NYCC: Hands-On: The Darkness II
One of the big titles I got to play at New York Comic Con this year was The Darkness II. I was a huge fan of the first game in the series. The source material was excellent for the transition to a video game, and the developers at Starbreeze did an excellent job of creating a game world that was as gritty as the comics, but also surprisingly emotional as well. The Darkness II has a hard act to follow, but after getting my hands on the game and speaking with Producer Seth Olshfski at length about the game, I’m really optimistic about how the graphic sequel will pan out.
The new game opens up with the main character of the first game, Jackie Estacado being tortured by a mysterious man who wants the Darkness powers for himself. We are then shown through flashback how Jackie ended up in a torture chamber being literally crucified. The flashback begins with Jackie acting out his role as mob boss, the position he takes over after the events of the first game. He is greeted by sycophants and made men as he walks into a mob controlled Italian restaurant. Eventually he sits down at his table and is greeted by two trashy women fawning over him. They are distinctly different then the female characters we met in the first game. What the writers are clearly looking to do here is establish that even two years after the events of the first Darkness game, Estacado is clearly still in a fragile emotional state after the death of his girlfriend Jenny and the traumatic behavior of the Darkness.
Jackie’s dinner with the women does not last very long (I won’t spoil exactly what happens there, but it was rather crazy and graphic), as the restaurant soon comes under attack. Jackie’s legs are graphically broken, and he is dragged to safety by one of his minions. The opening sequence was really interesting, and Olshfski stated that they were really working on pacing the game properly. Olshfski told me that the developer, Digital Extremes, wanted to keep the narrative ideas present in the first game, and to do this they were really concentrating on the way they timed the more story based sections of the game. The opening sequence actually serves as one of the more exciting tutorial stages. It definitely gives me hope that the other narrative sections of the game are as exciting as that was.
The actual demo itself was a great length, and shows how Jackie allows the Darkness back into his life. You start off with a number of cool abilities with the Darkness, but there is a simple pleasure in the “quad-wielding” system as you impale one enemy with a parking meter ripped from the ground by your Darkness powers while you shoot at the others with your twin pistols. Then you can eat enemies hearts for their powers. The game is savage, but plays incredibly smoothly. Quad-wielding is actually rather intuitive, and the controls seem well mapped.
Further, the developers have added an RPG style system to the game. As you kill, maim and destroy, you can unlock some pretty amazing powers. Olshfski was more than happy to share his favorite one with me. “Gun Channeling,” which is a power that has five levels of its own, and replaces bullets with the power of the Darkness to essentially make guns even more powerful. There is no ammo and no reloading, so things can get pretty ridiculous if you’re using say, dual Uzis. The upper tiers of Gun Channeling eventually lead to the ability to shoot, and see, through walls. That isn’t even the top tier of the power. I won’t spoil the top tier for you, but suffice it to say, the RPG powers seem very, very cool.
I was curious what led to the decision to include the power tree. Olshfski told me that when the game starts and Jackie allows the Darkness back, he still has all the powers he had from the first game. The developers wanted to make the player feel even more badass, but also to reward the player for playing the way they wanted to play. So if you prefer guns, then your guns will get boosted. Prefer your darkness tentacles? Well then upgrade those. Personally, and I neglected to ask, but I hope there is a power to make my Darklings even crazier.
So while the player is going to be really powerful, the villains are no pushovers either. The villain you meet at the beginning of the game is particularly charismatic, despicable and insane. If nothing else, he is certainly more supernatural than the mob bosses of the first game. The villain and his organization, The Brotherhood, were influenced by and created in order to fit in with the comic’s villains. Further, he was created by Paul Jenkins, so as to add to the authenticity.
The authenticity to the comics is actually a big focus, and really shows through in the graphics, as well as the writing. I did not actually notice it at first, but the graphics all have a bit of cell shading to them. The game looks great actually, with some awesome use of colors. The Darkness’ tentacles glow with shades of red or purple for powers, and the environments are well lit. Of course, shooting out lights returns from the first game. The Darkness will not even appear if an area is too well lit.
Overall I had a blast with the demo for The Darkness II. The game is essentially finished and is being polished right now. The team over at Digital Extremes is using the skepticism that they are not Starbreeze as motivation to make their own game, while still respecting Starbreeze Studios and the source material and they want to polish it until it is perfect. From what I got to play, they’re definitely on the right track. This is definitely a game to keep on your radar. Jackie is still tough as nails, Mike Patton is back and the gameplay is even more brutal than the first.