epicsteve's The Darkness II (Xbox 360) review

Interlaces all great aspects of a singleplayer FPS

This game is all about doing terrible things to people.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect going into The Darkness II. To me, the original game was a one-off title that wouldn’t stay in the minds of most people for very long. Despite that, I’ll never forget the high intensity gore and violence the game employed. Digital Extremes was very focused on a specific tone for The Darkness II and the end product succeeds in everything it sets out to accomplish in a glorious violent fashion. Mob boss, Jackie Estacado, is possessed by a malevolent evil simply known as “The Darkness” (voiced by Mike Patton). Jackie has kept The Darkness at bay for the last two years since the events of the first game, but after an attempted hit on Jackie by a mysterious group; he is forced to let out the evil that has been dormant to escape certain death.

Haunted by memories of his lost childhood sweetheart, Jenny, the story feels much more personal this time. Throughout the game, Jackie is constantly having hallucinatory flashbacks. One of the most impressive elements the story presents is the strong relationship between Jackie and Jenny. The story shows the love between the two characters instead of simply stating it. There are multiple touching moments involving the two and the game isn’t afraid of making the player interact with romantic moments. One moment has Jackie dancing with Jenny the night before The Darkness first consumed Jackie and another being a short mini game trying to win her a big teddy bear at a carnival. Eventually it becomes apparent that The Darkness has harvested Jenny’s soul to utilize as a carrot on the stick so Jackie will remain a vessel to satisfy the demon’s lust for murder. Digital Extremes really drives home the fact that Jackie hasn’t gotten over Jenny’s death. There’s a certain level of humanity that he is constantly fighting to maintain despite The Darkness.
There are a TON of ways to conduct murder.

The mob background is played pretty straight while interlacing all the super natural stuff in fun and surprisingly fitting ways. You can literally rip out the entire demon related story and gameplay elements while still maintaining a decent gangster atmosphere. Between stages, the player is shown monologues from Jackie. This is where a more detailed background on the protagonist is presented. The monologues ultimately serve to hide load screens, but serve as an enticing avenue to learn more about what’s going on. Jackie will reflect on good times spent with Jenny, what the Darkness means to him, and even simpler stuff involving his childhood.

The game is fast-paced but doesn’t make the combat grow tired. There are natural breaks in the combat to blossom the story. In these sections, typically about 5-10 minutes long, The Darkness tentacles go away and the guns are holstered. This allots opportunity to converse with the world’s characters. The intricate tale flicks reality, flipping between the world of The Darkness and a mental asylum. In the Asylum sequences, the game’s full cast is present, but is playing different roles such as patients or doctors. Here, Jackie is told The Darkness doesn’t exist and he was never in the mob. He believes, however, the Asylum is a simple illusion played by The Darkness. At a certain point, the player has to decide which world they believe is real.
Simply shooting dudes is a viable option.

The Darkness holds a place in comic books. However, I’ve never read any of them and never felt like any points of the story needed to be further filled in nor I needed more background. This sequel takes a new artistic approach, leaning towards its comic book presence. The world is lightly cel-shaded with hard black lines comprising the details, resembling something like Crackdown as a best reference point. Don’t take this to mean the game is cartoony looking, or that this style takes away from the macabre. The blood fills the screen and I was constantly reminded I was doing very bad things to people.

From the start, the player is armed with a voluminous amount of options to conduct disgusting murder. Yes, you can use guns, and the gunplay is satisfying. However, moves involving The Darkness is where the fun is at. Like in the first game, The Darkness takes the form of two monstrous tentacles. One tentacle serves as grabbing foes or objects in the world; the other is used as a melee attack. At any point, the player can perform an Execution. This is where The Darkness II shines. The executions best resemble fatalities from Mortal Kombat. The Darkness will literally rip dudes in half; eat their face, and conduct many more gruesome kills that are surprisingly clever. Not to mention The Darkness must feed on the hearts of corpses. The kill animations are lengthy, but are always a gory spectacle. At no point was I ever annoyed by the long animations, nor did I ever feel like they resulted in my death.

Performing Executions reward the player with the most amount of experience points, or in The Darkness II’s case, Essence. This is spent to unlock various skills such as stunning enemies. While Executions reward the most Essence per kill, the game still rewards a small amount for simply shooting dudes or throwing an object in the environment at them. However, hearts are imperative to maintaining health, and The Darkness can’t eat the hearts of executed foes. This is probably because there isn’t much left of the executed. It’s a balance that’s easy to maintain and I found myself doing a good mix of performing gruesome kills that would make JigSaw proud and using guns. This is easily some of the most satisfying combat I’ve played in a first person shooter in a long time.
Character performances really sell the story.

Like any other action game made in the past three years, The Darkness II does indeed offer multiplayer. The co-op mode,Vendetta, can mostly be summed up as a mode were up to four players (or you can play by yourself) fight through various stages. There are several characters to choose from, each having a Darkness power to replace the tentacles, such as an axe-boomerang. Vendetta is ok at best and does let players see behind the curtain on events that were going on when Jackie was out tracking down the main game’s antagonist. The co-op can be completed in no time at all and just serves as a distraction from the main game. The campaign does offer a New Game+ that allows the player to bring in all their skills acquired through their first adventure and increase the difficulty. Most people will probably complete the story in about 5 hours, but the New Game+ enticed me to do a second playthrough like Resident Evil 4 did.

I originally picked up The Darkness II thinking it’ll just be a decent shooter with some gimmicks I can play just for the sake of playing a new game. I was pleasantly surprised at the attention to detail in virtually everything the game offers. The story is well told and is complemented by the incredible acting and motion capturing. Characters come to life on screen really driving home the story. The Darkness II is ultimately a love tale that touches themes such as insanity, mafia life, and lust for power. The incredible story interlaced with glorious combat is a real treat for anyone.

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