Are You Afraid of the Dark? (The Darkness II Review)
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 console.
If you’re anybody other than Jackie Estacado, you might want to bring a nightlight.
Jackie is back with a vengeance in 2K Games’ The Darkness II! The story takes place two years after the events of the first game, and Jackie has become Don of the Franchetti crime family. All of his hard work to contain The Darkness before it consumes him falls to pieces as a full-scale mob war breaks out and forces him to embrace the demonic powers residing inside his body. Now that The Darkness has been freed from its bonds, Jackie must fight to keep his humanity, and from burning in the fiery pits of hell.
The Darkness II is the second game to be based off of the Top Cow cult classic comic series of the same name. It’s a third-person shooter that departs from the norm of wielding just one or two weapons simultaneously, by using up to four. As The Darkness is a physical extension of Jackie’s body, you’re able to control two of its tentacles to lash out at your foes, destroy objects, pick them up to use as shields or projectiles, and perform brutal special attacks to rend your foes limb from limb – quite literally. While the initial thought of wielding four weapons at the same time may sound cumbersome, the learning curve to effective utilization isn’t too bad, but it does take some getting used to. After getting accustomed to the controls, you’ll be spreading carnage around the city streets in no time.
With kills, Essence points are earned, and the more unique the kill (such as impaling an attacker with a street sign to a wall or ripping them in half), the more points you receive. Accumulated Essence points allow you to purchase special attacks and abilities such as increased health or being able to pick up your Darkling (a creature made of The Darkness’ essence and brought to life by Jackie’s imagination) and hurling him at your foes. These attributes are arranged in different skill trees, unlocking the ability to purchase even more attributes after the lower-ranking one is bought. This also allows you to customize your character depending on your combat preference (e.g. Melee, Guns, Darkness Powers, etc.).
Combat is smooth and quite entertaining once you get past the control scheme, which as previously mentioned, can be a bit difficult to get used to as you’re essentially wielding four weapons, rather than one or two in a standard FPS. The Darkness also forces you to change your tactics slightly, as the demonic force within cannot withstand light. If you move into a well-lit area, your vision becomes blurred with the additional side-effect of your tentacles disappearing. Enemies will tend to rush you from their hiding places at this point, so your best bet is to stay away from the light and shoot them out in order to progress. Despite the occasional mob rushes that occur if you stray out of the shadows, the enemy AI can be too simplistic. Enemies will generally stick to duck-and-cover tactics, and don’t seem to be aware of you if you come around the corner behind them.
Situational awareness is an issue for the AI when trying converse as well. Friendly AIs will turn around to look at where they expect you to be, which is not always the direction you come from. Oftentimes, you’ll be standing off to the side while they talk in the opposite direction. You’ll also need to walk in front of them in order to initiate conversations, as the “Talk to” prompt will not pop up unless you’re looking directly at the AI’s face. This breaks the flow of the game and pulls the player out of their immersion.
The story behind The Darkness II, like its predecessor, generally follows the comic book storyline. Some of the names and events are changed slightly, but the writers did an excellent job of capturing the essence of The Darkness with this adaptation. For those who are getting into this sequel without playing the first game, or those who just haven’t played the original in a long time, a narrative is given to bring you up to speed. This narrative is done in the increasingly-popular motion comic format, which fits The Darkness perfectly. After viewing the comic, the player begins the game with Jackie Estacado sitting in a chair, in what appears to be a poorly-lit room. Estacado breaks the fourth wall by speaking to the player directly, providing narrative at this and other points in the game. He talks about his struggles with The Darkness as he recalls the events in which you are about to embark.
The Darkness II transitions exceptionally well between these private moments with Estacado and the campaign. Furthermore, internal dialogues between Estacado and The Darkness provide much insight into the battle that’s being waged for Jackie’s very body and soul, while his physical world crumbles around him at the hands of the Brotherhood. It plays out much like a comic book would, making the game even truer to the source material. However, be warned: while the game clocks in a good six to eight hours of game time, it ends quickly and mercilessly, leaving you on a cliffhanger that the developers undoubtedly will come back to if there is a third game.
There is an ancillary mode called Vendettas, where you can choose either Campaign or Hit List. The Vendettas Campaign mode parallels the main story, allowing you to take on the role of one of four individuals: JP Dumond, a voodoo priest; Jimmy Wilson, an Irish thug; Shoshanna, a gunslinger; or Inugami, a Japanese swordsman. These individuals are sent on missions for Mr. Estacado, securing relics, rescuing hostages, and the like. It does provide for additional entertainment, but feels like it was shoe-horned in to make up for the abrupt ending in the main campaign. The Hit List game type allows you to pick individual missions from the Vendettas Campaign, as well as a number of missions unique to this mode.
The Darkness II is graphically superb. The cell-shaded graphics do a lot to bring this comic classic to life, while keeping the feel of the original art. When you step into the light, the game takes on a monochromatic, almost watercolor-style effect, blurring the environment around you. The splatter of blood and limbs as you rip your enemies to pieces are graphic and gruesome, but exceptionally detailed. The game overall is a tribute to Marc Silvestri’s work in the comics.
However, the game is not all peaches and blood. Physics glitches are abound in the game. While it may be hilarious to watch as the lower halves of your victims inexplicably do the “Horizontal Mamba” after you fling them to pieces, it does pull you away from the immersion that you really want to settle into with a game like this.
The game has a decent soundtrack as well, but it’s not terribly memorable. Tunes like Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” and Prong’s “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck” make for delightful background music on the radio in certain scenes, but for the most part, you’ll be too focused on the intense fighting scenes to take note.
Overall, The Darkness II is a great game for anyone who’s a fan of the franchise, digital or ink. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience to behold that rings in at a good chunk of play time, but graphics glitches, a complex control scheme, a predictable AI, and a less-than-moving soundtrack keep this game from really achieving greatness. Let’s hope The Darkness III can really bring it home for us.
The Darkness II receives a 4.0/5.
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