Review: The Darkness II
We join supernatural mobster Jackie Estacado in the second part of his story.
Siobhan Keogh | Wednesday, February 08 2012 | 1 Comment
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Test Platform: PS3
Developer: Digital Extremes; Publisher: 2K Games
We hope you like gore.
Confession: I don't cope well with scary games. Playing through Alan Wake was torturous for me - I dreaded putting the disc in because I was so terrified, and longed for the brief breaks in the game where you'd get to sit in the sunlight, taking a breather and talking to people. I love the horror genre - John Carpenter and George Romero are two of my favourite directors - but something about playing through a horror game brings me up short. You're no longer the observer crying out, "No, don't go down into the basement! What is wrong with you?" Instead, you're in the basement. You, through your character. You. And you're waiting for some monster to pop out and rip your throat out.
Fortunately, in The Darkness II, you're the monster. Jackie Estacado is a sympathetic character in many ways, but he's not a good guy. In the words of Walter White from Breaking Bad, when I'm playing The Darkness, I am the danger. I am the one who knocks.
It's totally awesome.
Jackie Estacado is an Italian-American mobster, a business he inherited from his father. He has no family left, only one or two real relationships, and he grew up surrounded by violence. At the age of 21, Jackie inherited something else from his father - the Darkness. The Darkness is a supernatural creature, a parasite, that wants nothing more than to watch the world burn, and the male members of the Estacado family have long been its vessel. Jackie is transformed into a monster: a killing machine complete with sharp-toothed tentacles. But the Darkness can only survive in the dark, so where ordinarily being in the dark might scare you, in this game you're empowered by it.
In the original version of The Darkness Jackie managed to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle and suppress the parasite in order to keep it from taking over his mind completely, but not until after it nearly destroyed him. There's no need to play the original game, however, as there's a brief scene at the start where the (positively insane) Johnny Powell goes over the events of the last game. At the beginning of The Darkness II, Jackie's local restaurant is ambushed by an unknown rival mob, and he has to let the Darkness out again in order to survive the attack.
What follows is an incredibly brutal, very noir first-person shooter, where you use weapons but also control this killing machine. You use its gnashing teeth and lightning-quick speed to murder, dismember and consume the hearts of your enemies, and use its powerups, called Talents, to become near unstoppable. Only one other game is this gory - Mortal Kombat - so if you cringe at the sight of blood, this one's not for you. The controls are relatively simple to learn, despite them being more complex than your average shooter In the beginning it's about revenge, but as the story unfolds it becomes about something much bigger and more important.
The Darkness II may be one of the best games I've played in a while, but it's not perfect. There is a definite spike in difficulty about three quarters of the way through the game, and that became extremely frustrating. All the other levels took around an hour a piece to complete, but one set at a Carnival took much longer: hoards of enemies just kept coming and there were long periods between autosaves. It didn't help that I'd chosen to power up my character to be more support-oriented rather than combat-oriented - it seems to be an advantage during boss fights but a disadvantage while fighting waves of enemies.
Another issue was sound problems - the voice tracks could at times be very difficult to hear. Usually you can move around until you find the right spot to listen to dialogue, but during one crucial scene I couldn't move at all and if I hadn't had subtitles switched on - they're off by default - I wouldn't have known what was going on. I contacted 2K to ask about the issue, and was reassured that it was a common problem and would be patched, so hopefully that's done by launch day.
Once you're done with the regular campaign, which should take around eight to ten hours, there's an entirely separate, shorter Vendetta campaign that you can play online with others. This campaign follows the other members of your mob while Jackie was off on a series of murderous rampages. For example, at the beginning of the game Jackie asks members of his mob to find someone who can help him with the Darkness. In the first segment of the Vendetta campaign, you're the one who gets to go and find him.
Rather than playing as another member of the mob, though, you play as one of four characters who have some of the powers of the Darkness without actually being a host to it. These characters all have differing abilities, from a darkness-infused samurai sword to a telekinetic voodoo stick. Unfortunately, because The Darkness II wasn't on shelves at the time of writing, there was no one online to play with, so we can't comment on the co-op aspect of the campaign. It can be played single-player, however, for those who like to go it alone.
For replayability, there's also a New Game+ mode. You get to keep your powers, as well as all of the collectibles called Relics (protip: if you want a better understanding of where the game goes, get Johnny to explain the meaning of each Relic to you).
The Darkness II is gory, and bleak, and repulsive. Jackie isn't a hero - he's somewhere between an anti-hero and a villain. But aside from all the gore and the violence, there's something very sad and very tragic about Jackie, and the fact that I felt real empathy for him was what really made me fall in love with the game. if it weren't for the sound issues - which will hopefully be fixed shortly - it'd be an absolute must-buy.
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