I went downtown on Friday to talk to Tom Galt, lead game designer from Digital Extremes, and to preview their new game, The Darkness II. Now, The Darkness, based on a comic book of the same name, was published in June of 2007, so it’s been quite some time (almost five years) since we’ve last heard about Mr. Jackie Estacado and the chaos he carries inside of him. Was it worth the wait?
Absolutely. Even with no prior knowledge of the story and less than an hour with it in my hands, I came away completely hooked. You often hear gamers proclaim that there’s a certain element of a game they’re always looking for. For some people it’s all about the game play mechanics, others want fantastic graphics. I myself happen to usually be a story-based gamer, and I can forgive annoyances in gameplay or sub-par graphics over a fantastic plot. The Darkness II has nothing to forgive.
The first thing any player will notice immediately is the art style and stunning quality of the graphics. Many developers these days are using the advance capability of today’s engines to go as lifelike with graphics as possible. Granted, this can be impressive, but after awhile everything starts to look the same. Darkness II has chosen to stick to its comic book roots in what Tom called “graphic noir style.” The art team utilized several classic artistic techniques, including cross-hatching and a hand-painted look, with a stellar overall effect. It’s just the right amount of darkness and stylistic changes to give the feel of an other-worldly edge that makes the player believe, just for the duration of his/her gaming session, this could all actually be real.
In terms of story line, Digital Extremes has knocked it out of the park. The Darkness II picks up two years after The Darkness left off. Our main character Jackie has risen from hitman to Don of the New York City mafia. You can tell very clearly it’s New York. The subway part of the map was so authentic it had me slightly scared to go back home, fearing crazy men in orange jumpsuits were going to jump out, guns blazing any second.
Jackie has bottled up the darkness of two years ago and is still struggling with the loss of his girlfriend, Jenny, who was shot to death in front of him two years ago. Darkness II is the story about how he deals with the loss. The developers wanted the story to be the main focus, wanting to at least meet, if not top, the standards set by the first game.
This is not to say that the game play has suffered, not hardly. The Darkness II is a lot of fun to play because it constantly allows you to mix things up, and play the game your way. The combat options are practically endless.
I played for roughly 45 minutes or so. In that time I came across three different types of guns, which gave you the option to dual wield in whatever combination suits you. The demon arms are still available, and so much fun. Twisting a person up, and then ripping him in half crotch to crown? Way more fun than it probably should be. They’re also good for slashing, throwing people against walls, ripping barriers apart, picking up pretty much anything and chucking it at people, and healing. By ripping the hearts from the bodies of your enemies.
Thanks to the new talent system, there are even more ways to change your combat style. Some of the upgrades are new moves for the arms, or weapon abilities. And they don’t run out. There’s no grinding until you unlock them all, not on the first playthrough anyway. Even the most ambitious player will only end up unlocking 70-80% of the abilities in the skill trees, according to Tom. If you want to unlock them all, you’ll have to play the New Game +, unlocked once you beat the game the first time.
Even if you finish two games in a row, you haven’t exhausted the game. They’ve added in Vendetta mode, a 4-player co-op “mission mode”. It’s not just a stand-alone opportunity to shoot things and/or tear them to pieces, but is actually intertwined with the main story line. The characters you play with are all brand-new and unique. Each one has their own talent tree, as well as demonic powers (though none possess Jackie’s demon arms). Also, the banter in the missions will change depending on which characters you play with.
One of my favorite things about The Darkness II is that despite the heavy plot, and all the dark themes (hey, it’s in the title) is that it’s a truly funny game. In the first ten minutes of the game, your friend and right-hand man, Vinny, attempts to set you up with a pair of twins, and then later makes a couple of quips about it, despite the fact that the date ended in a literal firefight. (Seriously. There were Molotov cocktails involved.)
Whoever wrote the dialogue seems to have a love for snark and sarcasm almost as big as mine. Add to that the fact that your demonic helper tends to get thrown across the room by shorted control boxes with alarming frequency, and a well-timed subway arrival can clear out an entire wave of enemies (which made me gasp in horror and then start sniggering uncontrollably) and you’ve got yourself a goldmine, as well as some friends who may fear you’re a little mentally unbalanced.
The Darkness II is a game you may not want to pass up, regardless of whether or not you’re played the first. “It has something for everyone” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot, but I’ve never seen a case where it rings as truly. I am crossing my fingers that my crappy little laptop can run it. I guess we’ll find out when it arrives on February 7th for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.