one drawback is The Darkness II is much more linear. Unlike the first game, the sequels feels more like an dark action film. It just leads you down narrow corridors while letting the plot unfold before you. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a big disappointment. Some of the immersion that was felt in the past came from wandering around parts of New York City and witnessing how civilians reacted to a guy who looked like he was on his way to metal concert with snakes growing from his shoulders. The side missions that were featured in the original are gone now, forcing you to basically follow a set path and progress from mission to mission without an exploration. It drains some of the unique feeling that made The Darkness an intriguing gem to begin with by giving it a more generic first-person shooter feeling. Though does not completely ruin the experience, it only taints it and leaves you wondering why you – the host of the damn Darkness – need your hand held.
A few other gameplay mechanics from the first game have been removed, thus leaving a bittersweet feeling in its place. Rogue kills no longer exist, meaning you can no longer slither around as a Darkness arm to perform silent kills on enemies. To be honest, I feel as there was less personal interaction with your real inner demon as the game focused more on your emotional inner demon. (Don’t worry, that statement will make sense when you play through it.) The new attacks may be an improvement on the gameplay style but it took away the interesting, reluctant cooperation that the Darkness and Jackie needed to have.
Jackie can also no longer control a horde of mini minions and instead, has a single Darkling that do his bidding. I did miss the bit of strategic aspects of micromanaging multiple Darklings, but having a sole helper works out well. The Darkling plays a bigger role in the story as he helps lead Jackie, offer advice, and gather useful items to use doing boss fights. Occasionally, Jackie will channel into him and allowing you to take control. Oh-so satisfying, you scurry about, climbing up pulls, and performing some of the grisly first-person throat slicing I have seen so far in a video game. All with a smile and a hardy, vulgar joke to go along with it. (Needless to say, this Darkling is a bro and you will love him!)
Fans of the series (comic and game alike) will be satisfied with the blood soaked entertainment The Darkness II has to offer. Solid gameplay on top of a well-written story make for a good package but this is a package of take-out Chinese. It is delicious and satisfying but goes through you quickly, making you hungry for more. Even when playing on hard, the game can be completed in less than eight hours with mediocre reasons to replay it. You can play through a new game plus which lets you carry over your leveled up abilities to carry over to a new game. Even with two endings, there is no real reason to replay it since the “big decision” does not happen until the very end of the game making your second journey no different than your first.
There is an online and offline co-op mode called Vendettas you can play but the mode feels forced in for the sake of something else to do. In Vendettas, you pick one of four hit men who all specialize in a different aspect of the Darkness; all of which has two talent trees that can be maxed out. You then are sent out to do odd ended jobs for Jackie like bringing an occultist, Johnny Powel, to the mansion like in the story or securing Darkness artifacts from the Brotherhood. This implies that these events are happening the same time the main story is, meaning that there are four other people with the capability of channeling a power that is supposed to be limited to one person. It makes little sense and just adds to how out of place Vendettas is. At least they could have had you playing as Darklings over people, but perhaps I am just being nit-picky.
Bottom line is that The Darkness II is great experience that is very short lived. Every fight makes you feel like a badass and the story does a wonderful job at twisting your mind just like it does with Jackie. However, the incredibly short length makes it very hard to recommend dropping $60 on it, even if you truly loved the first game. I highly suggest playing it but wait for it to drop a bit to keep yourself from being too dissatisfied.
Platform: PC, PS3, XBox360 | Publisher: 2K Games | Developer: Digital Extremes | Category: First-Person shooter | Release Date: February 7, 2012