A worthy sequel to the cult classic
The original Darkness is one of those games I’d label as a cult classic. It didn’t sell amazingly well, but it has a passionate fan base that has seem to have grown over the years. The gory combat and unique darkness powers alone were awesome, but it was the dark hopeless story of mafia hit man, Jackie Estacado, and the struggles he went through after obtaining the demonic powers of the Darkness that made it so interesting. With the original developer Starbreeze having moved on, there was a lot of skepticism when it was announced that Digital Extremes was doing a sequel so long after the first came out. Could they really capture what made the first game so great? In short, yes.
The game takes place two years after the end of the first and has our main hero Jackie Estacado living the good life as the don of his crime family. He’s been keeping the Darkness suppressed all this time, knowing if he lets it out it will consume him. That doesn’t last very long. When Jackie gets ambushed while at a restaurant, it forces him to release the darkness and tear though New York looking for revenge. Soon Jackie learns the hit was the work of the Brotherhood, a cult lead by the horribly disfigured Victor. They of course want to take the Darkness away from Jackie and keep it for themselves. The Brotherhood’s backstory and motivations are interesting enough, but they take a bit of a backseat during the second half to allow the game to focus more on Jackie.
The times when the action slowed down for the more character driven scenes were a highlight of the first game. It really added a lot of depth and made you feel for the characters, which made it all the more heart breaking when everything went to shit. The Darkness II still manages to pull these moments off pretty successfully. Jackie still hasn’t gotten over the death of his girlfriend Jenny and he suffers periodically from ghostly images and flashbacks of her. These moments let Jenny still play an important part in the story and allow for some scenes between her and Jackie, such as dancing in a dinner. In fact, the game spends a lot of time dealing with Jackie’s struggle of both the loss of Jenny and with the Darkness itself. This largely manifests with Jackie waking up from time to time in a mental asylum that’s bares a striking resemblance to the one in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Here all the people in Jackie’s life are ether patients or staff members and the Darkness is simply a delusion that Jackie suffers from. Bringing in the idea that Jackie may simply be crazy and the majority of the game is an illusion, is a neat twist that is by far the most interesting part of the game.
This all works so well thanks to a great cast of characters and the voices behind them. Kirk Acevedo doesn’t return as Jackie but his replacement, Brian Bloom, does an excellent job replacing him. Mike Patton returns as the voice of the Darkness and continues to give a wonderfully creepy performance. I find something very enjoyable about hearing that disturbing voice that I can’t quite explain. Even the side characters are pretty good. Jackie’s crew of mobsters all sound their part, giving off that stereotypical Italian accent with plenty of character.
Jackie’s path of madness and revenge has plenty of enemies for you brutally mutilate and disfigure along the way and from the get go you’re given plenty of ways to kill. In addition to your guns, which you can duel wield, you get your two darkness tentacles. The right tentacle can be used to slash up enemies as well as obstacles that get in your way. The left tentacle is used to pick things up. It can pick up hearts off dead enemies and eats them to regain health. It picks up objects such as pipes that can be used to impale guys Commando style. And it even picks up stunned enemies so you can finish them off with a gruesome execution. It’s all just really satisfying.
It almost feels like you’re too powerful at the beginning of the game because the standard thugs and henchmen aren’t much of a challenge, spending most of their time freaking out as you murder their comrades. It’s once you start fighting the brotherhood that there is more enemy variation. There are guys with shields that you’ll have to loosen before you can rip them off of them. Some guys teleport around avoiding your attacks. The two more interesting enemy types include these weaker enemies that carry giant lights to try and disable Jackie’s darkness powers with them, and dudes with a whip that disarm Jackie of his weapons. The addition of these guys makes it much more necessary to use all your different powers rather than relying on a few.
Everything you do, whether it’s shooting a guy or eating his heart, gets you dark essence. You use the dark essence as currency and spend them on a skill tree to buff(?) current abilities or even gain new ones. Skills range from more ammo for guns, summoning deadly black holes, or unlocking even more horrifying executions. All of this does a great job at keeping the combat feeling fresh during the latter half of the game.
The structure of the levels is fairly linear and mostly consists of shooting your enemies, with the exception of an occasional sequence where you control your incredibly British darkling buddy. The only real non-linear parts are in between missions where you do get a chance to roam around Jackie’s penthouse. These act as good breathers from all the merciless killing and give you a chance to talk with all your mobster buddies.
The single player ran me about 5 and a half hours to beat which sounds short, but I can’t think of anything else they could have added without making it feel padded out. You could always pop back in with new game plus to finish upgrading your powers and collect any artifacts you missed, or you could head into vendettas. It’s a 4 player co-op mode featuring a cast of colorful characters all infused with some of the darkness’s powers. The game modes are fairly straight forward, with your group running through the area and basically killing everyone in your path. Every character has their own unique weapon such as an evil samurai blade or a voodoo staff but their powers are all lifted from the campaign so it doesn’t feel especially different. There is some interesting dialogue between the characters and while they’re not really necessary to the overall story, it does at make it more entertaining. Vendetta’s is a fun distraction, but it’s something that most people will probably play once or twice for the achievements and then be done with it.
It’s kind of amazing that a sequel to The Darkness was able to happen at all so long after its release. What’s even more amazing is how well Digital Extremes was able to recreate what made the first game so good, and then expand on it and make it their own, especially with the track record of their last couple of games. The Darkness II has succeeded in reinvigorating my excitement for more Darkness, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.