The Darkness II was a game that I hoped would be good, but had very low expectations for its actual quality. Much to my surprise, Digital Extremes was actually able to surpass the original game and craft an experience filled with awesome gameplay and stunning presentation. The only downsides are some occasionally frustrating scenarios and the fact that the whole product only has about 8-12 hours of content in it. Still if you like grim mafia stories or ridiculous comic book violence the Darkness II is wonderfully entertaining as you follow Jackie Estacado on his quest for revenge and redemption.
At its core Darkness II is a fairly standard first person shooter. In the single player campaign you play as Jackie Estacado. Jackie can carry two one-handed weapons and one two-handed weapon at a time. These are the usual gambit of shotguns, machine guns, and pistols we have come to expect from these sorts of games. The gunplay is loose with very forgiving aim, but this suits the game’s fast paced style as you are often duel wielding weapons and running around to dodge enemies.
What sets this apart from other shooters though is the Darkness itself, the demon that possesses Jackie. The Darkness manifests as a pair of tentacles (Excuse me as I yell at my computer about how it was different in the comics…okay I’m done) and Jackie can make use of them and other abilities to overcome his foes. The arms can be used to eat hearts to regain health, brutally dismember enemies, pick up and throw objects, or execute melee attacks. There are a number of non-tentacle powers as well, such as armor or the ability to summon a swarm of flies. You gain experience points for pretty much everything you do in the game and these points can be used to purchase new powers and upgrade old ones in several different skill trees. All of the abilities are a lot of fun to use and help break up the tedium of shooting wave after wave of bad guys. The bad guy killing is also broken up by other types of sequences, but they are tied into the story so I won’t spoil them.
The catch is that all of the abilities only work when you are in shadow, meaning that a lot of the game is spent shooting out lights as these abilities are necessary in the later game encounters. This isn’t so much a problem in itself, as it has a solid fictional reason for existing and also makes for an interesting gameplay dynamic, especially when you begin to encounter enemies with light based weapons. Unfortunately much of the late game is spent fighting too many enemies with too many spotlights, and it stops being a fun challenge and just gets annoying. Boss battles are also tedious, but they are few and far between, so they don’t hurt the game very much. When you are in the light the screen becomes black and white, making it hard to pick out enemies or light sources. These scenarios can become quite frustrating, but I never became so upset that I quit out of sheer frustration. The campaign itself is fairly short, about 8 hours, but it is extremely well paced and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Once you finish the campaign you can choose to go through it again in a new game plus or move on to the co-op. The co-op has no splitscreen, but you can choose to play it by yourself, though you will need to turn the difficulty down if you choose too as the missions are designed for multiple players. You choose from four different characters who work for Jackie. While none of them have the tentacles but they do have a unique darkness item that they use instead of a second one-handed weapon. Each one plays pretty similarly, but the different artifacts add some nice variations. The co-op campaign is about 3 hours and does tie into the main story but not in a significant way, but you can increase its length by playing hit list missions. These are shorter missions with pretty much no story content that take place on one of the co-op maps. Overall the co-op is fine, but it is not nearly as fun or interesting as the main campaign.
While the first Darkness opted for a fairly standard look, the Darkness II ups the ante with a brand new art style inspired by comic art. This new visual treatment is awesome with nice details such as hatch marks that look like they came from an artist’s pencil. The environments look fantastic, but are extremely dark and grim, especially the bordello. The Darkness related objects are also great looking appropriately demonic and crazy. As you might expect, the lighting is also great although it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between light that will disable your Darkness abilities and light that won’t. Some muddy textures, occasional slowdown, and minor graphical glitches mar the experience, but for the most part the presentation is top notch.
There is a lot of gruesome fun to be had in the Darkness II. While the shooting feels fairly standard, the gory executions and brutal melee combat make the gameplay extremely satisfying. Overall, the game has an excellent flow, as long as the shootouts don’t get bogged down, which makes it light and easy fun.
The best part of the Darkness is its story. Paul Jenkins, a comic book writer who authored the previous games and several issues of the Darkness comic, has crafted a great tale that takes a grim mafia tale and fuses it with demons and insanity. While the game is a direct continuation from the first Darkness, the previously-on sequence catches you up nicely and tells you everything you need to know. The story follows the demon possessed Jackie Estacado, who is now the head of a mafia family, as he fights with the Brotherhood for control of the Darkness and struggles to come to terms with the loss of his girlfriend Jenny. The dialogue is superb and the voice acting is amazing. Special mentions go to the extremely creepy Mike Patton as the Darkness and David Hoffman as the hilarious Johnny Powell. It also has one of the best video game endings I’ve seen in a long time, that sets the game up for a sequel yet somehow manages to feel satisfying.
The Darkness II is not a perfect game. It’s short, the co-op is not as impressive as the single-player, the bosses are tedious, and some of the combat scenarios are poorly designed, but the game is extremely well-paced and can be great fun to play when everything works right, and it usually does. Combine that with a phenomenal story and great graphics the Darkness II is a game that I happily recommend.