In 2007, publishers 2K Games and developers Starbreeze Studios released The Darkness for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360. Based off the comic book series of the same name, it introduced the player to the role of Jackie Estacado. An Italian-American Hitman who is targeted by an Italian Mafioso named “Uncle” Paulie Franchetti. As he is being hunted by mobsters, The Darkness awakens, granting Jackie demonic powers and enabling him to mercilessly butcher his enemies. The real push is when his girlfriend Jenny Ramano, the only good thing in his life, is murdered right in front of his eyes. Thus Jackie utilises the full power of The Darkness to exact bloody revenge on his love’s murderers. The game was praised for its superb graphics; exciting gaming mechanics; its dark, Gothic atmosphere and its gripping narrative that involved the player in a tale of sheer horror, brutal violence and tragic loss.
Now with the release of The Darkness II from developers Digital Extremes, the player looks to take on the role of Jackie Estacado for a second time as he begrudgingly calls upon the power of The Darkness once again to slaughter anyone that stands in his way. He must contend with his enemies, The Darkness itself and the painful memories of the love of his life, Jenny. The game is set two years after the events of the first game. Jackie is now head of the Franchetti family and enjoys a life of unlimited wealth and glamorous women. However when a group of armed assailants attack him and his men during dinner at a restaurant, Jackie has no choice but to call upon the power of The Darkness to give him the strength he needs to exact a swift and brutal reprisal on whoever is behind the attempt on his life.
The Darkness II is much more slow-paced than its predecessor, giving more focus to the context of all the events taking place and the development of characters rather than continuous action pieces. The characters feel complex, each with their own reasons for standing besides Jackie throughout these difficult times. For instance, Jackie’s right-hand man and best friend Vinnie stands besides him ready to carry out his orders no matter what happens and Aunt Sarah attempts to convince Jackie to let go of his memories of Jenny. The voice acting is top-notch and the dialogue is very well written adding further immersion to the game’s story and further strengthens the player’s attachment to the characters. Jackie has been though real trauma and loss and despite his past as a cold-hearted killer, its rather easy to feel sympathetic towards him due to his unfortunate situation with The Darkness and losing Jenny, as well as the forces at work who use him for their own gain.
The setting is very creative and stylish in its own dark, sinister and visceral way. The visuals are presented using a cel-shading technique to stay true to its comic book roots presenting the player with lively, elegant visuals while keeping the gritty, ominous and sombre feel of the setting the game is based in. As well as the colourful comic-book appearance, the setting includes dingy and creepy environments such as dark alleyways, an upsettingly lonely cemetery, decrepit clubhouses and an empty, run-down amusement park. Its a perfect blend of graceful and hideous visuals which present the player with a visually unique and varied game setting. Sound is also a strong factor with powerful gunblasts ringing throughout the environments, a fittingly exciting musical score and of course, the sound of flesh and bones being torn to pieces as The Darkness rips apart enemies limb from limb.
There’s an immense sense of empowerment as The Darkness is called fourth. You feel practically unstoppable as you use firearms and The Darkness all in unison, becoming an indestructible abomination striking fear into your enemies. The guns come aplenty to blast your way through the enemies failing miserably trying to stop you. Sub-machine guns, rifles, handguns and shotguns galore are ripe for the taking to turn your foes into Swiss cheese. Two different weapons can be wielded at a time providing double the firepower and double the fun. The Darkness is used to either whip your enemies until they are sliced in half, or for grabbing them to perform a satisfyingly gory finishing move. Guns and The Darkness can all be used at once to inflict massive damage against foes. The Darkness can also be used to grab objects to throw at your enemies. Grab a car door and hurl it at someone to dissect them or grab a pole to impale then against the wall.
As you kill enemies you gain dark essence which can be used to purchase upgrades for your powers, giving you abilities such as regenerative health while performing an execution, channelling The Darkness through your weapons or releasing a swarm of flies which stun and distract your opponents. Purchasing upgrades allows you to use more varied methods of overpowering your enemies and finding much more visceral methods of destroying the opposition. Once the main campaign is completed, you can return to the campaign with all the upgrades you earned in your first playthrough to obtain the other upgrades, turning you into a frightening, monstrous killing-machine.
As well as an engaging single player campaign, The Darkness II offers co-op multiplayer known as Vendetta mode to share your ultra violent adventure with up to three other players. Players control a character powered by The Darkness, each with their own upgradeable abilities who carry out missions which run parallel with the campaign’s story. There is less focus on story and more on action which offers an enjoyable amount of content to be shared with friends.
There are unfortunately many flaws with the game even if it offers much to the player. The enemy AI is rather predictable and clumsy which can lead to many fights being slated in your favour. Enemies don’t fight effectively enough and the result is usually the player coming out unscathed. Other technical problems include enemies falling through the floor, frame-rate issues, broken ragdoll physics, repeated use of NPC models and sounds occurring late when an action such as an execution has already taken place. The biggest flaw is that the single player campaign is very short, taking around 5 hours to complete. With a story as well written as this, its unfortunate that the player is only able to experience it within a 5 hour timespan. A much longer single player campaign could have been implemented which doesn’t just offer more action packed gameplay, but also a more enriched narrative experience which further delves into the drama and tragedy of Jackie’s upside-down life.
Nevertheless it’s very easy to overlook the flaws as The Darkness II offers a great deal to potential players looking for a visceral, powerful and emotional ride. With an intriguing, emotional story; brilliant character development; exciting combat and a grim yet stylish setting, The Darkness II is sure to provide gamers something unique from other first person shooters. Including the opportunity to be granted the powers of hell at their fingertips.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PC provided by 2k Games.