Jackie Estacado and The Darkness have a love/hate type of relationship. Jackie absolutely hates The Darkness and the evil that lives inside of him. The Darkness loves Jackie and the violent mob background that Jackie lives only feeds The Darkness and makes it stronger. Jackie may not be able to get rid of The Darkness, but he has found a way to keep it contained and The Darkness wants out in badly in the worst way and it lets you know it within moments of the start of the game.
Taking place two years after the events of the original, Jackie Estacado is living a fairly “normal” life as the Don of the Franchetti crime family and is still mourning the death of Jenny, the love of his life. Even though Jackie has contained The Darkness the last two years, The Darkness not only torments Jackie with visions of Jenny’s death, but it also pleads and begs for Jackie to let it out. Jackie has been able to ignore the pleas and is living a fairly comfortable and quiet lifestyle, well, as quiet as a mob boss can. That lifestyle is abruptly turned upside down with a coordinated attack by the games mysterious new enemy, The Brotherhood and their creepy disfigured leader, Victor. The Brotherhood wants The Darkness and will stop at nothing to get it from Jackie.
During the attack by The Brotherhood, Jackie is seriously injured and must be dragged towards safety as he wards off gunman after gunman and trying with all of his mite not to let The Darkness out. Sensing an opportunity to “help” Jackie even the odds, The Darkness tempts Jackie to “embrace The Darkness” and to let it out to feed on the filth that has attacked Jackie. On the verge of death from his injuries, Jackie has no choice but to unleash The Darkness to not only heal his wounds, but to get revenge on the secret society that also unleashed The Darkness. It’s up to Jackie to find out why The Brotherhood has targeted him and to deal with his internal struggle against The Darkness as he tries to keep it from consuming him.
If you played the original The Darkness, you’ve basically played this one…which isn’t a bad thing at all. While The Darkness II will feel a little similar to the first game, new features, such as the badass opportunity to use the new “quad wielding” technique is very, very cool. The new “quad wielding” feature now allows Jackie to use both The Darkness and firearms…at the same time. I mean, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to wield two demon arms that can grab, slash, smash and cause pure havoc and also have the ability to shoot up bad guys all at the same time?!?! That’s right, the demon arms are back and are nastier than ever! With the left arm comes the ability to grab enemies and throw items and the right arm has the ability to slash, hack and destroy items. There is such a visceral feel to the arms this time around and I watched in glee every time as the two arms finished off any unfortunate enemy in all sorts of violent and very bloody manners.
While the control layout may seem overly busy at first as you begin getting used to the quad wielding mechanics, it really only takes about the duration of the tutorial level to get used to the ins and outs of quad wielding. After a few levels of slashing, grabbing and destroying with the arms you won’t even notice yourself trying to figure out where the triggers are anymore and being able to use the demon arms and weapons at the same time becomes almost second nature. As you get used to the demon arms, you’ll find that Jackie will be able to use the items in environment to his advantage, by using car doors as shields and parking meters to kill enemies.
While quad wielding with the demon arms has its advantages, it also has its downside. Because The Darkness gets power from, well, the dark, any kind of light you come in to contact with is a bad thing. Since about the only time The Darkness disappears is for story purposes or in the light, you will find that The Brotherhood will use any means necessary to defeat Jackie. By this I mean not only will your enemies come running at you with guns locked and loaded, but they will also use light grenades and shoulder-mounted light cannons to counteract your Darkness powers and make you more vulnerable to their attacks. When you are in too much light, you will know it as your Darkness powers will disappear, the screen will turn a “muted” color and you will need to find cover quickly to recover. It’s very important to keep this in mind in the later stages of the game when more enemies show up and the odds against you grow even greater. You will need all of your Darkness powers and more if you want to destroy The Brotherhood and keep from being defeated.
There is also a greater emphasis on the aspect of Darklings this time around…or should I say Darkling. With there now being only one primary Darkling by Jackie’s side throughout the game, you’ll find that the little guy is more involved in the storyline and can be very useful in sticky situations. The trusty Darkling is able to lead Jackie to certain waypoints and bring him important items to be used as weapons during boss fights. The Darkling also allows Jackie to use him to reach inaccessible areas and kill enemies at a distance, while looking through the Darkling’s eyes.
While your Darkling is good for comedic relief as he rides an enemy like a cowboy riding a bucking bronco or taking the time to urinate on a downed enemy, regrettably there are not many opportunities to play through the eyes of the Darkling. I liked the stealth element of these sections and even liked that it meant the in-your-face FPS action would be taking break while this little guy went about sneaking around and raising hell. I only wished they would have included a few more sections to further explore the levels using the Darkling.
While still a FPS at it’s core, The Darkness II does add a little RPG feel to it by giving Jackie a large-sized skill tree at which you can use earned skill points to purchase new abilities. Each kill and heart collected add towards Jackie’s ‘dark essence’, a substance that clings to people and objects that have come in contact with The Darkness, which can be used to make purchases from ‘talent shrines’, such as ‘black hole’ which allows Jackie to throw at enemies to create a vacuum that will pull enemies towards it, the ability to see and attack through walls, ‘swarm’ which allows Jackie to summon a swarm of flying insects to disable and stun multiple enemies at once, and ‘gun channeling’ which gives Jackie unlimited ammunition and deals supernatural damage for a short period of time.
The skill tree is a nice addition to the game and it allows a type of character customization that wasn’t seen in the first game. I also found that you most likely will not be able to purchase all of the ‘talent shrine’ items during your first play through, but will be given the choice in the menu screen to continue with all of the skills you attained the first play through and max out on a second or even third play through.
When you finally get tired of ripping bad guys to shreds with your demon arms, check out Vendettas in the menu screen. Vendettas is a mode where the player plays as hit men who each have specific Darkness powers and upgrade trees that go on missions for Jackie. The Vendettas campaign happens at the same time as the game’s main campaign and focuses on securing dark relics from Brotherhood agents. The campaign can be played offline alone or online co-operatively with other people. Vendettas mode is a good distraction from the single player gameplay and it’s fun to see what was happening outside of the main story arc of The Darkness II while Jackie is tearing up The Brotherhood.
Since I haven’t really mentioned them yet, let me gush a little here about the graphics and the look of this game. I have no problem stating that I am a huge fan of graphic novels and the art that is created to help tell the story in these types of games. My love probably has something to do with my graphic design background, but while I may like this look, there will be others out there that will scoff at the comic book style/graphic novel stylized graphics this time around. I believe this is most definitely the way this game should look and wish that the first one would have looked this way as well! This game is based on a comic series that is dark and gritty and the graphics that 2K Games have created totally works with how the comic looks. While this stylized “drawn” look strays a little bit from the original game, I believe the only way that this game should look and feel is exactly how you would see it if you were reading the comic books that The Darkness II is actually based on. I actually felt like I was playing a comic book and loved every bloody moment of it!
Look, I loved this game and would recommend fans of the comic and original game to play this immediately, but I did take note of a few issues I noticed during my play through. One complaint is that you will probably finish the game in 7-8 hours. I started playing on a Tuesday for a couple hours per night and was finished by Friday night. After playing Skyrim for hours and still not being anywhere close to finished, The Darkness II is short! You’ll get a little more time out of it by playing the Vendettas mode, but I’m not sure how long that’ll last and what any plans are for upcoming DLC.
Another complaint I had was with some of the gameplay was how it seemed very, VERY hectic at times. I don’t mind hectic gameplay at times because it keeps me enthralled and entertained, but I felt at times in the game like I was shooting, flinging and grabbing randomly with my demon arms just to get out of a sticky situation. The enemies tend to crawl out of the woodwork as you cross an imaginary line in the levels and will come straight for you, not giving you much time to plan your attack and could possibly have 5-6 guys all up in your grill before your Darkling can ever call you a “monkey.” This may have been planned to have your enemies come running at you to make you use your quad wielding attacks, but I felt it was forcing me to move forward as quickly as possible to get from one level to the next. Being certain that there will more than likely be multiple games of this title, I hope the developers take note of the few minor hiccups throughout the game and touch on them in the future iterations.
All-in-all The Darkness II is a dark, visually impressive, very violent FPS sequel that will please its fan base and may even sway some newcomers towards the dark world of Jackie Estacado and The Darkness. Maybe with a little temptation and persuasiveness The Darkness can sway you in to giving a couple of demon arms a test drive and raising a little hell.
A copy of The Darkness II for PlayStation 3 was provided to us for this review from 2K Games.