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The Darkness II preview: why quad-wielding feels so good

It looks so cumbersome, but it feels so good. In fact, getting hands-on with 2K’s supernatural action adventure, The Darkness II has left us wondering just why we haven’t experienced quad-wielding before. Perhaps there’s never been anything as grotesque as Jackie Estacado and his repulsive demon arms?

The new graphic noire style of The Darkness II is immediately striking. Hand-painted art combined with cutting-edge graphical techniques makes it feel like you’re walking through the pages of an Alan Moore (Watchmen) novel. It’s a vibrant look, with lots of bright, primary colours; and though it did hurt our eyes after a while, it’s a unique visual style that falls somewhere between the look achieved in Bioshock and inFamous 2.

The theme of light and dark once again plays an important part in the gameplay. Step into the light and Jackie winces with pain as the dark sounds of “Jaaaaackie,” which kind of sounds like a deeper-voiced Rocky Balboa might sound after a stroke, crudely jarring your ears. Digital Extremes has done a great job at making you want to get out of the light and dark, and with unfriendly voices in your head and the screen getting brighter and brighter, it does feel uncomfortable, unfriendly, and downright nasty.

We’ll cover the story in another preview, but for now we just wanted to let you know about the new quad-wielding mechanic, which is visually impressive but also a lot of fun to execute as you switch between conventional weapons and darkness powers. Combat is grotesque, but the fantasy violence is chillingly satisfying. Jackie has two demon arms protruding from his back and leering over his shoulders so that you can see them dangling in front of you either side of your head. Knowing you have these two arms as well as two other weapons immediately gives you an enormous sense of power.

In your “normal” arms you can carry two conventional weapons—in this case a pistol and an Uzi. These weapons work as if you’re playing a typical first-person shooter, but combine them with the demon arms and you have incredible power. With the left demon arm (controlled with L1) you can pick up heavy objects and toss them at enemies, sending them flying. Get the right angle and it’s great fun to line up multiple enemies and chuck a heavy object at them to make them topple over like dominoes. Use your left demon arm to grab a person and you can execute some grisly finishing moves, pulling heads clean off, tearing bodies in half and shredding enemies limb from limb. It’s violent, yes, but the graphic noire style does take the edge of it and in no way does blood look real, or will you feel like ripping your neighbour’s heart out (like some pressure groups might have you believe). So, your left demon arm is great for long to mid-range combat and great at close quarters for killing enemies in a variety of entertaining ways.

The right demon arm (controlled with R1) is more effective at close quarters and allows you to slash in four directions—left, right, up and down. It’s extremely versatile and brilliant for when you’re crowded and want to clear the area in front of you quickly so you can make a more measured left demon arm attack. The section that we played was obviously showcased so that we could test out the combat system and was fast-paced with waves of enemies attacking from all directions. You’d think that with the power of the demon arms at your disposal, you wouldn’t even look at using conventional weapons. However, we did find it necessary to use the full range of weapons, which do well to complement each other as you blast, rip, tear and impale dozens of unsuspecting foes.

Evidently, quad-wielding is a lot of fun, both from a visual perspective and based on the amount of tactical freedom that it brings to the FPS genre. The graphic noire style, hand-made aesthetic helps to no end in portraying this crazy fantasy violence with such style, while the responsiveness and power of the demon arms makes them a joy to use. If there was a prize for “most anticipated weapon” at GamesCom this year, The Darkness II would win, hands down.