The Darkness II ReviewMatt Andrews
What 2K Games was thinking when they decided to create a game that combined Italian mafia themes with Matrix style gun fighting and AVP style demon-headed arms granted by some demonic being called The Darkness, we'll never know. What we do know is that they backed the concept, and created an innovative, edgy, and entertaining sequel. The Darkness II hopes to maximize the awesome potential that its predecessor introduced in 2007.
At its very beginning The Darkness II offers a brief introduction for players who did not have the pleasure of playing its predecessor. A schizophrenic and terrified man explains that a being called The Darkness has returned. The Darkness, he says, is a being of incredible strength and bad will who takes over the bodies of the emotionally and mentally weak to do his bidding on earth. The game begins by introducing you to your character Jackie, host of the Darkness and Italian mob member. When your date with two lovely Russian women is interrupted by a rival mob's hit attempt on you, Jackie is forced to give in to the Darkness to survive, consequently granting it freedom to manifest its evil.
The game initially presents itself as a shooter, but this first impression is not overwhelmingly impressive. The aiming and shooting system lacks the refinement of the top shelf shooters. However, gameplay in The Darkness II has much more to offer than the typical shooter. Once released, the power of the Darkness grants you control over two arms with the uncanny ability to destroy. One arm will slash and slice anything in its reach; the other grabs anyone or anything in its reach. The game truly excels in the aspect of unique game play. The ability to hold shields, throw objects, duel wild handguns, and slash enemies to bits allows and require players to strategize. Environments in which cover is limited will demand planning and precision. Others will require you to hack down a room of enemies without thought. The game is not shy about its identity, and whole-heartedly commits to being a hack-n-slash duel-wielding hybrid, and it does this well. Working against this otherwise entertaining single player game is AI that is nothing short of horrible. Enemies almost systematically run to cover behind which you just killed their comrade making it far too easy to complete an otherwise challenging room. Even bosses behave in a random manner, moving meaninglessly and attacking predictably.
The deciding factor in The Darkness II may be its system of controls – with such a unique style of gameplay, a matching set of controls is pivotal to the game's success or failure. The developers approached the situation by utilizing each of the four triggers to control each of your four arms – the two Jackie was born with and the two that the Darkness has given him. The system allows endless ways to reap havoc. Grab enemies, throw them at others, shoot them, slice them in half, or execute them with uniquely gruesome finishing moves. The weapon system is typically the biggest hassle, but it does allow the player to carry their choice of two handguns and one long gun. The controls are certainly sound and lend well to the gameplay. Mastery of the system carries a considerable learning curve, and you may find yourself fumbling on occasion even halfway through the game. However, those who do master the system will be rewarded with some of the most unique and purely entertaining gameplay on the PS3.
Complementing both the gameplay and controls is an equally sound implementation of upgrades for skills and abilities. Upgrades are divided into four categories, each containing a few tracks along which to advance linearly. The system isn't overwhelmingly deep, but the different categories and tracks complement each other nicely. Learning to channel the darkness through pistols deals out more damage to enemies, while learning a new finishing move will allot ammunition with each execution performed to ensure the fun goes on. Though the game has a pseudo-free roam style, allowing you to explore the family mansion, the story is laid out for you to progress through, so the option to replay the story, starting with the upgrades you earned the previous time provides a bit of repay value. Even so, the story is disappointingly short for such an exciting and enjoyable single player mode.
Multiplayer is certainly not the highlight of The Darkness II, though it deserves mention as it is one flaw of the first game that was addressed nicely by the developers. As opposed to the traditional competitive multiplayer, The Darkness II sticks to a cooperative mode that players can resort to when they find themselves wishing there was more single player. Multiplayer comes in the form of missions that are in some way or another subplots of the single player game. Though entertaining, these missions do not feel as polished as the single player, but do offer a nice alternative to a previously lack luster competitive style multiplayer mode.
If The Darkness II does not win over hearts with its gameplay, it must with its sense of style. The game honors its comic book roots with dark outlined characters, animating seemingly hand drawn characters nicely. Scenery and environments are rendered in a more traditional style, highlighting the characters nicely, but introducing a somewhat confused sense of style in an otherwise attractive game. Jackie's Darkling – a troll-like creature with a taste for destruction – has a good sense of humor, and entertaining personality. He's nice to have around especially when the game gets dark, and it will get very dark. Turn the lights down and the volume up, and prepare to wipe the sweat from your palms frequently. The game will make you jump at least once, and infuses a sense of urgency occasionally without the use of a wretched countdown. It really captures its audience with all the edginess of a psychological thriller. Finally, there is gore, plenty of gore. Finishing moves are hauntingly gruesome, and if you've ever wondered what it would look like for someone to be sliced in half by a fire hose, I think the most accurate representation to date is in The Darkness II. Once again the game cannot help but fall into the category of well above adequate but unfinished.
The Darkness II has all the personality gamers can ask for, making for a compelling story, enchanting sense of style, and an overall captivating experience. It takes elements of games and themes we love, but combines them into something completely unique and fresh. Even without such style, the gameplay, though not yet perfected, is highly original and rewarding, particularly to first time players of the series. The game feels unpolished in many aspects, but will leave buyers feeling a bit short-changed. The Darkness II has done a lot of things right, but has not been perfected. All things considered, the game's positive aspects far outweigh its flaws – if The Darkness II has ever struck your interest, give it a shot, it doesn't disappoint.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.