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PC, Xbox 360, PS3 (Reviewed)
Released: February 7, 2012
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: 2K Games
The Darkness took me by surprise back in 2007. I had a passing familiarity with the comics, but did not have particularly high expectations for a licensed game. My, how I was wrong. I finished the campaign in one sitting, fixated on my TV, ignoring everything else. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sequel, despite Starbreeze no longer being the developer. With Digital Extremes taking the mantle, I was looking forward to finding out if it was going to be more of the same or if the franchise would take a new direction.
The Darkness II takes place a couple of years after the original. Brooding mobster, Jackie Estacado has become the head of the New York mob and he’s managed to keep his monstrous passenger under control. But when you’re cursed to be a vessel for an ancient force of evil, happiness is fleeting. After an unexpected attack during a dinner date, Jackie lets The Darkness back into his life so he has the power to get his revenge.
Thus begins a rather forgettable tale of a very depressed mobster with fantastic hair who mutilates a lot of people. The plot is without a doubt the weakest part of the game. Jackie’s new enemy is The Brotherhood, led by a deformed psychopath called Victor. Overly chatty Vic wants the power of The Darkness for himself and keeps trying to kill Jackie to get it. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Luckily, running through this rather dull story is Jackie’s battle with The Darkness. Hallucinations and mind games take centre stage here and while it makes the game’s pacing a bit messy, it’s a welcome reprieve from the boredom of dealing with The Brotherhood.
The rather splendid performances of the voice cast makes up for a lot of the story issues, however. Mike Patton is especially memorable as the titular villain, his blood curdling shrieks and manic patter are a delight to listen to, The Darkness is easily my favourite disembodied voice in video games. The rest of the cast rarely say anything all that interesting, but the voice actors make the most with what they have to work with and the finished product is polished, if a bit mundane.
Digital Extremes have gone to great effort to make the game seem like it’s jumped right out of the comics. The cell shaded aesthetic matches the source material very well, and small touches like pencil shading on some textures make it well worth your while to take a short break from all the mayhem and admire the detail. It’s a good thing that they made such an effort, because the actual locations aren’t all that interesting bar a couple of the later levels.
The indulgent violence and gore are what really makes The Darkness II stand out, however. Jackie has a wide variety of firearms at his disposal, all loud and destructive. But it’s his demonic abilities that cause the most carnage. His ferocious tentacles are mapped to the bumpers and allow the pissed off gangster to pull off all manner of twisted attacks; from mad swipes at enemies, to grabbing foes and literally snapping them like a wishbone. All this murder confers dark essence to Jackie, which he can spend on upgrading his abilities as well as purchasing new ones. Eventually you will be able to give your tentacles brutal spikes, unlock new execution moves or even toss black holes at groups of foes. With the campaign clocking in around 6 hours, there’s not nearly enough time to experience all, or even most of the abilities. Thankfully there’s a New Game + mode available.
As well as the New Game + mode, there’s a co-op campaign — Vendettas — which can actually be played solo or with three other people and the extra challenging Hit List. Vendettas gives players the opportunity to work together as one of Jackie’s enforcers, who have abilities based on one of Jackie’s four main powers. While it’s a fun diversion, they are basically just less diverse versions of Jackie and the only real draw is the ability to play with others. The Hit List missions pit you against bosses, but beyond the increased difficulty they don’t have much to offer. I can’t really complain about all this additional content, but it all feels a bit unnecessary.
The Darkness II is an altogether less subtle game than its predecessor and the attempts by Digital Extremes to make me sympathise with Jackie as he incessantly moans about his dead girlfriend Jenny — who died 2 years ago — gets in the way of the blood and limb ripping fun. While the excellent combat should be more than enough for fans of the original and newcomers alike, this is undoubtedly the weaker of the two games. But if you’re in the mood for extreme violence or are just a fan of The Darkness comics or a really, really big fan of Faith No More, then this is probably right up your street.