The Darkness II
From: 2K Games
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
You don't control The Darkness, Jackie. The Darkness controls you.
Oh boy is that ever true. When you put The Darkness II into your console, be prepared to lose hours in one sitting, because the game will get its creepy tentacled fingers into you from the first cutscene. What's especially interesting about the way it accomplishes that goal is that it's a true multi-prong attack; I guess it's basically that just as you can quad-wield for four attacks at once as Jackie Estacado, Digital Extremes and 2K Games quad-wielded against gamers with this game.
First comes the gameplay, obviously the most important thing in a video game. Quad-wielding, using a grab demon arm, a slash demon arm, and two guns simultaneously, is fantastic, innovative, and keeps the gameplay hectic throughout. While there are only a handful of enemy types, revealing themselves gradually throughout the story, the game never really gets repetitive. There are about 30 reasons for that: all the glorious ways to kill the bad guys. Between the four categories of executions, each with multiple randomized gorefests, the standard variety of guns, the demon arm slashes, black holes, and even throwing your Darkling at an enemy and just kicking back and watching them be mercilessly taken down, killing your enemies, be they simple mobsters or heavily armored members of the dark brotherhood, is fun fun fun.
Next is the general presentation. From the ear-splitting eerie cries that The Darkness itself screams into your ears (which sounds great on a nice 7.1 surround setup) to vicious splats and tears accompanying the executions, you won't want for big sounds. The cel-shaded graphic style works incredibly well; it allows for graphical cues indicating throwable or destructible objects that look more natural in the environment while still jumping out easily at you. It also allows a bit of a disconnect from the violence and gore: if that was ultra realistic, it might honestly be a bit disturbing.
The third prong of the attack comes in the story by comic book scribe Paul Jenkins, who also wrote the first game. Between the crazy action and vicious kills, there are two story-telling techniques integrated into the game. While some bits of narrative do unfold directly during the gameplay itself, most of the heavy lifting comes in what can best be described as you living out a comic book. Dialogue plays, you do some limited guiding and exploration, and watch as the scenes unfold in front of you. This may be the one thing that puts some people off at first, as it can be a slightly jarring break from the mayhem, but the story is so twisty and intriguing that it takes hold as well. In addition to the playable sequences, there are cutscenes that have a highly rendered Jackie telling his story to the player, often adding bits of context or insight to what just happened. The story itself will keep you guessing to the end, with a subplot that makes Jackie – and the player – question what is real, and whether he/you are really just insane. There's one extended sequence in a back-alley brothel that has a few too many pixelated sex acts for some gamers' tastes, but that's really not outside the realm of the norm for a mature rated game based on a mature rated comic. Aside from the occasional subtle distraction, the game keeps itself nicely on track, and does a good job raising the pathos, keeping the player emotionally involved with a protagonist who most definitely is not a hero – or even a nice guy. There are nods to the greater Top Cow Universe in there, too, for comic book fans who want a little Angelus and mythos thrown into their games.
The fourth of Digital Extreme's own quad-wield is the multiplayer mode, Vendettas. We've talked at length about Vendettas here, but it's worth mentioning again that it truly does add to the game. This isn't a tacked-on multiplayer, it's a full featured mode with varied gameplay and a story of its own. Each of the four playable characters has a variation of a Darkness ability that Jackie himself possesses in the single player campaign. The story for Vendettas dips in and out of the campaign mode, offering a more humorous take on things. With only having one quarter of Jackie's power, teamwork is definitely encouraged, if not 100% mandatory, in Vendettas, so make sure you bring a friend. Achievement/trophy hunters will be pleased to find several linked just into the co-op section of the game, as well.
Great gameplay, unique and engrossing presentation and story, and a multiplayer mode that adds hours of extra fun add up to a quality sequel. It's great that this sequel had years to add to the original, as there are zero components that feel rushed in anyway. It's a polished game built around polished gameplay and polished story – really, a dream come true for fans of The Darkness or just of action games and first person shooters. The Darkness II has very few rough edges, like trying to target an object and grabbing your Darkling instead (but throwing him is always entertaining) or some frustrating-to-take-out lights at times, and they're not what you'll come away from a session thinking about. Instead you'll be thinking about your last vicious kill or the most recent plot twist. At once, Digital Extremes have made a game great for fans of the character/comic The Darkness, and great to make fans out of gamers just being introduced to Jackie Estacado. The Darkness may control you, but with The Darkness II, you'll want to let it.