Review: The Darkness II
When The Darkness was released in 2007 it took a lot of people by surprise, both fans of the original comic and newcomers to the series. In fact a lot of people who played the game wound up looking into the comic series and becoming a fan of that proper, which is a great accomplishment for a game based on another medium.
When it was announced that a sequel was in the works many people (myself included) rejoiced. The first game was very high on my list of games I wished would receive a sequel and even though it was announced that Starbreeze Studios wouldn’t be producing the game I was still extremely excited for the game.
The first game was highly applauded for its storytelling and wonderful characters, creating a tough experience to follow up on. So how well does The Darkness II stack up its predecessor? Unsurprisingly, very well.
Unusual for a first person shooter, the story was one of the strongest elements of the first game with one of the most deeply emotional scenes I’ve ever seen put forth into a video game let alone any other medium. Thankfully if you happened to miss out on the first game or if it has just been awhile since you played it, the game starts with an optional video which recaps the story thus far and does an excellent job of bringing you up to speed.
It has been two years since the events in the last game and Jackie Estacado has moved up in the world to be the leader of the Franchetti crime family. He’s also managed to somehow suppress the titular Darkness, keeping it hidden deep down inside him.
Of course things don’t stay this way for very long and very shortly into the game Jackie is forced to let The Darkness out to combat a group that’s attacking him called The Brotherhood who seem to want to take The Darkness from him. The Brotherhood is based on a group of the same name from the comics who have had this goal throughout the ages, so it’s nice to see them incorporated into the games.
The story progresses at a strong and steady pace and considering the large shoes it has to fill puts on a stellar performance. The Darkness itself is haunting Jackie from visions of the horrible things he experienced in the first game and a second story is taking place alongside the core game that may or may not be The Darkness just messing with Jackie’s head outright.
The Darkness II does some interesting things with player choice that will seriously mess with your head. There’s one point where you have to press X to initiate an action (a call-back to a similar event in the first game) and I honestly found myself incapable of pushing that button for the longest time, knowing what would happen and not wanting it to. It feels like The Darkness II is messing with you the player just as much as the titular entity messes with Jackie Estacado, which is quite the accomplishment.
One of the most touted features of the game is the so-called “Quad-Wielding” which allows Jackie to wield two guns alongside using the two “demon arms” of The Darkness, and this is beautifully executed. It feels a little cumbersome at first as you get used to the controls but it’s not too long before you’re popping heads off, grabbing car doors to use as a shield, and impaling your enemies with thrown poles all at once. It’s quite a satisfying experience.
One thing people seem to be on the fence about regarding the sequel is the change in visual appearance to a more “cell-shaded” style which is more reminiscent of a comic book. I personally found myself in the camp strongly loving the new graphical aesthetic which is dripping with style at every turn. The textures were all hand-painted and it’s easy to spot this when you look. Some interesting things were done with the style and I found it added to the overall atmosphere very well.
The Darkness II adds a skill tree which allows Jackie to unlock and upgrade his powers and though its handled in a fairly straight-forward manner it’s just as well executed as the rest of the game. You won’t have enough points by the end of the game to unlock everything, but you get close enough that you still feel like a powerhouse.
The single player campaign is relatively short and can be completed in about eight hours give or take, though it’s a very fun short ride. To compliment this and the lack of the multiplayer component from the first game is a new co-op campaign called Vendettas which takes place alongside the main story from the view of four people who all have a small touch of The Darkness’ powers. As the number of characters would indicate this can be played with up to four players and can be done solo if you wish.
This mode is fairly short which works well with the co-op angle to it and can be completed in around two hours and while it’s not key to understanding the main game it does expand on things nicely and is a nice addition. In addition a New Game + mode is available which is a delightful experience in its own right if for no other reason than letting you be insanely powerful right from the beginning.
Mike Patton makes a strong return as the voice of The Darkness and is joined by an extremely wonderful cast that all do their part to make this world feel truly alive. While the absence of Kirk Acevedo as the voice of Jackie Estacado is missed, his replacement Brian Bloom does an acceptable job of filling in for him.
The game is littered with small touches that help make the world feel like it’s an actual place where the characters lives don’t revolve around what the player character is doing at all times and feels like a place they would actually live in, which is no small feat. Characters will carry on conversations with each other unaware of your presence (and reacting accordingly when they realize you’re listening in) and seem to carry on a daily schedule of something other than “wait to be talked to, tell the player where to go.”
The game features a selection of collectible relics which add in some background info on The Darkness while mentioning some other characters from the comic’s Universe and while that alone is better effort than most games put into the random stuff for you to pick up the real kicker is the voice-over done by the character Johnny Powell who plays a large role in the main game. You might know him better as the fidgety guy from the opening video sequence and some of the trailers.
While at the end of the day it’s not perfect, The Darkness II is a well executed sequel to one of the strongest games this generation and does a wonderful job of both filling the shoes left by the multiple empty shoes behind the scenes as well as standing strong on its own two feet. The campaign isn’t very long but what’s there is very well thought out and executed even better.
The ending of the game will come as a complete surprise and will have fans of the first game and the comics screaming at their televisions and unable to put the controller down. Whether the hook is picked up in a future sequel is of course yet to be determined but it looks like things aren’t over for Jackie and The Darkness just yet.