The Darkness is a Top Cow comic series that has been going for many years with a very strong following, telling the tale of a hit-man and mobster who inherits demonic powers from an ancient entity called (you guessed it) The Darkness. Back in 2007, Starbreeze Studios, developers of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, attempted to harness pitch black greatness into a video game. Now, years later, Digital Extremes, makers of Dark Sector and Bioshock 2’s multiplayer, have attempted to give that game a sequel. In the first game, protagonist Jackie Estacado was just learning how to use his dark powers and vicious demon arms in an adrenaline-fueled first-person shooter that had a surprisingly great narrative. In the Darkness II however, Jackie is no longer a novice. He is the ultimate boogieman, tearing all in his wake limb from limb in an addicting shooter with an amazing art style wrapped in tendrils of shadow.
The opening menu allows you to play the story or cooperative campaign, and is fairly standard. The background is swirling shadows accompanied by an eerie soundtrack, and puts you into a dark mood.
The story of the Darkness II, while completely butchering the comic’s mythology, is very creative and decently woven. Jackie has spent the past two years suppressing The Darkness while still heading the Franchetti crime family, ignoring its constant whispers for release. Not too long after the beginning of the tale, an attempt is made on Jackie’s life, causing him to finally release his inner demons and kick some major ass. His constant struggle with The Darkness is well written and performed, and adds a nice layer of depth to the story. Throughout the tale, Jackie begins to question his sanity, haunted by hallucinations of his dead girlfriend Jenny Romano. The conclusion of the tale is far less confusing than the end of the first game, which is a welcome addition. The story tells itself well, and has a few fantastic WTF moments.
The characters are well done, although many of them are simply mobster caricatures. Many characters from the first game make a return, such as Aunt Sarah and Jimmy the Grape. The voice acting is great, and the new voice of Jackie suits his character well. His gravelly voice goes great with the monologues Jackie has between missions, sitting in an armchair in an empty black void. Mike Patton returns as the voice of the Darkness, badgering Jackie for blood and hearts in the creepiest voice imaginable, and the Darkling that accompanies you on your murder sprees has some great lines as well.
While far more linear than its predecessor, The Darkness II boasts a skill tree set, using the brutality of your kills and number of hearts eaten as currency. The gameplay is very polished and extremely fluid, allowing the use of multiple powers at once. One demon arm grabs, one slashes, and the layout of the controls allows you to slice while grabbing and shooting. You feel like a true monster, tearing your enemies apart and shooting them in the face. You have awesome Darkness powers, and the shooting also plays extremely well. There is a wide array of useful guns, from machine pistols to carbine rifles. Jackie can wield individual pistols/SMGs, and mix and match all combinations therein. All manner of Shotguns and Assault Rifles also make an appearance. After using any of Darkness II’s weapons for long enough, head shots become as natural as breathing. The game plays very well, and never left me feeling bored. You feel like a god, and there are not many games that can make you feel quite as badass.
The Darkness II is also one of those games that genuinely pushes the M rating. This game has dismemberment, gore, sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. There are a few segments that are even very close to being porn. That being said, this game pulls very few punches, which earns it serious points with me. However, this will likely be a turn off to the more squeamish/younger gamers out there, especially to those of us with strict parents. Be warned, while this game has no nudity, it is only because it would have earned an AO+rating.
There are also segments of the game when Jackie must walk around the mafia family mansion and speak with his fellow Mafiosi. This is where you can see your collectible Darkness relics hidden throughout each mission, and begin the next mission. The game is linear however, so you can’t come back to the mansion whenever you please.
When you are finished with the awesome yet linear campaign, you can head over to the Vendettas section, a well done co-op component that allows you to play as 4 “Darkness Infused” individuals in side missions that run parallel to the main campaign. These characters range from badass to annoying caricatures and all have a side arm that allows them to kick serious ass. The dialogue and story for the co-op campaign are surprisingly good, and will make for an interesting side journey when you finish the main plot. Altogether told however, playing with 4 people is great fun when the frame-rate isn’t dropping like a plague victim. This is a problem that needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Up to three people isn’t that bad, but apparently Digital Extremes just hoped that no one who played the Darkness II had more than two friends.
The Darkness II is a highly stylized game. Digital Extremes took the dark and very butcher bay-like look of the original, and gave it a fresh high-quality cell-shaded coat. The result is a dark and grimy game that looks like it was ripped right out of a comic book. This look keeps the larger-than-life gore in check, preventing it from making players vomit, and makes it insanely awesome to rip people in half. Overall, the game is quite pretty, boasting some great animations and bloom effects. The only problem is the frame-rate issues found in the more hectic gunfights and all throughout multiplayer. The Darkness II slows down a fair few times during the story, and almost every vendetta match I played had either frame-rate or continuity issues. These bugs detract from the experience, but not in any game-breaking manner.
The Darkness II does not boast an orchestral soundtrack. It has a few custom themes, made by
Digital Extremes, and a bunch of popular songs. While it is slightly disappointing that the more epic moments don’t sound quite as awesome as they could have, blowing people’s faces off to Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” is far more satisfying than expected. Unfortunately, you hear the same battle themes far too many times over to be tolerated, leading to a great looking game that only sounds decent.
The main campaign is not the longest thing in the world, but the inclusion of a new game+ option carrying over all of your awesome demon powers makes more than one playthrough a blast. Even on the hardest difficulty, playing through with all of your previous powers lets you slice through your opposition like a hot knife through butter. The Vendettas campaign can add on an additional 4 to 6 hours if you let it, and even more than that if you really enjoy it. All told, you can mine this game for all of its achievements in around 20 hours, which isn’t too bad for a linear FPS.
Final Grade: 4/5
The Darkness II is a blast to play. It truly makes you feel like an insane badass, even more so than the original game did. The art style is cool, the story takes some great turns (although it butchers the comic mythology), and has an awesome ending that blows the first game’s finale out of the water. It has a fun co-op campaign, and just begs to be played again. The bugs and frame-rate issues are annoying, but not enough to stop this rage-fueled gore fest from being a great adrenaline-pumping introduction to 2012. The Darkness II gets 4 out of 5 voracious shadow tendrils, and let all who love gory shooters cower in its all-consuming wake.