How The Darkness Excels At Emotion Where Many Others Fail

Posted by jakob187 (21640 posts) -

***THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!!!***

Two weeks ago, the possibility of picking up The Darkness II immediately looked like a bit of a stretch. Thanks to Powerup Rewards as well as the guy in front of me that was trading in a fresh copy of The Darkness II, I ended up picking the game up for about $33 total. If anything, it felt like a sign that I had to play the game.

The first Darkness game was something special. Starbreeze took a fantastic comic book series and crafted a story into their game that was both heart-wrenching and well-paced. At the same time, it wasn't just the story that made it matter. The developer took the time to pay attention to the characters; giving them the time necessary to gain an attachment to them allowed for the dynamics of the story to hit that much harder. It was the first video game I ever played that forced me to put down the controller at a difficult climax in the game (those who have played it know exactly what I'm talking about) and walk away from the console. It was a tough blow, a punch to the stomach like someone had a fistful of quarters when they did it. My heart sank...

The Darkness II embraces its comic book roots with a new art style, but it actually HELPS the characters be more expressive.

Fast forward to now.

The Darkness II is here, made by a different developer altogether: Digital Extremes. The level of worry I had going into this game was (I feel) rightfully justified. These are the same guys that brought us Dark Sector and are more involved with multiplayer gaming like Unreal Tournament and the multiplayer component of Bioshock 2 than single player games with expressive character. It makes you ask yourself "can they do this story and its characters justice?"

Seeing a developer respect the material they are working with is a beautiful thing to behold. Very few can ever truly capture that essence of magic - melting good gameplay with characters that make you genuinely "feel". Playing through The Darkness II, you would almost think that Starbreeze was still on the job. Digital Extremes looked at how revered the first game was and made sure to keep that essence which made it meaningful. They delivered a solid story with gripping climaxes and unforgettable moments of character development, but they also kept things that made the first game feel unique (such as the loading screens where Jackie delivered monologues while sitting down in a dark room). They improved the core gameplay mechanics drastically, making it a far more playable game. If anything, Digital Extremes built upon what the first game made, and all the additions were astoundingly good and necessary things. However, the core of the game still lies in how the story and characters are handled.

Watching Jenny die is easily one of the most difficult things I've watched happen in a game.

Jackie lost the love of his life in the first game during a rather painful and vicious scene to behold. It's one of the most memorable moments in gaming for me, solely because of the juxtaposition at play and how well it was executed. Here you are, a man with this power that makes you all-fucking-powerful. However, despite all that power, you are completely helpless when you need that power the most. You can't do anything but watch. Digital Extremes pulls that same thing off again in The Darkness II, and as tragic as it is to behold, it is goddamn beautiful to see a developer who isn't afraid to go there.

It's the one thing that I feel The Darkness has over many other games out there: it has the emotional gravitas and capability to go where few are ever willing to go, and it will always deliver that punch to the gut. Every time I had to make a choice in The Darkness II, I put the controller down and walked away. How can I choose which one of two characters takes a bullet at my order when I care about them both? How can I make a choice whether to stay or leave behind someone I care about so much?

Sure, there are guns and you shoot things. That's great and all, it works fine. Whatever. It's not the reason I'm playing the game. They make all that enjoyable enough for me to get to the parts I genuinely want to see: the story, the characters, and how it all plays out. If you are playing The Darkness II for the shooting aspect, enjoy the eight hours of doing 5-10 different executions over and over followed by using the same 8-10 weapons over and over. If you are playing The Darkness II for what the game is actually about (the world it creates), you are in for a treat as it delivers in spades.

The biggest testament I can give to The Darkness II is its ending. No, I'm not talking about the big reveal. I'm talking about the moment before that. You save Jenny's soul, and right afterwards, the credits roll. When you are done with the credits (you know, by skipping them), it puts you right back to where you were: holding the woman you love after freeing her from the Hell she's been in. One single option comes up, a single button to press in order to finish the game out...

"Let go".

I stood with Jenny for five minutes before I could bring myself to press the button.

Bravo, Digital Extremes. This franchise is in some good fucking hands.

Until next time, piece.

#1 Posted by jakob187 (21640 posts) -

***THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!!!***

Two weeks ago, the possibility of picking up The Darkness II immediately looked like a bit of a stretch. Thanks to Powerup Rewards as well as the guy in front of me that was trading in a fresh copy of The Darkness II, I ended up picking the game up for about $33 total. If anything, it felt like a sign that I had to play the game.

The first Darkness game was something special. Starbreeze took a fantastic comic book series and crafted a story into their game that was both heart-wrenching and well-paced. At the same time, it wasn't just the story that made it matter. The developer took the time to pay attention to the characters; giving them the time necessary to gain an attachment to them allowed for the dynamics of the story to hit that much harder. It was the first video game I ever played that forced me to put down the controller at a difficult climax in the game (those who have played it know exactly what I'm talking about) and walk away from the console. It was a tough blow, a punch to the stomach like someone had a fistful of quarters when they did it. My heart sank...

The Darkness II embraces its comic book roots with a new art style, but it actually HELPS the characters be more expressive.

Fast forward to now.

The Darkness II is here, made by a different developer altogether: Digital Extremes. The level of worry I had going into this game was (I feel) rightfully justified. These are the same guys that brought us Dark Sector and are more involved with multiplayer gaming like Unreal Tournament and the multiplayer component of Bioshock 2 than single player games with expressive character. It makes you ask yourself "can they do this story and its characters justice?"

Seeing a developer respect the material they are working with is a beautiful thing to behold. Very few can ever truly capture that essence of magic - melting good gameplay with characters that make you genuinely "feel". Playing through The Darkness II, you would almost think that Starbreeze was still on the job. Digital Extremes looked at how revered the first game was and made sure to keep that essence which made it meaningful. They delivered a solid story with gripping climaxes and unforgettable moments of character development, but they also kept things that made the first game feel unique (such as the loading screens where Jackie delivered monologues while sitting down in a dark room). They improved the core gameplay mechanics drastically, making it a far more playable game. If anything, Digital Extremes built upon what the first game made, and all the additions were astoundingly good and necessary things. However, the core of the game still lies in how the story and characters are handled.

Watching Jenny die is easily one of the most difficult things I've watched happen in a game.

Jackie lost the love of his life in the first game during a rather painful and vicious scene to behold. It's one of the most memorable moments in gaming for me, solely because of the juxtaposition at play and how well it was executed. Here you are, a man with this power that makes you all-fucking-powerful. However, despite all that power, you are completely helpless when you need that power the most. You can't do anything but watch. Digital Extremes pulls that same thing off again in The Darkness II, and as tragic as it is to behold, it is goddamn beautiful to see a developer who isn't afraid to go there.

It's the one thing that I feel The Darkness has over many other games out there: it has the emotional gravitas and capability to go where few are ever willing to go, and it will always deliver that punch to the gut. Every time I had to make a choice in The Darkness II, I put the controller down and walked away. How can I choose which one of two characters takes a bullet at my order when I care about them both? How can I make a choice whether to stay or leave behind someone I care about so much?

Sure, there are guns and you shoot things. That's great and all, it works fine. Whatever. It's not the reason I'm playing the game. They make all that enjoyable enough for me to get to the parts I genuinely want to see: the story, the characters, and how it all plays out. If you are playing The Darkness II for the shooting aspect, enjoy the eight hours of doing 5-10 different executions over and over followed by using the same 8-10 weapons over and over. If you are playing The Darkness II for what the game is actually about (the world it creates), you are in for a treat as it delivers in spades.

The biggest testament I can give to The Darkness II is its ending. No, I'm not talking about the big reveal. I'm talking about the moment before that. You save Jenny's soul, and right afterwards, the credits roll. When you are done with the credits (you know, by skipping them), it puts you right back to where you were: holding the woman you love after freeing her from the Hell she's been in. One single option comes up, a single button to press in order to finish the game out...

"Let go".

I stood with Jenny for five minutes before I could bring myself to press the button.

Bravo, Digital Extremes. This franchise is in some good fucking hands.

Until next time, piece.

#3 Posted by jakob187 (21640 posts) -

Thanks for the worthwhile comment that advertises to your own post! It's the whole reason I wrote this. No need to actually, ya know, discuss things on a forum or blog. O_O

#4 Posted by big_jon (5707 posts) -

Wow way to act like a douche, I haven't gotten to play the game yet, I also posted this last night, thought you might be interested, it includes a moment from the original darkness, wasn't aware this was a contest for views.

No need to get your panties in a bunch, at least I bumped your thread.

#5 Posted by Bigandtasty (3202 posts) -

Well said. I wasn't too hot on the shooting action, though it was still decent enough to get me to the finish.

The storytelling was what set it apart for me and seeing Jackie phase in and out of the asylum, feeling more insane with every visit until the final one, was very well executed.

I was considerably quicker to let go, but I did find something else interesting in the story of the first one. I read too much about the game and so knew the major plot points ahead of time. Yet when I played and the Darkness was holding Jackie back, I still got frustrated and furiously tried everything I could with my controller to break free.

I also think Dark Sector got too much negativity and with some significant elaboration on the storytelling it could also have shown Digital Extremes' ability to create an immersive world. But that's another game that's already out and done.

#6 Edited by jakob187 (21640 posts) -

@big_jon said:

Wow way to act like a douche, I haven't gotten to play the game yet, I also posted this last night, thought you might be interested, it includes a moment from the original darkness, wasn't aware this was a contest for views.

No need to get your panties in a bunch, at least I bumped your thread.

I found your blog to be a good read. That's not sarcasm. It was well-written and there were moments in there that I've never actually experienced. I'll have to pick a few of those games up.

With that said, I'll refrain from just posting a link to my blog and typing the words "relevant" as if it were some form of discussion-worthy comment.

@Bigandtasty: The asylum bits definitely had a way of making me question everything. There's that point you get to where you say "man, this isn't real", and a lot of that is probably because I've read the comics and such for some time. Nonetheless, this is a game, not the comics. They could've easily taken this crazy turn and made it something different. If anything, I think I would've been more impressed if they DID take that turn and made it work.

Also, I'm still pissed that I could've shiv Peter for keeping me away from Jenny. That fucker...

#7 Posted by big_jon (5707 posts) -

When I do play the game I will read this and comment.

#8 Posted by Kazona (3058 posts) -

I have not yet picked this up, but if its story is as good as the first one (which, judging from your blog, it is) I will definitely be playing it.

#9 Edited by jakob187 (21640 posts) -

@big_jon said:

When I do play the game I will read this and comment.

For as much effort as you've put into linking to your post and commenting on me being a douche and then posting this comment, you could've easily written one post that is an actual point of discussion about anything mentioned in the original blog...

...you know that, right?

Just the same, all the effort I've put into getting you to actually contribute some form of meaningful discussion into this comments section has led to me getting completely off-topic from what the blog is about and instead turning this into a bunch of dumb bullshit.

#10 Posted by big_jon (5707 posts) -

@jakob187: Not sure you got my point, I was simply saying that once I play the Darkness 2 I will come back, read the OP, and comment, I was trying to be polite, to return the favour of adding a comment that had something worth saying.

#11 Edited by Jeust (10449 posts) -

I liked a lot the first one, and I'm looking forward to the second. The franchise deals very well the emotional aspect of gaming.

#12 Posted by DrPockets000 (2859 posts) -

Outstanding post, friend. At the risk of shamelessly plugging myself I will say that when I reviewed this, I loved it for the same reason. The story and emotion were fantastic. For me, the scene in the diner was one of the best. Broke my heart.

#13 Posted by Dolphin_Butter (1913 posts) -

It's for Starbreeze's mastery of the first-person narrative that I thought The Darkness was better than Bioshock in the year both came out. People think I'm insane for thinking that, but whatever.

#14 Edited by CptBedlam (4449 posts) -

@DolphinButter said:

It's for Starbreeze's mastery of the first-person narrative that I thought The Darkness was better than Bioshock in the year both came out. People think I'm insane for thinking that, but whatever.

Nope, I'm with you. Darkness is one of the best shooters I've played. I liked it way better than HL2, for example.

#15 Posted by Commisar123 (1790 posts) -

I had high hopes for this game and they were actually exceeded. I actually thought it was way better then the first game, and a big part of that was the story. I also think the ending for this game was pretty awesome and crazy.

#16 Posted by AssInAss (2524 posts) -

I cried at the end of Darkness 2, the game is really about the love story. I appreciated how much development and backstory they gave to Jackie and Jenny's relationship, the carnival, the diner, and the loading screens. Me crying is a testament to how well they followed up on the emotion from the last game, where they don't have a shocking moment to fall back on. It was really hard to "let go".

#17 Posted by Mnemoidian (955 posts) -

Yeah, I agree - both Darkness games have been ruthless in terms of where they are willing to go. But... of course, it only works because of the pacing of the games - spending time with Jenny in the first game, spending time around the mansion in the second game.

That said, and this may be because of how unprepared I was for it in the first game, and how I remembered that from the first game - the thing that happens in the second game had a lot less impact on me.

But yeah, I'm really glad that Digital Extremes managed to pull off a game as well as they did - and continue the story respectfully. I also kind of hope it takes a while before we get another game in the series - and that it doesn't get exploited the way many other franchises do (then again, I'm expecting it not to do well enough (unfortunately) to be an annual franchise (fortunately) anyway)

#18 Posted by Erebus (52 posts) -

People are praising Digital Extremes for the story. I hope people know that the same writer from the first game - Paul Jenkins - was involved with the sequel right?

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