Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Digital Extremes
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 2 GHz Core2Duo/Athlon 64 X2 4200+ CPU, 256 MB GeForce 8600/Radeon HD 2600 graphics card, 1.5 GB RAM, 10 GB hard-drive space
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
We FPS aficionados love mindless violence. Doesn’t matter how well a developer dresses it up; decapitation, dismemberment and general bloody mayhem get our juices flowing. So try not to judge Digital Extreme’s action sequel The Darkness II too harshly. Despite a minimal plot and an attempt to use some Twilight Zone-style cutscenes to make the game more cinematic, Darkness II delivers the blood-soaked goods, topped off by an ancillary character that you might remember long after the story is told.
Two game years ago, New York City mob soldier Jackie Estacado used the supernatural powers of a demon known as The Darkness to gain revenge on the rivals who murdered his beloved girlfriend, Jenny, and to kill his way to the head of the Family. Once he was done, he managed to find a way, with the help of a tweaked-out assistant named Johnny Powell, to contain The Darkness. Now, an unknown threat is starting to move in on Jackie’s territory. A failed attempt by this new enemy to abduct Jackie enrages him to the point that he releases The Darkness once again. With the aid of a Cockney-accented familiar known as a darkling, Jackie and The Darkness once again plow through the Big Apple, this time in search of the The Brotherhood, a shadowy organization that doesn’t seem to be all that afraid of Jackie’s otherworldly powers.
Gameplay in Darkness II is fairly straightforward: find enemy, rip enemy to little shreds, repeat. You do this in several ways. Each of Jackie’s hands can wield an assortment of handguns, rifles and shotguns. Meanwhile, the two slithering snakes protruding from Jackie’s shoulders can be used to grab and throw items, hold shields to protect Jackie while he fires, or execute foes in some very visceral ways (including a kill called “The Wishbone,” which should need no description). But there’s a catch: Jackie’s Darkness powers are useless when standing in the light, so you have to shoot out light sources as often as possible. Later on, Brotherhood thugs carry high-intensity lights to try to trap you, so taking them out becomes your top priority for survival. There’s no cover mechanic, but you do have regenerating health, which replenishes even faster if you use the Darkness to extract and eat the hearts of dead enemies. You can also use the darkling as a weapon; just grab him and throw him at the target. And speaking of the darkling, there are two sequences where you control the demonic little creature, moving him through air ducts and crawlspaces to clear the way for Jackie. All of these kills give you dark essence, which you can exchange for new abilities and powerups.
The original Darkness game was a 2007 Xbox 360 exclusive, and going back to it now you can see how far game graphics have come. Darkness II features a very colorful, comic book-style visual look that makes the game many times more menacing than its console predecessor. The idea of quad-wielding in combat could’ve made the control scheme fairly complicated, but the controls are simple to learn and a breeze to use. Unlike the original game, the darkling emerges on his own instead of having to be summoned, which gives you one less thing to have to manage, especially during combat, which is fast-paced and exciting. Voice acting is merely adequate, with the one exception of actor David Hoffman’s portrayal of hyperkinetic tweaker Johnny Powell (if you watch the game’s trailer, you get a good sample of Powell’s foul-mouthed weirdness). And composer Tim Wynn’s soundtrack is an excellent companion to the on-screen action.
Still, there are a few things that threaten to spoil the fun. Screen tearing is a big problem throughout the game. If you don’t move immediately to the next objective, a prompt pops up telling you which button you can press to remind you of your next destination. The cell-shaded graphics are effective but not always very attractive. PC gamers will especially dislike the lack of a save-anywhere feature, although there are plenty of checkpoints, so rarely do you have to backtrack very far after death. Your conversations with Powell are almost always entertaining, but one of them practically gives away the ultimate ending of the story. You can’t aim down the gunsights when you dual-wield, forcing you to waste ammunition by spraying and praying. The boss battles are absurdly easy to beat, at least at medium difficulty. The cutscenes in the mental hospital slam the brakes on the game’s slight (only about six hours) yet lightning-fast story; they only seem to exist to set up a choice of two endings. And the game’s multiplayer mode is limited to four-player online co-op (single-player only offline).
Despite the faults, I had a blast playing The Darkness II. Combat is fast and nasty, gallows humor abounds in the script, and the visuals make it seem like you’re playing one of the Top Cow graphic novels on which the series is based. A few less trips to the asylum between fight scenes would’ve been welcome, but there’s fun to be had for those with a taste for plasma-soaked gaming violence.