The Darkness II

The original ‘The Darkness’ was created by Starbreeze Studios back in 2007, based on a comic book of the same title. It features a young mafia hitman by the name of Jackie Estacado on his 21st birthday; targeted for assassination by the don of a New York mafia. However, a malevolent force of evil - known only as ‘The Darkness’ - comes to Jackie's aid, transforming him into a power not to be reckoned with.

The Darkness II kicks off two years after the events of The Darkness, and Jackie is now the don of his own family. As soon as the game begins, you notice it has a very different style to that of the original. The main reason for this, perhaps, is that The Darkness II is developed by a different studio - Digital Extremes (rather than Starbreeze) - who have previously released innovative shooters like Unreal (which they worked on with Epic) and Dark Sector.

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The new cel-shaded visual style, a stark contrast to the more realistic original, is quite reminiscent of a comic book (which is fitting, given the series is based on a comic) resulting in deep dark lines surrounding various game objects. However, unlike many other cel-shaded games, it’s detailed and gritty - which fits ‘The Darkness’ well.

The opening scene sets the tone for the game, playing out by way of a cinematic set in Jackie’s restaurant. You’re taken to your table, where two beautiful woman await your company - a few moments later, however, chaos ensues and you're left with the impression that this is a going to be a brutal ride...

The Darkness II holds nothing back in the violence department, where a shot to the head leaves a rather textured bloody hole and a spray of cel-shaded red wonder beyond it. Let’s just say what happens in the restaurant took the beautiful women (and me) by surprise.

Speaking of the gun-play, Digital Extremes have tweaked the approach taken by the original, adding a slight auto aim to the shooting mechanic. At first, you may feel like this game is going to be a little bit like watching a movie while pressing the trigger buttons, but the decision to add this ‘snap aim’ system becomes clearer a bit later on - so don’t worry if you prefer a bit more freedom when aiming down the sights.

Gone is the way the guns used to react to the environment also, as Jackie no longer lifts his arms if a wall or cover is in the way, preventing you from stretching your arm out to fire as he does so.

Instead, when shooting, he pulls his guns closer to the aiming point when dual wielding to provide less bullet stray. This tweak allows you to unload more bullets into your desired target when pressing the both triggers in rapid succession. It all looks and feels really satisfying when in a big firefight, however there are some issues that can make the gun-play a bit frustrating at times, which I’ll point out a bit later.

After the restaurant section is clear, Jackie has no choice but to let The Darkness out (he's been suppressing it for two years) and unleash its fury on his enemies. Mike Patton returns to voice The Darkness and does an amazing job in sending shivers down your spine every time he speaks, while the voice of Jackie is replaced by Brian Bloom, who - while he sounds quite different - delivers the role well.

This is where it gets interesting... and brutal; so, so brutal. The tentacles return, and they're hungry. You are introduced to the Execute mechanic of The Darkness II, where you simply press a button after grabbing an enemy and are treated to a no-holds-barred gorefest as the tentacles tear your foe apart. The animations and new visual style make these attacks look very unsettling, and I would not recommend you play this game when you have young children in the house - or your grandma!

The tentacles, like in the first game, are controlled by the two shoulder buttons, while guns are fired with the two triggers (the left trigger becomes "aim down sights" if you are not dual wielding).

The left shoulder button controls your grabbing and throwing tentacle, allowing you to pickup and throw enemies or loose objects. The right shoulder button controls the slice or whipping tentacle; if you hold the button you can control the direction in which the tentacle slices with the right analog stick. This allows you to cut in the direction you choose, perhaps to cut a wire that’s powering a light or lift an enemy into the air.

There are four different types of Execution moves which you can gradually unlock via the new skills system, and - depending on the execution type - obliterating an enemy in this fashion will reward you with either more ammo, a Darkness Shield, or Health.

Each time you kill an enemy in The Darkness II, you are given Essence points - each kill type is worth a certain number. You can then spend these points at dark portals to unlock more skills; for instance, say you shoot someone in the head and they die you will get a standard +10 points “Headshot!”, whereas if you use your tentacle to grab a nearby heating fan and hurl it like a frisbee to sever anyone unfortunate enough to be in front of you in half, you will get +100 “Sliced!” points.

Just like in the first Darkness game, light is Jackie’s weakness during gun fights, so shooting or slicing lights out will aid in your progression. In The Darkness II, not only do you lose your Darkness powers while in the light, but your enemies will start using halogen lighting to blind you - making your screen completely white out. This was extremely frustrating at times, and made gun fights very difficult - particularly later in the game.

The first Darkness had you summon various imp-like creatures called Darklings, each of which had different abilities that suited different situations. In The Darkness II, however, you are only given one Darkling; he travels with you and can attack enemies to take them out of the fight. This Darkling also has more personality than the ones in the previous title - he still shouts profanities and urinates on enemies (for the comic relief so to speak), but he is involved in the story as well.

There are also some sections where you control this Darkling, and the game becomes a stealth take-down scenario, in which you must sneak around and stay out of the light to reach an objective. These sections slow down the pace, allowing you to take a breather between gun fights.

Continue reading on page 2.


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Comments Comments (4)

Posted by jingleheimershmidt
On Wednesday 8 Feb 2012 11:49 AM
for a cell shaded game this looks quite badass
Posted by ChatterboxZombie
On Wednesday 8 Feb 2012 1:30 PM
8 February 2012, 11:49 AM Reply to jingleheimershmidt
for a cell shaded game this looks quite badass
Since when is a games visual representation a reflection of it's tone?

This coming from a guy with a pic of Hello Kitty holding an Assault rifle.
Posted by NZGamer_Luke
On Wednesday 8 Feb 2012 3:01 PM
8 February 2012, 11:49 AM Reply to jingleheimershmidt
for a cell shaded game this looks quite badass
I was actually quite surprised with the visual style, it does look very "cel-shaded" I just called it how I saw it.

General characteristics with this style is a bright and plain colour palette with solid dark lines, but somehow Digital Extremes managed to apply a more darker and detailed look to this game. A good example of the usual "cel-shaded" game would be "XIII" on PC, you can definitely tell a difference to the style they chose for The Darkness II.
Posted by marbig
On Wednesday 8 Feb 2012 4:26 PM
Disappointed by the lack of split-screen co-op... But still, can't wait for this game. Good review =)