The Darkness II (PC)
In the entertainment world we continually see crossovers and tie-in's as executives strive to maximise the potential of their brands. One of the main examples are games released with film tie-ins... or those occasions we all dread where a great gaming franchise is turned into a movie. Rarely does it work out which is surprising considering the cross appeal seems to be there.
Another area where two markets converge are comic books and games, its fair to say there is an audience out there who like both and the approach given to storytelling in one lends itself well to the other. That could be why back in 2007 2K Games released The Darkness for PS3 and 360, a game based on the popular comic book series.
The Darkness received favourable reviews across the web, including 87% in our own review and when we saw that Digital Extremes, the team behind last year's impressive Homefront, were at the helm we were very interested to see how the sequel would turn out.
In a game where we play a demonically possessed mob boss who is hell bent on avenging the death of his true love by any means necessary... eye gouging, impaling, ripping in half, decapitations... and with our source of energy being the consumption of human hearts it's clear that this isn't the average FPS game; but does it succeed in improving on the original and is it worth buying?
In The Darkness 2 we take control of Jackie Estacado, the main character from the previous game and a helpful catch-up is played out in front of us as Johnny Powel another returnee fills us in on events from part 1. In this we learn that we are the leader of a crime family possessed by a supernatural power, The Darkness, which gives us ability's well beyond that of the average human. As the name suggests this is a dark power though and in our past has been responsible for the death of many, including our girlfriend. Jackie has spent the past few years, since the end of the original game plot, trying to contain The Darkness as best he can but as our game begins we are dropped into a full scale mob war and to survive the initial onslaught Jackie must let out The Darkness in order to survive. From there we enter into a story where we fight to maintain control of our empire, take revenge on The Darkness, and work out why we keep seeing visions of our dead girlfriend.
As with most FPS games we are eased into the gameplay with on-screen prompts through the first few minutes of the game. These explain the basic controls which are WASD to move, left button to fire and so on. Where things get a little more complex is with the introduction of our Darkness powers. Jackie has the equivalent of two snakes extending from his body and these have the ability to grab, throw, attack, eat and so on. We hit Q to perform an action or E to eat (hearts) and the Q command is often combined with another button (1-4) in performing a more advanced ability. We can for example stun an enemy, hit Q to grab them and with them held in the jaw of our arm hit 1 to rip them in half. Dual wielding of guns is also possible and points are awarded for kills, the more extreme the higher the reward. Those rewards are used to purchase more advanced abilities (at points through the levels) from the skill tree. We can also search for collectables along the way (relics) which add further skill points and as the game progresses achievements in Steam are awarded.
Being a super powered demon mob boss has its limitations though, the main one being that when in light, natural or artificial, our powers desert us. This is known to our enemies and they use it against us, as well as growing in their own supernatural powers as the game progresses.
We do have one other weapon at our disposal too, a Darkling. A physical manifestation from part of our subconscious the Darkling assists us by attacking NPCs along the way, assisting us in taking them down and we can throw it at targets if we want someone specific killed. As expected there are also sections in the game where we take sole control of the Darkling.
Other than the occasional mini-game along the way the single player campaign follows a set path with some minor puzzle solving, plenty of death and destruction and end of chapter bosses are staggered throughout the game adding some extra challenge.
Moving to the other game modes we have the Vendettas Co-Op where Jackie hires four new characters, each with their own Darkness inspired abilities in a set of new missions against the main evil from the single player campaign. In Hit List mode we have additional objectives where we complete tasks to gain achievements.
Graphics and Audio
With The Darkness 2 being based on a comic the developers have made a wise decision to go with a cel-shading technique for the graphics and it works very well indeed. The high quality art mixes well with the extreme levels of blood and gore in the game to create a unique look. On the whole environments are very detailed with plenty of view distance but one aspect does let the visuals down a little, faces. For some reason the designers have tried to take a different approach with the main female character in the game, a different texture really, to the other NPCs and it doesn't fit in as well. A minor niggle really in an otherwise visually impressive game.
On the whole the audio is also well done in The Darkness 2. Jackie, is voiced well and the various mob characters, though a little stereotypical, are decent. Our main enemies have good voice acting but two areas really stand out, the Darkness voice which is suitably creepy and Johnny who's rambling is performed exceptionally well by that voice actor. Elsewhere we get a good soundtrack with music which suits the various scenes well and there is plenty of power behind our weapons as well as suitably gory splats and rips as we tear through the various kills.
One of the key aspects which stands out when playing The Darkness 2 is that a huge amount of thought has gone into the structure of the game. This starts with the decision to recap previous events in the game universe and continues on after this with a very specific style where we see plot progression through an interview like scenario which see's Jackie explain events to an un-seen character in a dark room mixed with playable sections where we interact with NPCs in our house, or other location. Although these can initially feel out of place, boring and a little tedious as the plot and game progresses they do work well and give a little rest between the decent sized levels and violent gameplay.
And violent it is. Digital Extremes have certainly not held back with The Darkness 2 and its comic style graphics hide a very graphic story where torture, extreme violence and plenty of gore are present. Bodies are regularly ripped apart, impaled, exploded, cut in half, decapitated and even urinated on as we head towards our ultimate goal but it is always done in a less than serious way so as to be entertaining in an over the top sort of way.
The developers have also walked a fine line well throughout the game and while the plot is clearly insane, a number of the characters stereotypical and the presence of toilet humour always a worry The Darkness never goes too far with each, always maintaining a level of quality throughout. Really it comes down to minor issues such as the occasional bug and repetitive NPC animations which are the only aspects to take some shine off the overall experience.
The online modes within the game are also entertaining and offer a different, more varied approach to the same style of gameplay with the introduction of additional characters and skills to keep us interested along with the finding of relics, unlocking of achievements and increasing skill tree.
We found the single player campaign to be most enjoyable though as the great gameplay is backed by a story which is actually worth paying attention too. It doesn't offer anything ground-breaking, or shocking but it is a solid tale of a supernatural, almost religious battle between the forces of good and evil... or often evil and more evil.
At around 8 hours to complete the main campaign The Darkness 2 offers good value and it's always a sign of an entertaining game that as soon as completing the story we were already looking forward to part 3.