Illuminating the Darkness
EGM had a chance to sit down and talk with The Darkness II‘s creative director Sheldon Carter and discuss with him demon arms, Darklings, and dead cats.
EGM: The Darkness II is a very different game than its predecessor; you’ve rebooted the art style and gameplay mechanics. Was there anything from the original that you felt was too sacred to mess with?
Sheldon Carter: The thing we liked most about the first game was its narrative and the way it had emotional beats. We felt like the player’s experience, because of that aspect, was amazing and something we had to hold onto really tight. That was totally the thing we liked the most: the emotional experience. We really wanted to retain that from the first game, so we even have the same writer, Paul Jenkins.
EGM: Spoiler alert from The Darkness: The first game’s remembered for the surprising death of Jackie’s girlfriend, Jenny. But our recent demo concluded with what appears to be Jenny trapped in a very bad place. What gives?
SC: I can’t go into too much detail on that, because it’s a really big part of the story, and we don’t want to ruin it. But she’s a factor in the game. And, for Jackie, it’s kind of a redemption story. In that way, Jenny’s obviously a big part. You feel the overwhelming guilt for what happened to her in the first game, so there are elements of that, but you’re going to discover more as you play through The Darkness II. We don’t want to spoil it for you, but we think that type of stuff is really important to the way a Darkness story is told. We have some of those same types of feelings, but the way we do it is different from the first game.
EGM: Do you think bringing her back—in any form—could dilute the impact of her death?
SC: The way we’re handling it—and the way Paul’s written it into the story—I think it works from kind of a logistical perspective, for one. But, also, I think it’s treated in a way that still acknowledges the way it happened in the first game. It’s more like the progression of what’s happened, rather than us doing any kind of revisionist history.
EGM: Our demo introduced an RPG-like talent tree. Can you talk a bit about that and what it means for the gameplay dynamic?
SC: It came from Jackie’s mastery of the Darkness. We wanted to have a system based on player expression in terms of how you want to create your Jackie or your path with Jackie. We really wanted this to be a game where, as you proceed and eat hearts and gain this dark essence, you’re able to channel that into these talent shrines and show your mastery of the Darkness. Also, at the same time, kind of cater to different player styles.
EGM: Could the same player go through the game multiple times and have a different experience, depending on which path they follow on the talent tree?
SC: Yeah, absolutely. There’s no way you’re going to cover all of these trees on a single playthrough, so it’s really going to be your expression: How’s your Jackie going to be different from mine? We weren’t designing it necessarily for replayability, but absolutely, there’s just no way that you’d be able to experience the whole tree—you’d probably get half of it in a playthrough. Even within the Power branch, you’ve got two different paths you can go down; there’s a power called Swarm, and there’s a power called Gun Channeling—they’re very different. It’s a tight spiral between all of the talents, kind of hooking into each other, but also giving the player the ability to express themselves depending on how they want to play the game.
EGM: Plenty of games give the player a cool toolbox of toys, but then offer little in the way of enemies to use them on. Is The Darkness II balancing these talents in a way that will make them more relevant than gimmicky?
SC: For us, I think the best thing that we have is our main enemy, the Brotherhood, and the fact that they understand the Darkness. They’re kind of this age-old organization that have been tracking the Darkness for centuries, and they know how it works, so they know Jackie’s weaknesses. In the first game, we were mostly dealing with mobsters, but these guys understand that the Darkness works only in the dark, so they’re going to use light as a weapon. Even the base-level guys will throw flashbangs and flares. This ends up creating a scenario where the player really has to think about the right ways to use their power. They won’t necessarily be able to rely on a single power or powers. They’re going to have to mix up their strategies in order to deal with all the different tactics the Brotherhood is bringing.
EGM: In this latest demo, we were able to control Jackie’s Darkling sidekick, who replaces the original game’s multiple Darklings. Why the change?
SC: We took this group of minions that were kind of a throwaway gameplay tool, and we thought: “How can we turn that mechanic into a cohesive character that’s kind of your sidekick on this journey and is also going to be a guy that saves your ass in combat situations and has his own narrative arc?” That’s what drove us to swap between Darklings to the single Darkling. The story also tells you more about his character and where he comes from and how he works. And then, there are sections where you actually take control of him—there’s also some stealth and puzzle-solving for him.
EGM: We used him to tear a dude’s throat out, which was quite satisfying. Does he have different kill moves, like Jackie?
SC: Yeah, he’s got a couple of executions. Obviously, a lot of the stuff that’s shown in the game is Jackie ripping guys apart with the demon arms. But, yeah, he does that one where he grabs someone from behind and slashes up their throat, and he’s also got one where he jumps up on the front of them and gouges out their eyes with his thumbs. And, in terms of other gameplay, we wanted to have lots of different ways that he could work—he’ll go and grab guys out of cover for you, and he’ll jump on them and cover their eyes. As you progress, you get talents that kind of work with him, too. So, you can pick him up and throw him, and he’ll do this facehugger attack on guys. On top of that, he also does a series of corpse desecrations, where he’ll drop elbows on dead guys, or he’ll pee on them.
EGM: Will we get any explanation as to why he’s wearing a dead cat on his head?
SC: Well, I mean, you do get a feel of his character—he’s very old, and so there’s some of his Berserker roots that kind of come through in what he wears. The first few times you see him in the game, he’s coming out of dumpster; he’s the type of guy that just skinned a cat and thought, “Hey, this kind of looks like my old Berserker hat, so I’ll throw that on my head.”
EGM: One of the major moments we experienced was being forced to choose which one of Jackie’s men—who we’ve been asked not to reveal—was going to be executed. Can we expect more of these morality-taxing decisions in the story?
SC: Yeah, that moment’s powerful in the course of the game. It’s a huge decision, because these are guys who are your friends who’ve helped you out all through the game, so it’s a big deal to make those decisions. On that level, there are a few of them in the game, but they’re important ones. But we are a game where, all the way through, you’re going to be facing moral dilemmas. That’s not really the gist of the story we’re telling, but they’re presented to the player where appropriate.