***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...
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.
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...
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.