Comic books and violence, two things that always go hand in hand, much like Jackie and the Darkness. But is this game worth having your body invaded by a supernatural being? Or is it more just like administering a suppository?
The first Darkness game, based off of the Darkness comic book series, was released early in 2007 when the “next generation” of games had just started. It was developed by Starbreeze, a studio with a pedigree in First Person games (I am neglecting to say First Person Shooter as Riddick had a lot of First Person Kapowing AKA punching). Featuring Starbreeze’s signature first person stylization in which every action you take feels weighted, giving the impression you are just more than a floating pair of hands carrying a gun, it featured great gameplay which consisted of open world exploration ideas, combined with, for 2007, excellent graphics. All of this would propel you through a great story that introduces us to Jackie Estacado, and his life in the mob. As it always goes with a life in the mob (I’m speaking from experience here. Experience from watching The Godfather and other films!) Jackie is targeted for assassination. On the fringes of being caught and killed Jackie becomes intertwined with The Darkness, an ancient force that has been passed down in his family for generations. Where there is the light, there is also the Darkness. With his new found demonic powers Jackie overpowers the men sent to kill him, eventually becoming the leader of his own gang, at the loss of the love of his life, Jenny.
The Darkness 2 was developed by Digital Extremes and picks up with Jackie and his mobster friends being attacked by a mysterious enemy, led by a strange disfigured man. Jackie unleashes the Darkness once more and violence ensues!
Jackie is in a bad place, it’s two years later and he is still yet to get over the loss of Jenny. He’s also had to unleash the Darkness once more, something which he has struggled to contain in the years between the games. A mysterious force is also hunting him, trying to draw him out to perform untold deeds to him. To make things worse he also keeps having episodes in a mental asylum, not to mention visits from his dead girlfriend. Whilst you can argue that story isn’t always the strongest or most needed asset for what is essentially a corridor based shooter, it certainly has received its fair share of effort here. This is more than helped along by the origins of the game, being based on an already established comic, giving the story a boost. Expect twists and turns as you’re led by the nose down this corridor shooter, as well as episodes of confusion as you try to work out what is really real. This is helped by the feeling and hints of the fact that the Darkness is hiding something from you.
Expect vicious and gore riddled gameplay backed up by solid gunplay. Dual-wielding is the name of the game here, or as the Darkness 2 calls it, Quad-wielding. You can carry two single handed weapons and one larger gun, the one handed guns can be dual wielded using both the triggers to fire them. Using the bumper buttons you then also control the Darkness, or as I prefer to call them, your pointy spikes of death makers. With a flick of the right analogue stick and a tap of the right bumper you can make a swipe, vertically or horizontally, with the Darkness allowing you to lift or swipe away enemies in front of you as well as cut wires and other sliceable things. With a tap of the left bumper your left death maker can grab pickups from afar for you as well as grab enemies, allowing you to perform gruesome “executions” of your enemies, lovingly detailed and frighteningly horrific scenes of death. During an Execution your victim dangles helplessly in front of you as the Darkness shreds him to pieces, sending blood and guts everywhere and, more importantly, giving you a bit of health or maybe some ammo. Using the Darkness in this way is what makes this game stand out from other shooters of recent years; there are some really inventive and intuitive uses in there. For example, need cover? Simple, a quick tap of the left bumper and you can pull a door off of a nearby car and use it for cover. Don’t need that cover anymore? Simple again, you can just tap the bumper again to throw it at an enemy, slicing their head straight off! As you kill you gain Relic points, these can be used to unlock new abilities. Ranging from simply carrying more ammo to adding new ways to execute enemies, these unlocks can tailor Jackie into the killing machine you want him to be.
All of the death dealing is rendered in an art style similar to cel-shading. However unlike other cel-shaded games the technique has not led to a loss of the level of detail in the games textures. This is because the games artists hand drew the art for most of the games assets instead of using the industry standard of using digital and automatic texturing techniques. This is very visible in the game and it is better for it, for this gives the game its comic book looks which draw back to the game’s origins without sacrificing detail. Overall the game feels looks and sounds like it has had a lot of effort put into its production values. Sound design is great, the guns sound good and provide strong feedback to the player accompanied by a musical score that helps create the mood intended, bringing in classic moody music for those sad and slow times and heavy rock when death is being dispensed.
The game also has a multiplayer co-op mode called “Vandettas”. It features four player co-operative in which you and your friends (whom all have unique abilities) battle to complete objectives. Unfortunately this mode feels tacked on just to tick a box and is also extremely short, shooting in at under two hours. With more attention this mode could have proved fun but unfortunately it just turns out to be something to blast on a Sunday afternoon just to say that you have done it.
Overall, Digital Extremes has created a sequel to a game they did not make and have successfully made it their own. The Darkness 2 is built on strong foundations, bringing you an experience that is not weakened by half arsed values (with exception to the multiplayer). If you enjoy being led down a corridor blasting everything that gets in your way all the while being given a little sprinkle of RPG style level unlock mechanics then you will not be disappointed by this trip into The Darkness.