Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Darkness II

The Darkness was a really amazing game to play, and with the release date of its sequel getting closer, I became really excited to play another great experience, even with a change in developer (Digital Extremes worked on this title as opposed to Starbreeze). To keep myself interested, I even read a free comic that helped to remind me what happened in the game I played a month earlier. While The Darkness II proves itself to be a decent follow-up, there are some things that should have remained in the dark.

Two years after the original game, Jackie Estacado has officially become Don of the Franchetti family and also found a way to push back The Darkness within him. When he's attacked at a restaurant, Jackie is forced to unleash his dark powers in pursuit of his attackers. Through an informant of his named Johnny, who is an expert on The Darkness, Jackie learns of the Brotherhood and what they plan to do once they get their hands on this demonic force. Meanwhile, Jackie still thinks about the death of his girlfriend Jenny two years ago, and has been the entire time to the point where he sees hallucinations of her and times they've spent together.

The Jenny subplot bothered me as the game went on, for a few reasons. First off, Jackie seeing visions of his dead girlfriend from a couple years back is really unhealthy, and makes you think he should be sent to a mental hospital (which you actually do a few times, more on that later). Second, even though the prequel comic, Confession, had Jackie say he still thought about Jenny, it still came off to me like he had moved on from the event and that his recap of the previous game was more like a last goodbye. Finally, the game seemed to revolve around Jenny the more the story went forward, to where she is involved in a very unexpected plot twist after the credits roll, which only seems to serve as setting up a possible The Darkness III. Overall, Jackie's character felt like it had taken a big step backwards compared to what happened in the last game and its supporting material. On the subject of mental hospitals, the main story takes a break a few times to place Jackie in such a place, where Jenny is alive and he still obsesses over her. These sequences proved to be hilarious, though up until an explanation is given about this place you are left to wonder the first couple of times whether the events of the game are a dream or reality.

An interesting game mechanic that this game introduces is the concept of quad-wielding, or the ability to control two guns and two Darkness tentacles at the same time. This I found made me feel a greater sense of power than I did the first time controlling The Darkness, and also allowed for plenty of variety in terms of slaughtering enemies. Enemy encounter is another thing though. While I won't complain about the linear level design, I played on Thug difficulty (the lowest setting; the highest is Don) and a few times I felt a little overwhelmed by the enemies I was made to fight, especially in the Vendettas campaign (more on that later). This game has a nice Skill Tree system, where you can use Darkness Essence from foes to purchase Talents at appropriate Shrines (the first of which is the ability to eat hearts!), giving you the ability to sort of customize Jackie's skills. Two particularly helpful Talents can only be found in the Limited Edition of the game, which I played for this review, and in fact one later Talent you can access (in both versions) is Darkness Armor, which from what I could see on the screen is similar to its comic book counterpart.

Speaking of aesthetic, this game has really impressive graphics, giving it the appearance of a comic book similar in style to the one the games are based on (in place of the first game's more realistic appearance). This is paired with an equally amazing soundtrack that may be on par, if not better than, the music of its predecessor. The voice acting from the named characters is just as good, even with Jackie's change in voice actor.

The ability to summon an army of Darklings is dropped in this game in favor of accompaniment from a singular Darkling, who wears a Union Jack flag and speaks in a British accent. You even get to control him a couple times during the story, where he aids Jackie further by viscerally executing enemies whilst opening a door or getting him out of a tight spot. I found the Darkling itself to be another source of entertainment, though there is some potential missing from its solo sequences (I can't quite think of what that potential could be, but something felt missing).

Once you complete the main story, you can also go through a Vendettas campaign, a separate story that takes place during the main one, where you get to play as one of four people under Jackie's wing who each master a power of The Darkness in some form. There's even a Hit List option, where you can replay missions from the story as well as a handful of new ones, though some can only be played online. Having played as all four characters, I can say that while this concept is interesting, all of them play very similarly, despite having their own Talent Trees, and the Vendettas option is overall somewhat underwhelming.

And that's one word I would use to describe this game: underwhelming. Yet I would also use this word: amazing. This game takes a step forward with some of its amazing mechanics, but the other aspects of the game are underwhelming, particularly the Vendettas side-plot and the whole idea of Jackie being unhealthily obsessed with Jenny after seeing some character development from the trauma. Despite all this, I would still say to give this game a go because of the more positive aspects, including the sheer power you feel from quad-wielding. If you are a big fan of The Darkness comic you will be happy to see concepts from it finally show up here. Either way though, if you enjoyed the first game, prepare for disappointment.

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