Review:- The Darkness II

Game: The Darkness II
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: 2K Games

The Darkness was originally released on Xbox 360 and PS3 back in the dim and distant days of 2007. It told the story of Jackie Estacado, a young mafia hitman that learns that he is the vessel for an ancient evil called The Darkness. Its grim atmosphere, great story, and innovative gameplay mechanics led to it earning cult status among gamers, even if it didn’t set the sales charts on fire.

Some critics felt that the gunplay in The Darkness fell a little short of expectations, and it seems that the game’s publisher has listened to the criticism. In a recent interview with the folks over at 2K they told us that with the Darkness II they aimed to improve the gun fighting and make a more gruesome and exciting game that truly makes you feel like the vessel for all that is evil in the universe.

I am pleased to report that with The Darkness II the team from Digital Extremes have developed a fascinatingly brutal title that feels unlike anything else out there. How many other games are there out there that allow you to pull a man’s spinal column out through his rectum?

The Darkness II opens two years after the events of the first game; Jackie is now head of the mob, and he refuses to use his Darkness powers lest they overwhelm him. After a pleasant dinner with two young ladies is interrupted by an assassination attempt Jackie has no choice but to unleash his inner demons and watch as his whole life falls apart… again.

First things first, as a former hitman it comes as no surprise that Jackie knows his way around a few weapons. As well as supporting dual wielding guns, Jackie also has two tentacles, called Slashy and Grabby, that you can use during combat producing some interesting gameplay. The left tentacle is used to grab objects and enemies, performing brutal executions, while the right is used to slash through obstacles and enemies alike.

The Darkness II looks phenomenal... even if it is quite bright

Being a creature of pure evil, your Darkness powers only work so long as you are out of direct light. This means that you’ll often have to destroy sources of light, such as street lights or even enemies armed with high power torches, or run the risk of being brutalised by your enemies. One criticism I have of the game is that it isn’t always abundantly clear which areas are too bright for you to step into until you’ve done it. I often found myself bounding along, only to inadvertently find myself bathed in bright light, blinded, and subsequently mown down by basic street punks. It is fortunate then that the game features regular checkpoints, which staves off this frustration for the most part.

You will have a large variety of moves in your arsenal, and the more gruesome the kill the more experience points, called Dark Essence, you earn. For instance, simply shooting enemies will only earn a small reward, however, if you pick up a car door and fling it at an enemy, slicing them in half, you earn a greater quantity of Dark Essence. This Dark Essence, which can also be earned by collecting Relics (rare Darkness related artefacts), can be used to purchase upgrades. These include stat boosts, such as making your slash more powerful, and entirely new skills, such as the ability to enhance your guns with Darkness energy.

Of course to make things more challenging you’ll find that most resources, such as ammo, are fairly limited. This can be combated by performing executions on stunned or staggered enemies. Simply grab them with your left tentacle and choose which brutal means of execution you wish to dole out. To start with you can only use the execution that refills your health, but as you progress you can unlock executions that award ammo, darkness energy, and even a shield.

At first you may want to take things slowly as you learn the basic combat mechanics, but within a few levels, and once you’ve levelled up a little bit, battles become enthrallingly violent ballets. Once you have bought all of the upgrades even the simplest battle becomes a satisfying dance of death, with blood and guts raining down on you with every slash of your tentacles.

Jackie can purchase new abilities, such as the swarm attack, to make him even more of an unstoppable killing machine

For the most part you are accompanied by a cockney Darkling, a small troll-like creature, that affectionately refers to you as ‘Monkey’. He can prove to be a useful tool in combat by sneaking up on enemies and grabbing them, or by being hurled directly at their heads. Hearing the thugs react to the sight of a little creature being flung at them is one of the game’s highlights. In fact the enemy dialogue in general is fantastic, especially the last words of enemies that are about to be executed.

At set times you can also take control of the Darkling in short stealth sections, making for a nice change of pace. Unfortunately these Darkling sections are few and far between. It would’ve been nice to see more of this sort of gameplay incorporated into the main game.

Digital Extremes, whose previous work includes Bioshock 2, should be commended for the way they have carefully thought about presenting the game’s narrative. Rather than focusing on lengthy cut-scenes, as too many developers do, the game’s story is conveyed almost entirely through gameplay and as such is far more engaging. Despite being a vile and repulsive human being you can really empathise with Jackie thanks to the way that the team have crafted the story.

The strong narrative is complimented by some of the best voice acting in gaming to date. Mike Patton, of Faith No More fame, returns as The Darkness, with his distinctive guttural performance as the embodiment of all evil, and steals the whole show. The rest of the voice cast, while not containing any other famous voices, performs exceptionally well and really helps to creative an engrossing narrative.

Each of the four co-op characters has their own Darkness powered weapon

The main game is fairly short, and can probably be completed in about five hours. However the game’s overall content is bulked up by the inclusion of a co-op mode. In a separate game mode called Vendettas, you can take control of one of four hitmen armed with weapons that are filled with Darkness energy. The Vendettas mode consists of a reasonably sized campaign that takes place alongside the main game and a more challenging hitman mode in which you take down super powered targets for the mob.

As well as being playable online this mode is entirely playable offline, meaning those with poor internet connections (or even those that buy this game in the future when the servers have all been switched off) needn’t miss out on the fun. It would’ve been nice if this mode had supported split-screen gaming, but its omission isn’t the end of the world.

Review Round-Up

Graphics: 5/5 – Featuring a beautiful cell shaded art style, designed to be evocative of comic books, The Darkness 2 may not be the most technically advanced looking game, but it oozes style.

Sound: 5/5 – Some of the best voice acting in games bar none. Mike Patton as The Darkness really outdoes himself, and the rest of the voice cast performs admirably.

Gameplay: 4/5 – If the developer’s aim was to improve on the last game’s combat system then they have succeeded in every way possible. Being able to control a Darkling is a nice addition, it’s just a shame that it is so infrequent. Making the Vendetta multiplayer mode playable offline is also welcome move, although it’s disappointing that you cannot play it in split screen.

Longevity: 3/5 – Probably the game’s weakest point. The story mode is fairly short, and although there is some incentive to keep playing in the form of Relic Hunting and unlocking all of the upgrades, it is still pretty brief. The Vendetta mode compensates for this somewhat, with each of the four characters having their own upgrades to purchase, but overall it would’ve been nice if this were a longer game.

Overall: 4 out of 5

The Darkness II is a visceral and stylish slaughter-fest. While the single player content is fairly short it is so well done and, more importantly, a joy to play that I find it hard not to recommend it to anyone that is looking for a mature gameplay experience.

- Luke Mears

Thu, February 23 2012 » PC/Mac, PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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