When the original The Darkness from Starbreeze Studios came out in 2007, the comic book inspired title appeared out of nowhere to surprise gamers with its over the top violence and impressive visuals. The mafia hit man, Jackie Estacado, and the supernatural powers that provide him the sentient powers of The Darkness, made for a title with a compelling story and features that were unique for an FPS. Skip ahead a few years later, toss in a new developer and a new graphical style and the sequel not only follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, but also improves on an already remarkable game in just about every way.
The franchise has taken a new direction with Digital Extremes at the helm, with its fantastic cel-shaded style graphics, although at the core, the gameplay is typically the same as the first game. For those that didn’t play the first game, you really should, as it features one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in gaming, but thankfully there is a “previously in The Darkness” short movie before the game starts to catch everyone up.
Taking place nearly 2 years after the previous game, Jackie has become the head of the Franchetti crime family and has suppressed the Darkness within him, not allowing it to surface and wreak havoc on his life. Enter Victor, the leader of a cult cleverly named “The Brotherhood”, whose goal in life is to reclaim the Darkness. The majority of the game follows Jackie as he tries to track down Victor after an ambush by his men and The Brotherhood attacks his mansion, killing members of Jackie’s family, both personal and business.
Jackie gets his powers from The Darkness (superbly and creepily voiced by Mike Patton), and as part of it, grows two living tentacles that appear on both sides of his body. The tentacles lash out to rip foes apart in numerous versatile and disgusting ways; heads getting ripped here, torsos twisted there. This is where most of the glorious gameplay comes from. Having the ability to whip out and rip enemies apart, all while using guns at the same time to take out any stragglers, is as satisfying as it gets.
The only caveat being that he needs darkness to use it. When there are lights around, you’ll need to break them or the generators that are powering them, or else you will get blinded and disoriented, not to mention more vulnerable to enemy fire. Along with the tentacles, Jackie also has a Darkling. A little minion that wears a cat as a hat and a union jack shirt, which keeps him company, getting into smaller places that Jackie can’t quite reach.
Throughout the game there is an ongoing theme of trying to decide on whether or not Jackie is actually insane and whether all his dealings with the Darkness are just fabrications in his mind. It is brilliantly done and actually starts to make you think that maybe Jackie really is just a nut job in an asylum and everything you’ve seen is in his head. As much as the game focuses on trying to track down Victor to save the Darkness for yourself, there is also the parallel story of Jackie’s girlfriend, Jenny, and her soul being trapped in Hell, thanks to the Darkness trying to keep it held over Jackie’s head, blackmailing him to do its bidding.
Apart from the main campaign which will run you about 7-8 hours, and will take you through some of the rather seedy parts of New York, like a rundown amusement park and a strip club where anything goes, there is a separate “Vendetta’s” campaign that can either be played through online with up to 3 other co-op partners or by yourself offline. The new characters that can be used are 4 diverse individuals that each possess weapons, such as a hammer or a katana, with darkness essence in them to give a little additional oomph. And not to stop there, there are also Hit List missions, which are basically separate missions pulled from the singleplayer and Vendetta’s campaign, with a few exclusive missions also thrown into the mix.
The Darkness II amps up the action and even more so than the first game and is easily one of the most impressive FPS titles of this generation, not only visually but from a storytelling standpoint as well. From the start of the game, where a restaurant shootout kicks things off with a huge bang, the entire game is an action packed rollercoaster ride, right up to the ending, where a scene after the credits will have anyone who is familiar with the comics, drop their jaw with the direction the game goes. It sets the series up for another entry and, after playing through The Darkness II, any fan of the franchise will be eagerly waiting for it to arrive.
Title:The Darkness II
Release Date: February 3rd 2012
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Retail game purchased for review