With Great Power Comes Great Executions
The first Darkness game introduced us to young Jackie Estacado, a mafia hitman whose usefulness had run out on his 21st birthday. Just when all seemed lost, a dark legacy that had been passed down Jackie’s family for generations came to fruition as the two-headed snake, dark elemental force that is The Darkness took control, saving Jackie. Once word got back that Jackie had survived the hit though, his girlfriend Jenny unfortunately got caught in the crossfire of the target on Jackie’s back. Enraged, Jackie fully embraced the Darkness and its near omnipotent power and brought a bloody revenge upon all those in the mob.
Flash forward two years later to the start of The Darkness II. Jackie is now the Don of the mafia. With the help of estranged occultist Johnny Powell, Jackie has kept the Darkness under wraps for almost his entire time as Don. But there are people out there who know what Jackie hides and if he isn’t willing to satiate its murderous hunger, they’ll take it from him and do it themselves.
Much like the first game, The Darkness II does a brilliant job of storytelling, opening up with Jackie sitting by himself in a dark room, acting as narrator once again between chapters, recounting the adventure we are about to play through. And what an adventure. From the opening scene with Jackie sitting in an Italian restaurant (which you just know is going to go wrong because what self-respecting Don sits with his back to the door), the action is almost non-stop as Jackie uncovers a plot to steal the Darkness away from him while also fighting his guilt driven demons that haunt him from the death of Jenny in the first game. But terrific storytelling technique aside, there is so many new elements to The Darkness II that it’s almost impossible to compare this to its predecessor aside from how it pushes the story forward.
The first change you’ll notice comes visually. Using what they call “graphic noir”, 2K and Digital Extremes hand-painted all the environments you fight through and then laid the cel-shaded characters on top to really make the game seem as if the Top Cow comic book came to life. And there are no more telling moments for this than in combat as you rip your foes to shreds. And you literally rip your foes to shreds as the combat has gotten a complete overhaul too. I will say that it took more time than I’d prefer to get used to, but once you do, you’ll be tearing through your foes like a man possessed (pun intended, pun always intended).
The major new feature that was a tad difficult to adapt to at first is quad-wielding. Quad-wielding allows you to shoot guns in each hand as well as wield each demon arm at the same time. But once you get used to it, you can literally be attacking in four different ways at once with this. Include a new physics system that allows you to interact with the environment more and you can grab a car door and rip it off its hinges and use it as a shield with one demon arm, while picking up a parking meter and throwing it like a javelin with the other demon arm, all while you’re shooting through your door-shield’s broken window with a shotgun and an assault rifle.
I’ll give you a second to pull yourself back together after your head exploded from the awesomeness that was contained within that last sentence. And speaking of making your head explode, the new executions you can do with the demon arms are absolutely brutal. From the wishbone that tears guys apart right down the middle to more classic decapitations, Jackie knows no mercy.
Now, you’re probably thinking that this could get monotonous as time goes on. How many ways can you skin a cat and all that. But in that comes another new RPG-like feature where for every execution Jackie does you earn “dark essence”. Dark essence allows you to improve upon Jackie’s abilities and you can gain more essence by getting more creative with your kills and also eating enemies’ hearts (which also regenerates health in a pinch) or unlocking and then using a plethora of special moves.
As time goes on, you’ll definitely need to learn new and more harrowing moves to even the odds as your enemies start to get very creative very quickly in combating you. Yes, you are no longer just facing some mob grunt with spaghetti stains on his shirt as the A.I. has clearly been improved as well. The Brotherhood, the folks looking to take the Darkness from Jackie, is prepared. Along with having some nasty mumbo jumbo of their own up their sleeves, they are also armed with light cannons, grenades, and other weapons that can temporarily debilitate The Darkness and leave you wide open for feeling the pain.
But what kind of Don would Jackie be if he didn’t have a few friends? And one in particular just happens to be of the demonic kind. Unlike the first game where you could wield a small army of Darklings, now you are limited to but one little chaos-causing imp, but with it comes a bevy of new powers for him, too. From throwing him across the room as a distraction, to taking over control of him and gauging out the eyes of your enemies with his thumbs, this is no ordinary Darkling. But Jackie has some human friends, too, and there are going to be some tough choices for Jackie down the road that will really have an affect on things. But that’s all part of being a Don, right? Needing to make the tough choices? The bottom line is that all of the new and improved combat features fit very nicely into the game and offer enough variety that will keep you from being desensitized as you’re constantly splashed with enemy blood in a bevy of ways you didn’t think possible until playing this game.
There are a couple of small things that irked me the wrong way with The Darkness II though. For as good as all the combat is and as much as I wanted to really love the story itself and not just the way it is being told, Jackie himself gets on my nerves. He tries to be a pitiful character, but he is not a good guy. He killed people for a living before wielding the Darkness and now you expect me to believe he has a conscience and he’s depressed because his girlfriend is dead? The dichotomy of the character just doesn’t work for me and I often wanted to reach through the TV and smack him and be like “YOU HAVE AN OMNIPOTENT DEMON INSIDE YOUR HEAD AND ARE A MAFIA DON. STOP WHINING AND GO KILL MORE THINGS AND LIKE IT!”
Another minor negative is the demon itself. Mike Patton returns to voice The Darkness (Kirk Acevedo is no longer voicing Jackie, instead replaced by Brian Bloom) and the scratchy, almost gurgling voice of the demon is like nails on a chalkboard every time he screeches out a command. If you’re trying to tempt me into embracing you again, don’t try sounding like Krang from the late 80s-early 90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. I think they replaced the wrong voice actor there.
And speaking of replaced, the versus multiplayer from the first game is gone. Admittedly, it had its problems with lag and what not, but we’ve come a long way in four years and I would have liked to have seen what the versus multiplayer could’ve done now, especially with the quad-wielding and the fact that the game is a first-person shooter at its core. But, in its place at least we have the new co-op mode called “Vendettas”. And Vendettas is pretty sweet. Taking place at the same time as the single player campaign, Vendettas is its own standalone story where you can choose from one of four colorful characters who all wield a small piece of The Darkness and represent one of the powers that Jackie can wield himself. And if the single player campaign is an action drama, then Vendettas is a dark comedy and is a great change of pace from the main game. So much so, it feels like it could have been on a separate disk itself or as a DLC addition and it would have been worth it.
All in all, Darkness fans will likely have a field day with this game as the extra time between titles (four, almost five years at time of release) seem to have been well worth the wait considering the polish that this title exudes.
SUMMARY: Better A.I. and combat mechanics than the first Darkness, gorgeously painted environments, and the same ol’ omnipotent snake-headed dark force makes for one heck of a game play combination.
- THE GOOD: The “graphic noir” backgrounds make the game feel like a comic come to life
- THE BAD: Jackie isn’t the most lovable of protagonists and so it is hard to root for him
- THE UGLY: The remnants of the poor cat your Darkling skinned to make a hat
The Darkness II is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.