Let’s face it: video games are power fantasies. We don’t play them to do laundry, fail math tests, or clean up dog poop. Hell no. We want explosions, large combos, double jumps, gory disembowelments, and other actions absent from our daily routine. The Darkness II, the follow up to 2007’s success, is a first-person shooter that fully understands this proposition. With the ancient power of the Underworld to back you up, The Darkness II is a Hell of a lot of fun to play.
Jackie Estacado, our returning Darkness-wielding protagonist, has been promoted to the Don of The Franchetti Crime Family and sits highly upon his throne of organized crime. As these stereotyped Italians are apt to do, they have a friendly visit to the local Italian food place for a bite to eat. Before Jackie and the gang can even choke on the spicy meatballs, the whole place goes to shit within minutes from a blitzkrieg attack from a mysterious force. Killing many and crippling Jackie, he is left with the decision to unleash The Darkness, a force left untapped and in check for a few years, in order to save his life. Risking being taken over by The Darkness, Jackie decides to uncage these powers to save himself and find out what scumbags hired the hit.
In addition to the main plot, Jenny, the less-than-alive girlfriend from the first game, is still haunting Jackie’s every thought. Visions of her and some asylum are surprisingly sharp and real. Too real. Why? Well, Jackie doesn’t know either, further confusing him and giving incentive for finding out what the Hell is going on.
Right out of the gate, The Darkness II nails what other first-person shooters can’t: the narrative. Uncovering who has a vendetta against Jackie and then figuring out why is surprisingly well realized. New story beats are doled out with the utmost care, with that next reveal always being just around the corner. The Jenny hallucinations (and other mystical visions) are tied supremely well within the main plot in a few shocking ways that not only meld the two subjects, but yield a more interesting story because of it. The game is short, but so tightly paced that it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
You’ll want to stick with it right up to the potentially polarizing conclusion. The ending might take some thinking to fully develop an opinion and it may not fully satisfy an ending to The Darkness II, but it dramatically raises the stakes for the eventual sequel. I wasn’t necessarily mad at the cliffhanger, but more intrigued on where the franchise will go from here. Your satisfaction will vary depending on how much you pay attention to the lore. Listening to the conversations and reading up on The Darkness gives the ending more, much-needed context.
Even for a bunch of mob goons, the cast is endearing in all the right ways. Jackie has a motive, fierce personality, an undeniable passion for Jenny, and a voice that gives the player a good reason to root for him. Yeah, he’s an brash prick at times, but he’s brash prick you can’t help but love. His little monologues between chapters, while not always central to the plot, tell neat little anecdotes that further enhance his character. A small, but effective touch.
Solid voice acting extends to the supporting cast. Vinny, Jimmy, Tony, and just about every other cliché name from the Goodfellas is thrown in here, but the well-written script and good voice acting makes these wise guys a bit more than the sum of their parts. A standout is Johnny, the lunatic with a penchant for all things supernatural. His spastic delivery and crazed voice gave both comic relief and useful knowledge about The Darkness. I listened to pretty much all of his relic explanations and wasn’t disappointed by a single one.
The Darkness is not only useful for an interesting plot; they translate stupendously to actual gameplay. Having an pair of purple demon heads sprouting from your back is as cool as it sounds and it gives access to a full tree of evolving powers. Combat never grows stale because of the sheer volume of talents you can buy from the essence earned from the Bulletstorm-like kill system. Biggie Smalls and Eazy-E (yeah, I named the demon heads) can pick up shields, poles, the imp-like Darkling, enemies, and environmental objects, making just about anything near you into a makeshift weapon. When this is combined with the brilliantly handled guns (dual wielding never gets old) and other powers, combat never grows stale due to the choices given to you. You walk into a battlefield and openly choose from your abilities how you want to liquefy everyone, a welcome change.
Given the wide variety of powers and the fast pace of the combat, you (as long as you shoot out the lights) almost always feel like a godly, unstoppable force. Handling the number of baddies isn’t overwhelming since they don’t usually throw a too many at you at a time. Not to say you are completely invincible, but few enemies are legitimate threats if you manage them correctly. Some foes carry around spotlights that can vanquish your Darkness powers and others can steal your firearms, but even those guys can be killed quickly. The game sits on the easy side of the fence, but that isn’t a pejorative. I’m tired of being attached to concrete walls just waiting for my health to recharge so I can peek out and take some potshots. The Darkness II says “Fuck that,” and lets you walk quickly through battles while destroying everything in your wake. Hell yes.
Once you finish the admittedly brief campaign a few times (hello New Game+), the Vendettas mode is probably where you’d look to jump into next. Unfortunately, this mode just doesn’t hold itself together as well as the story mode.
Playable solo or in co-op, this mode tells a short story of four powered-up characters aiding Jackie during the story behind the scenes. It is cool to peek behind the curtain to see why certain events unfolded, but it’s pretty shallow especially when compared to the main game. Cutscenes are cobbled together to give some assemblance of a story, but it isn’t really gripping. Go here, find the artifact and repeat. Yawn.
I know this mode is more of a justification for co-op, so story isn’t as important, but it isn’t nearly as much fun to play. Each of the four stereotypes has their own power tree, so it just feels like Jackie, but significantly less cool. As stated before, Mr. Estacado has a plethora of flexible powers that all work in unison to make the combat fresh. In Vendettas, each character has only one active power borrowed from single player, one unique gory execution, and one item power. The choice just isn’t there, making combat rather dull and repetitive. Add in the fact that some levels are annoyingly well-lit and this becomes a poor excuse to extend the playtime of the already short game.
Online or off, co-op or single player, one thing is consistent; the game sure catches your eyeballs. Ditching the realistic art style of the first game, Digital Extremes opted to go for a cel-shaded look to make it stick out from the crowd. I fully commend this decision because the hand drawn art, filled with vibrant colors and hard, black edges, really make the game pop. The framerate is steady, along with reasonably short load times, making this game technically impressive all around.
The Darkness II is a short, empowering blast of a game with a overlying plot that is incredibly absorbing. Challenge really isn’t an issue and it knows you just want to stomp around and, to say it bluntly, fuck shit up. I just wish there was more, which is a testament to how good the game actually is.
+Engaging story with characters that give convincing performances
+Enticing sense of power
+Unique, pretty graphical style
+Evolving powers and New Game+ make the game feel fresh with plenty of choices
-Co-op mode is weak compared to the campaign
Final Score: 9/10