February 10, 2012 by Paul Curtin
Emerging from the darkness after being released during the early days of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, The Darkness series is finally back with a new developer, new features, and a brand new look. Just like its predecessor, The Darkness II will hook you right from the start with a very brutal and memorable action-packed sequence of events, only to slow things down midway through the game with a massive new plot twist that will blow your mind and have you dying to know what’s going to happen next.
Based on a popular comic book series, The Darkness was developed by Starbreeze Studios and was one of the better games released four years ago with some pretty innovative graphics and features for its time. Unfortunately, The Darkness never managed to become a breakout hit that gamers were constantly talking about, which lead to its story becoming somewhat forgettable. 2K has thankfully revived the series with new developer Digital Extremes taking control of the Darkness, and they’ve brought about a ton of new changes that might upset fans of the original.
In The Darkness II, you’ll once again assume the role of Jackie Estacado, an Italian-American hitman for the mafia who on his 21st birthday discovered that he had been possessed by “the Darkness”, a malevolent spirit that has inhabited his family for multiple generations and gives him supernatural powers. It’s been four years since the release of the original, and a lot has also changed in Jackie’s life with him now being the don of his mafia and fighting against a mysterious group called The Brotherhood, who are trying to steal the Darkness from Jackie.
Right from the start you’ll notice that while it might be the same series with Jackie and the Darkness, the look of the game has been completely overhauled. Lead designer at Digital Extremes, Tom Galt, described the new art style as “graphic noire”, which helps the game have a more unique and memorable cel-shaded look that pays homage to the graphic novels the games are based on. Like the original, light plays a unique role in The Darkness II with Jackie losing the ability to use his powers when in the light, so you’ll be forced again to avoid well-lit areas and take out lights throughout the environment or that enemies will use against you.
One of the biggest improvements is newly revamped and faster-paced combat mechanics. Just like in the first game, you’ll control Jackie in first-person mode with the ability to dual-wield weapons and use your demon arm tentacles to devour enemy hearts, but the method of shooting and attacking with tentacles has been greatly improved to allow for dynamic quad-wielding that gives players more control and offers more options in terms of what they can do in the heat of battle, like grabbing random objects to throw and impale enemies with. You can now even rip doors off cars and make use of other large objects by holding them in front of you with your tentacles while moving with an impromptu cover system and blasting enemies at the same time with the weapons in your hands.
The faster pace mixed with the way the controller configuration and button layout works makes for one of the best first-person shooter experiences ever. It’s incredible how simple and intuitive the controls work: Your top bumpers control Jackie’s demon arm tentacles, allowing them to grab and throw objects and enemies, while your bottom triggers control the firing of weapons that are being dual-wielded. The quad-wielding is one of the coolest features ever and by itself justifies this sequel — Doctor Octopus and Goro would be proud.
In addition to using Jackie’s tentacles to grab enemies and brutally kill them with maneuvers like the Spinal Tap, in which Jackie uses his tentacles to rip a man’s spine out through his mouth, Jackie can also use his tentacles to eat the hearts of those he’s killed and gain experience that goes towards becoming stronger. There are four new skill trees with different branches of upgrades, each giving you the option to upgrade an individual area. There are tons of different abilities to unlock, like Gun Channeling, which allows you to channel the Darkness through weapons and get unlimited ammo and the ability to see and shoot enemies through walls.
To really humiliate enemies and add some comic relief, Jackie has been given a little darkling pet with a bigger speaking role who helps guide Jackie through missions and urinates on the bodies of the fallen foes. There’s even an upgrade that allows Jackie to use one of his tentacles to grab and hurl the darkling at enemies. But with the game adding so many new features and a faster pace that makes Jackie more deadly than ever, there needed to be some sort of balance.
To even out his newly found powers, a variety of enemies have been introduced who also use powers and can even rip the guns right out of your hands. Unfortunately, almost all of the bosses you’ll encounter have no build up or relevance to the plot and their fights consist of the same bullet sponge format with them teleporting around a level and hitting you from a distance while you unload hundreds of bullets into them. For the most part, bosses and other enemies with mediocre A.I. make Jackie feel invincible, that is until the story brings about a massive new twist midway through the game that turns Jackie’s world upside down.
I won’t reveal anything in terms of spoilers (read this if you want all the details), but think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Shutter Island meets Sucker Punch. The game’s story constantly shifts back and forth between different worlds that Jackie may or may not be in, which takes the craziness of the series to the next level and will have you on the edge of your seat right up until the end, where you’re left with a massive player decision that affects the outcome and even extends the game’s story after the credits into one of the best post-credits scenes or any game or film –if you happen to make the right choice. So don’t blow it, monkey!
Instead of improving upon the previous game’s multiplayer that was a total disaster and lagfest, Digital Extremes has scraped the competitive multiplayer and replaced it with co-op mutliplayer modes Hit List and Vendetta. The two modes allow for four players to join together and play through missions with four new characters, each with their own special powers, like a voodoo stick to cast spells and impale enemies or a ninja sword to slice them in half. Each co-op mission is sans Jackie and feels kind of pointless with it playing like a dumbed down version of Left 4 Dead or Dead Island. The time spent on multiplayer should have definitely gone towards the singleplayer story which is Call of Duty short, clocking in around 5-7 hours depending on your experience and difficulty settings. Even with the story’s short duration and a weaker multiplayer component, The Darkness II is still well worth playing, but not worth keeping unless you’re a die-hard fan of the series. The Darkness II gets 3.5 out of 5 stars (Very Good).
- Unique quad-wielding unlike anything in other FPS games
- Mind-blowing twist midway through the singleplayer campaign
- Faster pace makes the action far more exciting
- Revamped art direction makes the game stand out
- Short singleplayer that only lasts around 6 hours
- Less freedom with more linear levels
- Multiplayer removed and replaced with tacked-on co-op
- Different cel-shaded art style could upset fans of the original