Format: PS3 (tested), Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: 2K Games
Most games tend to make things that go ‘bump’ in the night the target of their holier-than-thou heroic protagonists, not so The Darkness which instead casts you as that very same horror, lurking somewhere in the shadows.
Based on the graphic novel series of the same name, The Darkness II continues the story of underworld crime boss Jackie Estacado and his non-ending struggle with both his inner-consciousness and the will of the Darkness – an ageless force which lives within him.
In the previous game Jenny, love of Estacado’s life was killed, so tipping Estacado over the edge and leading to him letting rip with his gruesome powers. The Darkness II opens two years later, with him having reigned in those unrelenting powers – don’t worry though, it won’t be long until he’s letting rip again and boy, do we really mean letting rip.
The Darkness II is without question one of the most gruesome games you’ll come across, its cast of hapless villains (stooges of the nefarious Brotherhood) eviscerated, decapitated and ripped asunder as Estacado exacts his own brand of bloody vengeance.
Interestingly, for a FPS, The Darkness II features as much melee combat as it does blasting, the darkness manifesting itself as a pair of hydra’s heads – complete with extendable necks – grafted on to his shoulders. The right head used as a club of sorts to stun opponents, the left able to grab winded foes before throwing them back at their colleagues or executing them in yet another orgy of blood-letting.
Each tendriled head is upgradable over time too, an RPG-style improvement tree unlocking anything from ‘The Swarm’ – a swarm of flies which temporarily incapacitates bad guys – to the ability to suck extra life force from the heart of whoever is currently being torn into easily digestible chunks.
Visual are a vast improvement from last time out, the aesthetic switched to a cel-shaded affair much more faithful to its comic book heritage. It’s all a far cry from the original Darkness which was an early entry into the current generation and so perhaps understandably sparse. Darkness II’s world is a richer, more interesting world to look at and oddly vivid considering it is set almost entirely at night.
Convenient that last fact, especially as (as far as evil demented darkness demons go) his are particularly sensitive to light, even a blinking bulb enough to have them heading for the hills while screaming at Estacado to “Shoot the lights!” It’s a gameplay mechanic used over and again. Flashlight carrying bad guys perhaps best exploiting this weakness, their torches having to be targeted by whatever gun Estacado’s has to hand.
Alas, this use of light also rears its head in level design to rather less effect. Doors requiring the strength of a tendril to open are too often bathed by light produced by unbreakable lamps. Estacado’s only option to trace the electrical wire leading from said lamp to the inevitable portable generator it’s attached to. It’s a chore which gets old quick, as does the shooting of breakable light sources which crop up everywhere.
Perhaps the game’s bigger issue however is in how the necessarily complex controls begin to fall down once the going gets tough. With dual-wield guns and duel-wield tendrils available simultaneously (each using it’s own shoulder button) it’s perhaps inevitable that once stronger bad guys start appearing they bring with them fair bit of button confusion.
It’s a problem not helped by the fact that your tendrils’ swathe impacts only those directly in front, or by your tendrils’ insistence on grabbing throwable pieces of furniture, rather than a weakened enemy say. Also, that the Darkness disappears with immediate effect upon drifting near a light source, means our far from bulletproof protagonist is often left way massively outnumbered with only relatively under-powered guns at his disposal: game over.
In fact Estacado’s tendency to die makes a mockery of the fact he’s a Darkness commanding rending machine, if anything the game could have done with taking a leaf out of Prototype’s book and made him largely unstoppable, at least then the player wouldn’t have to keep one eye on his non-self-recharging health indicator.
There’s also too much stopping and starting for our liking, the game taking control leaving Estacado stationary as the tendrils do their thing to a captured enemy. Witnessing these executions, while repulsive, makes for grimly fascinating viewing at first but becomes quickly repetitive, while having the side-effect of crippling both the pace of the gameplay and momentum of the player.
Overall a mixed bag then, there’s plenty for FPS fans to enjoy here, not least the availability of so many ways to off one’s opponents. The storyline is interesting to, documenting as it does Estacado’s descent into madness (or is it all a trick of the Darkness?) and the presentation and style is fresh too.
It has its problems of course, those controls taking an inordinate amount of time to master and issues with pacing, so, to use the old adage, ‘try before you buy’ – the demo an accurate representation of what you’ll spend hour upon hour doing in the full game.