Review: The Darkness II

Jackie Estacado is carrying a dark secret deep inside him, literally.  Since before the beginning of time, before there was light there was simply The Darkness and The Darkness doesn’t much care for the light. Able to inhabit only one being, one family line, The Darkness grants unimaginable power to the host in exchange for control.  Once The Darkness has you, you are no longer who you once were. You are blood lust incarnate.

Pretty deep stuff right?  The Darkness II continues the story of The Darkness’ latest host, Jackie Estacado, two years after The Darkness first manifested itself within him leading to a violent blood bath that put Jackie against a New York crime syndicate. Pulling him from near death on his 21st birthday when his crime boss uncle attempts to kill him, it saves his life while ultimately costing him the love of his life, Jenny, and leaving him atop a crime empire.  A rival group has apparently targeted Jackie for assignation and in the violence that ensues the previously contained Darkness is once again set loose on the seedy underbelly of New York City.  What follows is a lot of blood and limbless individuals.

So many ways to kill, so few people to dismember.

Unlike the first game in the series, The Darkness II has no WWI in Hell scenes, but instead has you flipping back and forth between the violent world of Jackie as a mob boss and the clean, white and incredibly bright sterile world of Jackie the mental patient convinced there is a voice inside him called The Darkness.  As the story progresses, Jackie must wrestle with which version is reality and which version is an elaborate hoax to keep him confused and controllable.  This is only one part of the new story in the game; the main story consisting of a battle between Jackie and The Brotherhood, a secret society intent on capturing The Darkness for their own evil goals.  While it is unfortunate to have lost the WWI aspects of the first game, the new story is far more action packed and intense.

There are some other changes from the first game as well: rather than manifesting Darklings of various types, there is simply one Darkling that performs a variety of tasks and is a more important character to the story.  Much of the various Darkness skills still remain, but are implemented in new ways with a new tech tree as well. Also gone are the insane amounts of side tasks from the first game, which is a very welcome change.  You also spend a whole lot less time walking around in a subway (though there is still some “between level” walking around in Jackie’s posh New York high rise apartment).  Outside of the loss of the WWI levels most of the changes were a definite improvement.

This is your only Darkling, but he does the eye gouging of three.

That said, fans of the original Darkness game will be able to pick up the controls almost instantly.  Plenty has changed the second time around, but even the changes will be quick to pick up for veterans of the first game.  Certain elements have been downplayed, such as creating various Darklings, and some elements have been upgraded, such as the new quad wielding feature.  Confused how one can quad wield something?  The answer is quite simple; Jackie can hold up to two guns at the same time while also (and simultaneously) use the eel like physical manifestations of The Darkness to bring down his wrath.  The result is often an intense, hectic and very violent series of skirmishes full of dismemberment and bullet-riddled corpses.  The game rewards the player by being as violent as possible, offering upgrade points for more elaborate kills (such as grabbing a car door with The Darkness and tossing it at an enemy to slice them in half, or using The Darkness to grab a poor soul and then tear them apart like a wishbone, and so on).  Between the two Darkness ‘tentacles,’ the guns and the large amount of objects in the world you can use in your blood bath The Darkness II is limited more by your own violent imagination than anything else.  The game is at its most enjoyable when it allows you to simply tear through large groups of practically defenseless individuals.

"The goggles! They do nothing!"

The Darkness II also gets a notable upgrade visually.  The original Darkness game is obviously dated by this point, so the upgrade is noticeable from the get-go, but the choice of the developers to go for a more cell-shaded look was an interesting choice.  Capturing more of a comic book feel (The Darkness is an adaptation of a graphic novel after all), the change in visual style seems a bit off putting at first but once you get used to it the improvement over the previous game is noteworthy.  The game’s environments don’t offer a ton of variance, but ultimately everything looks great and you get to see all the dismemberment in high quality detail.  Also worth mentioning is the voice cast, which may be one of the better set of performances in a video game.  Not only are the voice actors all phenomenal, much of the dialogue interaction with the characters (primarily the non-mission essential stuff) is hilarious and adds a lot of character to the game.  Take the time to talk to the NPC’s.  It’s wroth it.

Character "development." She has it.

The Darkness II also does away with the mostly un-played multiplayer of the first, instead opting for a new co-op centric Vendetta mode.  Vendetta features four playable characters, each with their own set of more limited but upgradeable Darkness powers that are sent out on missions to obtain certain dark relics for Jackie.  The story behind Vendetta takes place along side the main game and it is an interesting addition to the game that is likely to prove more successful than attempting to tack on a multiplayer like the first did.  That, combined with the ability to start a New Game + mode (keeping your upgrades) certainly adds some life and replayability into the game that the first lacked.

Brings a sword to a gun fight and it still isn't a fair fight (for them).

All is not perfect in The Darkness II though.  Those looking for a twelve hour epic adventure are bound to be let down by this fairly short campaign. The levels are largely linear and straightforward, rarely requiring more than just moving forward and killing a lot of people in very violent ways in order to push the story along.  Additionally, when playing on normal the game is at times almost too easy.  While it is still fun to tear through hoards of enemies, after a while it starts to feel repetitive and doesn’t offer much of a challenge.  This changes quite rapidly though in the later levels when the enemies become, at times, incredibly difficult.  This is in large part due to a particular annoyance, just how blinding light is.  We get it; The Darkness doesn’t like the light.  Very simple concept, but rather than just having The Darkness retract leaving you incredibly vulnerable as is, the game also opts to, for all intensive purposes, blind you completely.  This leaves you firing blindly as you rush to find a dark corner.  It didn’t help that at times it was nearly impossible to distinguish from a “dark” area and a “light” area in the level.  This becomes incredibly frustrating in later levels when enemies begin to have powerful flashlights and flairs.  The challenge was welcome, but the screen going almost completely white in the heat of battle, making it almost impossible to play was just annoying.

Obviously the list of complaints though is small (even if they are notable).  For the most part, The Darkness II does something that most sequels fail to do; offer a different and arguably better experience than the original.  The story is solid, the voice acting is incredible while injecting a fair amount of humor at the same time and the gameplay is an old-fashioned violence filled good time. Following up a fan favorite that is arguably also a cult favorite, combined with having a new developer take on the task is a difficult endeavor and Digital Extremes should be proud of what they have done with the franchise.  The Darkness II offers the same crazy fun violence of the first but also an experience that has been upgraded in almost every way and leaves you anticipating a sequel far more than the first outing did.  In short, embrace your dark side.

Final Rating: 8/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On
: Xbox 360
Time to completion: ~5 hours
Gamer Score Earned: 325/1000
Price Bought at: Rental
Current Price: $54.14 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: $25 or less should be an easy decision.
Why you should buy it: You loved the first despite its many flaws.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: Tearing people apart is bad, M’Kay.

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