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The Darkness II Review

9 February 2012

There is a sequence towards the end of The Darkness II that does a pretty good job of showing off the game’s strengths and weaknesses. Our protagonist Jackie Estacado is at an abandoned carnival in pursuit of the Brotherhood—the game’s chief antagonists—and through a series of hallucinations or flashbacks, his dead lover, Jenny is by his side. The pair end up on a frightening fun house ride, and players lose most of Jackie’s controls. As the pair of lovers continues along the rails, Jackie fights off enemies while Jenny offers loving comments as if she’s still alive. One of the most interesting parts of the Darkness II is the relationship between Jackie and Jenny, and this sequence does a fantastic job of capturing that emotion of a lost lover. However, this segment also holds your hand a bit too tightly, and the metaphor of riding on rails couldn’t be more appropriate for a game with levels that are a bit too scripted and linear. But despite this dichotomy of an emotional narrative and a narrow approach to gameplay, I can say there is definitely something fun here for first-person shooter fans, but it doesn’t quite hit the level of some of the stronger, more story-driven alternatives to popular war shooters.

Digital Extremes created an extremely brutal, bloody gore fest. One moment you’ll blow the head off an enemy at point blank range with a shotgun, the next moment your anaconda-like demon arms will rip apart an enemy like a piece of notebook paper. Jackie’s powers come from the darkness, which was introduced in the first game. The darkness gives Jackie quad-wielding combat abilities—his human arms can hold guns, while his demon arms can beat enemies like a rag doll or throw objects into crowds of baddies. You are a killing machine, and this is easily the game’s strongest point. I had an absolute blast with my demon arms and tended to run into battles to thrash away at enemies than stay back and play the game like a traditional first-person shooter. There is definitely freedom to play the game as you’d like, but the level design and enemies have a tendency to restrict some options—more on that later.

While executions are extremely rewarding, there’s not much that beats that first time you impale an enemy against a brick wall with metal pipe. Throwing objects at enemies is extremely easy and was one of my favorite ways to destroy my opponents. Car doors can split enemies in half, while wooden chairs can stagger your foe, allowing you to grab them and perform an execution. The art of killing never really got boring in the five hours it took me to complete the game. Yes, this is a short affair, but I wasn’t all that thirsty for more—for better or worse.

As you gain experience through essence, you can upgrade your character. It’s a fairly simplistic leveling system, but there are some fun and helpful additions. For example, you can level your executions to get perks for ripping enemies to shreds. These perks include more health or ammo, for starters. You can also get abilities that correspond to your darkling—a mental manifestation of Jackie that serves as your goblin-like sidekick. With a new game+ available, you can play through the game again to try out different leveling options.

The story sees Jackie regaining his darkness powers after two years of fighting it back. As the boss of a mob, you call the shots, but that’s strictly for storytelling purposes; it’s not blended well into any gameplay elements. You mansion serves as a hub, of sorts, for a break in between levels and it gives players a chance to learn more of the story. There are some annoying FPS-style story elements where you have to tap a button to interact with object—like lighting a candle or turning on a faucet—but the best story telling occurs in Jackie’s hallucinations. Without giving much of the story away—and really, it starts off slow, but wraps up quite well at the conclusion—Jackie is not only fighting back the darkness inside him, but he’s also trying to stop the bad guys that want the darkness for themselves. In addition, the heart of the game rests in Jackie’s love for his dead woman, Jenny. This interaction throughout the game is fairly sweet for a videogame.

Outside the narrative, the gameplay is quite rewarding. It breaks away from the original game by offering a more arcade approach to the action, including onscreen prompts that tell you how you killed your opponent, and how much essence (experience points) you earned. This tends to break that level of immersion into the otherwise interesting narrative. Enemies are extremely repetitive, and while they develop new powers and weaponry throughout the game, they are cookie-cutter clones. The level design also doesn’t give you much variety. For example, there aren’t any wide open areas to really thrash around or try a different approach to killing. That’s not to say the levels are boring, but outside the fairly annoying stealth levels—performed as your darkling, not as Jackie—it feels a bit like a typical shooter. The darkness can’t stand light—go figure—and some levels and enemies make clever use of Jackie’s kryptonite. This again, though, falls a bit short. If you are in the light for too long you’ll lose your darkness powers, the screen turns bright white, you’ll hear a loud ringing, and you’ll eventually die. Some enemies will shine spotlights on you, and there is a bit overuse of abandoned vehicles’ headlights creating natural obstacles for Jackie. He can, of course, shoot out most lights or destroy generators that help illuminate bigger lights.

Where games like BioShock really shine, outside the compelling stories, is in the level progression, pacing, and freedom to explore. In that respect, The Darkness II is closer to a Battlefield 3 or Kane and Lynch in that there isn’t all that much freedom in the levels, but the game makes you want that freedom of choice in its presentation and delivery.

The presentation is interesting with the cell shading comic book style. At times, it looks simply awesome. The detail in bricks and lighting is stellar, but there are numerous times the graphics look almost muddy. While I didn’t experience any framerate issues or glitches, more onscreen action doesn’t really help a game with this art style. The audio is quite nice and the voice acting is fairly decent, but nothing special. There are some appropriately placed songs, which gave me a few smiles.

There is cooperative mode that gives a bit more life to an otherwise short game. It’s integrated into the story and allows up to four players to work together in mission-based levels. It works quite well, and gives you a reason to keep playing The Darkness II. There is no competitive mode, which I did not miss and was actually refreshing.

The Darkness II takes a different approach to the original title, and some fans may not like this new approach, but if you are looking for a high-action romp, you’ll probably enjoy it. The Darkness II is a bloody good time and definitely worth a chance. It’s not a perfect outing, and that doesn’t just stem from the short campaign, but there is character in this little game that will probably make you play it in one sitting. For all its shortcomings, there is something so rewarding about ripping enemies to pieces, and perhaps that’s because there isn’t enough game here for it to get too boring.

A PS3 copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. Do you want to know how this reviewer scored the game? Read this to learn more.

-The Final Word-

A bloody and entertaining experience that offers a nice break from traditional war-style first-person shooters, The Darkness II may be a bit too linear and short for some, but the action never gets old.
  • Quad-wielding combat is a joy
  • Some strong narrative elements
  • Co-op mode extends the experience
  • A bit too linear
  • Very short campaign
  • Graphics sometimes get muddy
7.5
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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