Based on the best-selling comic ‘The Darkness’ created by Top Cow Starbreeze Studios’ first effort has seem a sequel developed by Unreal and Pariah developer Digital Extremes. The Darkness tells the tale of fearless Mafia hitman Jackie Estacado who becomes host to the terrifying entity that is the Darkness which grants him some unique powers. However, with the original offering a semi open ended gaming experience using some highly impressive graphics, the sequel opts for a more traditional shooter utilizing some very stylized cel shaded style graphics. The question raised is, does the sequel outperform its predecessor considering the many years gap between them, or is the original still the cream of the crop?
The gameplay remains standard fare for a shooter, which is comprising of dual wielding weapons and moving across linear but interesting locales killing opposing goons. The shooting is interspersed with a bit of roaming within the family mansion between missions and the odd moment where the lines of reality and fiction (within Jackie’s world) are blurred. What really sets the game apart is the use of the Darkness abilities which add another optional layer to simply pointing the many guns at the enemy and shooting them (which is still very possible). The Darkness powers allow Jackie to grab objects and hurl them at foes, often with devastating results, or use items like car doors as temporary shields when greatly outnumbered. The Darkness tentacles are always visible on screen and act like a secondary melee weapon. They can slice foes, grab them and even rip out the hearts of the fallen to replenish health. Anyone who has played the original will be familiar with how things work, although this time there’s a skill tree system which allows for tunable powers which can aid the style of play players decide to adopt.
The game’s story does throw some interesting moments at you, although somewhat lacks the menace of the original game and goes for a more visceral approach. It also provides some predictable outcomes which leave the gates open for another sequel.
If one was to be negative, the general level of exploration offered in the first game is lost, and the Darkness itself – whilst still a very cool symbiotic companion – feels a bit muted this time. There’s some stealth based moments to be had, but nothing matching the quality of the original game which is a shame.
The Darkness II opts for a comic book look rather than the realistic visuals of the first game and it seems to pull it off very well. There’s a reasonable amount of variation within the confines of New York City where the game is set, but the enemies seem to be cloned troopers who come at you in several forms but perhaps not in enough varieties. Generally the gameplay is smooth during gun battles with bosses and the standard enemies, and can’t really be faulted in this regard. The gore is handled very well, although its effect is lessened due to the overall comic book details on offer and appears more like comical violence as opposed to sickening depravity of the Darkness’s will.
The audio is still top quality though with some perfect musings from Jackie during loading screens, as well as his thoughts as you play. The Darkness is still very much the star of the show but doesn’t appear to be as diverse in what he says this time. The very British sounding Darkling also returns and makes for a bit of comic relief throughout what is generally quite a serious game. Music, whilst well produced is a bit consequential and is perhaps drowned out by the other audio as the game is pretty much full on encounter after encounter littered with expletives and gunfire.
To make the game appear a much longer experience as the single player story can be bested in a day’s play, the vendetta mode adds some legs for lone players or those wishing to share the thrills online in co-op play. These extras are neat and offer a different take on the Darkness theme away from Jackie and filling in some gaps in the plot. In general, the game will last a fair while for casual audiences but not long enough for those who play long and determined sessions despite their being a new game plus option for those wanting to up the difficulty and gain some of the more illusive achievements.
The Darkness II is a valiant effort from Digital Extremes but somewhat feels like it has been dumbed down a bit to suit more casual audiences which is shame. The stealth has taken a back seat and a typical shooter experience is laid out before gamers taking the plunge into Jackie’s shoes. The Darkness II is solid shooter all round, that looks good and has its own distinct imagery that will no doubt please fans of the comics. Anyone else might simply dismiss the game as a colourful shooter that’s worth playing for a few days as a rental and nothing more. With few games out at this time, The Darkness II is worth checking out as it offers some genuinely cool moments with some impressive storytelling. The question remains though, if you’ve not played the superior original then you could probably pick it up cheaply now and would be worth doing over paying top dollar for a cool but underwhelming (in comparison) sequel.