The Darkness II
In The Darkness II, you play as a monster. The protagonist may be a flesh-and-blood human being, but despite the attempts to humanize him, by all accounts mobster Jackie Estacado is more accurately described as death on two legs with an extra pair of demonic tentacles to compliment his dual-wielding arsenal of guns. Jackie’s death-dealing appendages haven’t been seen since 2007, back in the infancy of the PlayStation 3.
Since that time, the mafioso has amassed everything a man could want—money, power, women—but he’s miserable because the light of his life Jenny Ramano was taken from him. The game picks up after a hit gone bad at a restaurant, causing the Darkness to finally reemerge. A shadowy cult wants its power all to themselves, and isn’t afraid to hit Jackie and his mob friends where they live, either.
The most immediately noticeable change is the one to a colorful, cel-shaded look in order to better capture the game’s comic book origins. It’s a huge departure from the dark, realistic tone of the original, but it does make the gruesome deaths of the enemies much easier to deal with. Mike Patinson once again loans his tonsils to voice the Darkness, who is just as eager to torment Jackie as he is to rend enemies asunder as he was in the first game.
This decision largely makes The Darkness II less suspenseful than its predecessor. If players wanted a game where they bisected hordes of enemies level through level, than this is the game for them. The Darkness II is purely linear, providing one firefight after another as Jackie inches ever closer to The Brotherhood over the blood-stained bodies of his enemies. Don’t bother looking for cover, because there isn’t any. This isn’t an oversight on the part of the designers, it’s simply because there’s no need for them.
Jackie is never at a loss for ways to kill enemies. When he’s not shooting them, his tentacles can take care of business just as easily, or even arguably more efficiently. The right tentacle is used to lash out while the left is for throwing and grabbing, including grabbing car doors as makeshift shields. Once an enemy is stunned by the right tentacle, the left can come in and grab them for a gruesome execution that allots points, used as currency to unlock additional abilities and executions.
Every interesting new ability (like being able to throw your minion to take out enemies or slam enemies after knocking them in the air) is counterbalanced with several that are completely mundane. Such abilities do little more than add a little extra damage to Jackie’s attacks or fine-tune his shooting skills. Controlling all of Jackie’s abilities is a rather painless affair, and even managing four limbs at the same time quickly becomes second nature.
Still, it’s very easy to rely too much on the Darkness’ executions that paralyze enemies until the animation is complete. Executions replenish health as does eating the hearts from fallen enemies, so Jackie is rarely at a loss for health. To compensate for Jackie’s nigh invulnerability, the game throws everything plus the kitchen sink at him, especially during the latter levels. Bad guys come out of the woodwork by the dozen, gradually carrying heavier firepower including shields and the ability to teleport.
Most obnoxious of all are the lights dotting the background and flashbulbs wielded by enemies near the end. This is the Darkness’ only real weakness, and it’s best to either break them or find a shady spot, lest its powers wither. The raw power of the Darkness is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to the difficulty, it’s such a powerful force with an assortment of combat options that the developers struggle to throw a sufficient challenge at the player.
Despite the game’s linearity, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s entirely a shooting gallery. Oddly, The Darkness II focuses a lot of energy on characterization. Between levels, Jackie spends time interacting with the rest of his mafia buddies and dazing through what may or may not be a hallucination of himself in a mental hospital. These segments are at odds with the game’s unrelenting brutality and breakneck pace, but there are the occasions when the story manages to come within dangerous proximity of being touching. Until the bisections start up again, that is.
Sadly, there isn’t much replay to be had beyond scouring the levels for a few hidden treasures, a quest that isn’t particularly attractive. There’s also a four-player multiplayer campaign that vaguely ties into the main story with several supernaturally-powered mercenaries carrying out various objectives. It’s a serviceable distraction for those desperate for something else to do once they’ve conquered the main game, but it’s energy that would’ve been better spent adding more meat to the singleplayer campaign.
The Darkness II is the ideal rental game. It’s a fun shooter with a decent amount of combat variety and has a fast pace that guarantees players won’t be bored any time soon, but it lacks lasting appeal and can be beaten within a weekend easily. It’s an enjoyable, gory ride–it’s just too bad it’s such a short one.