In 2007, one of Image Comics’ most popular characters starred in one of the most unique first-person-shooter experiences of that year in The Darkness. Jackie Estacado is back as head of the Franchetti crime family, and is forced to re-embrace the Darkness before it gets ripped from his soul by occultist ne’er-do-wells for their own nefarious purposes…sounds like a great reason to rip the heads off an army of henchmen.
Publisher: 2k Games
Developer: Digital Extremes
Released: Feb. 7, 2012
Platforms: PlayStaion 3, Xbox 360, PC
The biggest difference between The Darkness II and its predecessor is the in-game ambiance shifting from a darker and broodier style to cell-shading, but the sequel doesn’t lose a bit of the murk and grit from the original. Dim street lamps and neon signs glow off the damp streets, and rust and mold grows between the cracks in subway walls and abandoned warehouses. It’s all the great stereotypical settings of a shadow soaked B movie, but the game pulls it off with as much grace as the mood will allow.
Though the settings of The Darkness II may be stereotypical B movie quality, what’s not is the gripping performance of the voice cast. The plot isn’t too inspiring, but delightful none the less, offering plenty of opportunity to interact with family and acquaintances for more growth, and allowing a bit of leeway for the player to determine for themselves exactly what’s real and what is an illusion; and there’s a great emotional heft added to the story by the acting alone. Particularly, a creepy scene where you, as Jackie, frantically navigate the pale halls of a psychiatric facility, and a surprisingly emotional moment with your Darkling, a monkey-like companion that assists you in taking down enemies. The Darkling also supplies a few good chuckles between all the angst as he disrespects his foes with a good fart to the face after they fall. I have to assume if a demon monkey tearing your throat out doesn’t kill you, a demon monkey’s gas will.
The game’s biggest downer is its super short five hour campaign. Personally, there’s nothing that irks me more about a video game than feeling like I haven’t had my $60 worth, and anything short of a 15 hour story gives me the groans. Thankfully, the gameplay is still fun, if simple. Your two Darkness serpents are back and just as brutal as ever, easily mangling the meat bag cannon fodder in front of you. Your left fanged tentacle grabs everything from enemies and lunges at other enemies, using car doors as a shield or human hearts for health, and your right one slashes and slices anything in its path, spraying and splattering any internal fluids your target may be containing. As you gain experience points you can buy more moves, combos, and other upgrades that only multiply the level of glorious gore. All that in addition to an armory’s worth of guns and weapons to fulfill your most masochistic fantasies.
Higher level FPS marksmen will find very little challenge throughout their five hours in The Darkness II, unless the max difficulty setting is applied, otherwise the game is very linear and elementary. The first mission sets the tone of an old school arcade rail shooter, and while a hair’s width of slack is given in contrast to classic rail shooters like Time Crisis or Area 51, the arcade motif is very present in a disembodied voice calling out names of moves and combo scores as you go. I do appreciate the arcade stylings of the game, but it was the many button prompts I was faced with that would jar me out of the experience. Often I would have to hold the X button to consume an enemy’s heart, or tap X to rip open a gate, or whatever else was in my way. When the action is moving at such a fast pace, it can be pretty off putting to have to pause the adrenaline to do the simplest things you would think a master of demonic power would be capable of.
But all arcade gimmicks and tutorial prompts can be turned off to help further immerse yourself into the game.
Adding another 90 minuets to the game’s life span is the online mode, Vendetta, where you and up to five others can gun sling your way through a brief campaign. You actually don’t take control of your two Darkness arms in Vendetta, but rather wield a sword, mystic staff, and other weird goodies that give the game a final breath of fresh air after the main story.
As first-person-shooters go, an overtly bloody and carnage filled afternoon is all that might pull you away from your Call of Duty or Battlefield, but fans of The Darkness comics will absolutely enjoy stepping back into Jackie Estacado’s shadow, even if they wait for this one to hit the bargain bin.
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