It’s been almost five years since we last left Jackie Estacado, who, after having conquered the Darkness and eliminated his Uncle Paulie, has become a Don and taken control of the Francetti family. Now, a secretive order known as the Brotherhood is after him, and it’s up to Jackie to get out of the mess, but not without calling upon the evil that lurks inside. Could he survive the oncoming onslaught?
Developed by Digital Extremes, “The Darkness II” is the sequel to 2007’s sleeper hit by Starbreeze Studios. Although Digital Extremes’ take on the franchise is not perfect, it’s an excellent step in the right direction, gathering what made the first game so great and further improving upon it, making “The Darkness II” one hell of a game.
The sequel jumps straight into where the last one ended. Paul Jenkins, writer of the original game (and who also worked on the comic-book), returns to tell a tale as enjoyable and powerful as the first, full of white-knuckle action, touching drama, twist-filled suspense and even a plot point or two from the comics. Great voice-acting breathes life into the story as well, featuring returning actors like Mike Patton, who reprises his role as the Darkness, and new talent, like Brian Bloom, who has taken over the role of Jackie in Kirk Acevedo’s absence.
The game’s visuals are absolutely stunning. Using a cel-shaded style that harkens to the series comic-book roots, the game is vibrant and colorful, but it also has the ability to invoke the dark grittiness that was present in the original. Character models are cartoony, yet are full of realistic expressions. The sets look like comic-book backgrounds, yet they are highly detailed. It really is a treat to take some time off and look at all the little things.
The game-play is also top-notch, as Digital Extremes refined what they liked from the first and made it better. Combat is gory, visceral, and violent; even more so than the original. By giving the player control over both Jackie’s arms and the Darkness tendrils, the player is more than capable of being a one man army. Guns are fluid and responsive, and yet, the need for ammo is virtually gone when so many options of offense and defense are at the player’s disposal. Varying forms of debris lie around the stages, waiting to be flung it at your foes. Or, you could just use run up towards your enemies and use one of your tendrils to slice, dice and bring about a variety of horrible deaths to your attackers, while the other feasts on their entrails and extracts ammo, health, dark holes or even creates a shield for you. Adding to your offense capabilities are abilities that are acquired from three skill trees, unlocked as you spend essence from hearts that have been devoured from slain enemies. And let’s not forget the Darkling, a loyal impish creature that attacks and distracts your opponents, leaving them open to your assault. The only thing that could ruin your day is the light, which renders your darkness powers useless, and leaves you exposed to greater damage. Quickly destroying the source reverts you to your previous state, however, so it only turns out to be a minor nuisance unless left undealt with.
The possible combinations and strategies in battle are nearly endless, making it enjoyable to experiment and come up with new ways to deal with foes.
Once the credits roll, the fun doesn’t stop. In addition to a New Game +, Digital Extremes replaced the multi-player death-match of the original with “Vendettas”, a single/multi-player mode that adds a couple hours of entertainment to the title. In “Vendettas,” the player can choose from one of four characters, each with his/her own skill tree and special abilities, and team up with others to mow down enemies as they head towards an objective and/or face a boss. Stages grow harder as one progresses, requiring advance tactics and teamwork.
Overall the game is excellent, but sadly, not without its faults.
The game is terribly linear. Gone is the hub-world from the original, which gave the player a sense of immersion in Jackie’s world, letting one experience its local color and personality, partake in a variety of side-quests, and watch hours of television. The sequel is now structured in typical FPS fashion, with stages that go from point A to B, with little to no alternative paths to navigate through. These stages are then pampered with a linear playable cut-scene that serves as a break from the unrelenting and brutal combat. A couple of side-quests (two?) try to add variety to the game, but they aren’t enough to drown out the straight-forwardness of the game.
Combat is also quite repetitive, despite the fun, creative options available to the player. Stages are littered with small skirmishes, as enemies swarm the player upon reaching certain areas. Uneven A.I. leads to enemies sometimes heading to cover and taking shots from behind, while others will simply run at you, just begging to be killed. It’s ridiculous . The repetitiveness of the combat can be noticed even more in “Vendettas.” Since the mode is more an add-on than anything, it lacks a real story, making it more a team-oriented shooting gallery than anything else as you eliminate wave after wave of enemy, take down a boss, and then wash and repeat. Despite the fun you might be having, you’ll get tired of fighting after a while.
Despite these small faults, “The Darkness II” is a very solid game. With a great story, excellent voice-acting and entertaining game-play, it’s one of the best games of the year so far. You owe it to yourself to try it out.
Images obtained from the games official site, www.embracethedarkness.com