The Darkness II Review
The Darkness was one of the better games available in 2007; it also ranked among PSXE’s favorites because it combined multiple gameplay elements and presented us with a memorable atmosphere. It was developed by Starbreeze Studios but the sequel, which just hit store shelves today, was created by Digital Extremes. The change in design team resulted in a different focus, although we get an appropriate follow-up story (same main character), and the action is through-the-roof sick. Trust me.
The most visible alteration hits you right between the eyes: in stark contrast to the hard-edged PC visuals in the first title, The Darkness II features a nicely detailed cel-shaded palette, which at first glance clashes sharply with the game’s grisly nature. But in many ways, I think this style is actually more fitting because in truth, we’re really playing an over-the-top superhero-like game, and the theme should reflect the adventure’s fantastical nature. I think some of the levels could’ve had better design but for the most part, it’s pretty good.
If you read our review of the first game, we praised the voice acting, which at the time was some of the best we’d heard. Well, same goes for the sequel. They really tapped some great actors for this bad boy; the heavy New York accents for the mob family involved in the story are great and Jackie Estacado, Jenny, and other major characters are excellently performed. The effects are gut-wrenching – as you might expect – and the soundtrack is pretty cool, but needed to adopt a larger role throughout. This game requires bad-assery in all forms at all times.
I hate to say The Darkness II is “dumbed down” because I had a ton of fun with this game. But it’s an accurate description: while the first had some stealth elements, had a more diverse pacing, and felt like a more robust blend of first-person shooter and superhero abilities, the second is…well, more focused. That’s a nice way of saying you sorta do the same thing throughout, and we’re lacking the variety and relative depth found in Jackie’s first shadowy adventure.
And I’m telling you right now, this is the primary reason most reviewers will only give the game around a 7 or 7.5. The Darkness just felt like a more well-rounded and ambitious effort, and the story also went through more twists and turns. In the sequel, Jackie Estacado is the head of a crime family but The Darkness reawakens when Jackie’s life is threatened. Somebody wants that crazy power for himself and at the same time, Jenny (who died in the first game) is still in hell, and in danger of burning forever if Jackie doesn’t play ball with The Darkness.
But that’s really it. There’s not much more to the plot. So that’s another significant reason why you’ll see merely average review scores. But I’ll be candid and forthright (have I ever not been?) when I say, I don’t really care. Hey, I’m the first to support the advancement of artistic aspects of interactive entertainment, and I truly believe industry progress requires more of the arts and less of the science of game making. That being said, The Darkness II doesn’t have much of a brain, but it does have a soul.
It’s dark as night but it’s there. Plus, it’s freakin’ fun. The Executions never seem to get boring and the entire environment is just completely insane. The voice of The Darkness will assault your speakers with its dripping evil; you’ll be going along and suddenly the screen will glow red and you’ll hear “rip them apart!” in this devilish voice. Your two demon arms are multifunctional; the left can grab while the right can slash horizontally and vertically. Any Dark Essence you earn can be spent on new skills.
This involves channeling your dark energy into the bullets of whatever gun you have equipped and emitting a nasty Swarm that stuns enemies, among other things. My favorite is the bonus gained from each type of execution; there are four types: one gives you more health after the dark deed is done, one gives you more ammo, one allows your power to replenish faster, and one grants you a darkness shield. Then you’ve got your buddy, The Darkling, who is just hilarious.
He’ll drag foes out of their hiding spots and once you get the ability to throw him, you can pick him up and toss him at oncoming baddies. He’ll also find useful items for you to use and keep you on the correct course (you can also hit Select if he seems lost). Some of his lines – like “this is a random bit of mischief” – are funny, and he proves to be a valuable companion. The only problem is that he dies almost instantly in the light so he’s definitely fragile and not as effective against tough enemies.
And that leads me to one of my few complaints about the gameplay: there’s just too damn much light. Thing is, you lose your Darkness powers, including your demon arms and the ability to regenerate, when thrust into light (natural or artificial). And early on, you can shoot out light bulbs to keep yourself immersed in shadow but for the majority of the game, you’re facing the Brotherhood. And they’ve got guys who shine spotlights on you and rob you of your powers, often when you’re in the midst of a difficult fight. It just got annoying.
I like the strategic aspect of it, obviously, but there were just too many of these guys. The enemies can pose a challenge, which is good; some foes can move blindingly fast while others have a whip that will literally wrench a weapon out of your hands. You have to pick your spots and hide in corners because rushing into a group is rarely a good idea. That’s another small downside: with all this power, I too often felt like I was fighting for survival rather than tearing through weaker dudes.
But in the end, there was plenty of tearing. Plenty of tearing, cutting, mangling, dismembering, beheading, and ripping. If the game was longer (it comes in at 8-9 hours), this would probably get boring, but I never grew tired of unleashing my powers on anybody who came close enough. Lastly, I have to say that the story isn’t bad at all; it just feels a little recycled from the first one in that you gotta save Jenny. But it’s told very well, the acting is superb, the challenge is just about right, and the fun factor is crazy high.
In some ways, The Darkness II feels like a more straightforward, less ambitious and less well-rounded title when compared to the original. And I’m sure that’s where much of the criticism lies. It’s understandable. But the game’s action is top-notch as the control one has is fantastic, the options for death are numerous and ghastly, there are no major camera or glitching issues, the story and atmosphere really has a soul (I swear), and the bottom line— it’s a blast. Flawed, but wicked fun.
The Good: Cel-shaded look seems to fit the style. Fantastic voice acting and great audio effects. Story is decent. Gameplay action, including shooting and Darkness elements, is tons o’ fun. Environment is always compelling.
The Bad: Music doesn’t play enough of a role. Light is overused as a weapon. Can feel repetitive towards the end. Not as varied as its predecessor.
The Ugly: “Oh man, just see one execution…as ugly as it gets, my friends.”
2/7/2012 Ben Dutka