The Darkness was a first-person shooter developed by Starbreeze in 2007, and while it wasn’t a blockbuster hit, it definitely struck a chord with quite a few gamers. Though it took five years, but The Darkness is finally back and this time it has been developed by Digital Extremes. It isn’t surprising that this made fans of the series nervous. Digital Extremes is mostly know for doing ports and the occasional clunker like Dark Sector. However, this anxiety was unfounded–The Darkness II is wonderful.
If you didn’t play the first game, you should give it a shot. I played it recently, and while it is a bit rough in some areas, it still holds up. If you don’t have the time, The Darkness II has a “previously on” segment which will get you up to speed. We pick up the story of The Darkness two years after the events of the first game. Jackie Estacado has become a New York mob boss, and has managed to keep The Darkness sealed up inside himself. That all goes out the window when Jackie needs The Darkness to keep himself alive during an attempt on his life.
The Darkness manifests as two tentacles on the right and left of the screen, and are controlled with the right and left bumpers. The left tentacle can grab items and people as well as throw, smash and destroy at will. The right tentacle can slash horizontally and vertically when using the right stick along with the bumper. A good deal of your time will be spend grabbing enemies with the left tentacle and doing unspeakable things to them with the right. Meanwhile Jackie can hold rifles, or duel-wield pistols and machine guns with his own hands. Jackie tends to deal with enemies in the distance with gunplay, while using The Darkness up close. Essence can be used to upgrade or add new darkness powers to your arsenal.
Using Jackie’s Darkness powers has an advantage over shooting in that you will gain more experience, and eventually the choice of additional health, ammo or even a darkness shield after each execution. The Darkness II has a solid RPG style leveling system based on “essence” gained through combat and finding dark relics scattered through each level.
The gremlin-like darklings also make a return in The Darkness II. In the first game you could call on up to four darklings with various powers. In the sequel you have just one darkling, but he acts as more of a developed character, to the point that you actually start caring about the little bugger. At certain points in the game you inhabit the darkling who has his own gruesome execution animations.
Other darkness powers include the new “gun channeling” and “swarm” abilities as well as the ability to create black holes and even pick up your darkling and fling him at unsuspecting enemies. Gun channeling allows Jackie to have unlimited ammo and do additional damage for a short period of time. Swarm stuns nearby enemies allowing Jackie to get the drop on them. All of the abilities end up being very handy and are utilized for most of the game. Nothing feels wasted or extraneous. You will be able to get enough essence to fill out one or two of the ability trees in your first play through, which is a nice incentive to go back and play through the New Game Plus mode.
The Darkness II has a gorgeous new aesthetic which is meant to resemble the comic book art that is the original source material for the game. Jackie’s darkness powers can only be used in the dark (go figure), which you would expect to make for a very dark game. The game ends up being surprisingly bright and colorful, with darkness powers taking on a purple glow. It’s as if the designers flipped light and dark on their head. You are perfectly comfortable in the dark, while you will be blinded if you find yourself in bright light.
The dialogue and voice acting is also top notch. Mike Patton returns to voice The Darkness in the weird and creepy way that only he can do. I can absolutely see Mr. Patton’s voice work being too over the top, or even goofy for some people. I’m a huge fan of his special brand of crazy, so I loved every minute of it. Another character, Johnny Powell steals the show as the premier expert on The Darkness (and absolute paranoid nut-bag). After you collect the relics scattered throughout the game, you can listen to Johnny explain their significance. What is typically a dull affair in many games turns into an absolute treat.
Beyond the single player campaign, you will find a co-op campaign called Vendettas. One of the main complaints about The Darkness II is that the single player is short, and it is, though I prefer to think of it as succinct. Either way you can burn through it in around six to eight hours. The Vendettas allow up to four players to take part in a side story that is running parallel to the single player. The characters you pick from could be described as stereotypes. There is a Japanese guy with a samurai sword, an African-American voodoo witch doctor, a Scottish soccer hooligan and a former member of the Israeli Intelligence Agency. Each character has the ability to use one of Jackie’s darkness powers, but with a little twist. This section has some of the best/silliest dialogue as you listen in on the stereotypical Italian mobsters interacting with these extreme characters. The mode ends up adding quite a bit more content to the otherwise short game.
The Darkness II is brutal, crass and probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It is also gorgeous, smart and a big improvement over the original in terms of game play. The narrative is constructed in a very interesting way that I don’t want to spoil for you, but it will keep you guessing right up to the end. This game takes what was interesting about the original, and builds upon it while also streamlining the experience. The Darkness II is going to hold a special place in my heart just like the original. I just hope that I don’t have to wait another five years for The Darkness III.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of The Darkness II provided by the reviewer. It is also available for the PS3 and PC.