Way Back When: The Darkness II Review
The Darkness II is a strange beast. Following the critical success of the first game, the sequel ditched a lot of what I enjoyed in the original – the open world elements, the variety of minions, and even the phones that you have to manually dial in the number for. Losing gameplay elements in the sequel seems like a series shooting itself in the foot, but trimming the fat makes The Darkness II a leaner, meaner creature.
The Darkness II is based on the comic of the same name (minus the II), but with a slightly skewed version of events. The game places you in the role of Jackie Estacado, a former hit man and now head of the Franchetti crime family, perhaps by way of his inheriting the unfathomable force of the Darkness. Unlike in the first game, the Darkness power stands front and center, both in terms of story and gameplay. Fortunately, The Darkness II spins a good yarn, with some evil cult getting up in Jackie’s grill. At the same time, Jackie and the Darkness are constantly at each other’s throats, each using the other for their own ends and fighting for dominance over the body of the host.
In terms of gameplay, The Darkness II is on the surface a fairly standard first person shooter. There’s the normal array of pistols, shotguns and SMGs, minus the emphasis on cover mechanics and health regeneration. However, toss the power of the Darkness into the mix and you have one of the most gleefully fun shooters available. Instead of taking cover, the Darkness coats Jackie in armor made from the very darkness around him. Instead of regenerating health, you eat the hearts of fallen foes to regain health. The power of the Darkness manifests itself mostly in the demonic, snake-like tentacles sprouting over your shoulders, lending two extra arms to the fight. The right tentacle arm is just a glorified melee attack, but the left arm is a barrel of fun. With it, you can rip off car doors to use as shields, impale enemies by throwing poles like javelins, or if you’re feeling fancy, execute some truly, gorily creative finishing moves. Some particularly gruesome highlights include disemboweling someone through their rear end and splitting them in half like a wishbone. Other powers include opening black holes and shooting enemies through walls, but I always ventured back to cutting people in half at fifty paces with a buzz saw.
As you might have guessed, The Darkness II is an incredibly gory game, much like the comic it’s based on. The game also recalls its origins graphically, its cel-shaded style echoing that found in the comic books. Unfortunately, cel-shading tends to work best with colorful surroundings, like those in Prince of Persia or Wind Waker. But in a game called The Darkness II, you can imagine there’s not a lot of color to spread around. In his bloody quest, Jackie ticks off an abandoned carnival, a harrowing visit to a brothel, warehouses and a car park, among others – all at night. That being said, it’s hardly brimming with color.
The Darkness II does far better in the sound department, though. I relished every moment the Darkness spoke, pleading, egging Jackie on, growing furious, shrieking with fear, all in a voice at the same time old, harsh, and seductively powerful. I could imagine this was an entity very much used to getting its own way. I mentioned above that the variety of minions from the first game has been pared back, leaving you with only one. Though lonely in number, it is brimming with personality: a brash Cockney goblin-like creature that cries ‘Why didn’t you just give me wings?!’ when you throw him through the air. The voice acting is pretty stellar all around, too.
I’ve mentioned a few times that The Darkness II is a trimmed version of its predecessor. This stands true for its length as well. You could easily finish the game in a day, but that would do the game a terrible disservice. The Darkness II is meant to be replayed for quick, first person shooter fun, and the New Game+ mode lets you keep the powers you’ve unlocked. There’s also a co-op mode that takes place in a different set of levels, but it just wasn’t worth the trouble. Each player chooses one of the four characters, each with a different slice of Jackie’s powers. Of course, some are far better than others, meaning some will dominate while others are left in the dust. Stick to the single player.
The Darkness II is an absolute blast while it lasts, combining a story that’s engaging from beginning to end with combat that’s fun and rewarding in execution. If only it stuck around for longer…