Since the release of The Darkness in 2007, Jackie Estacado and his comic book world have seen some significant alterations. Digital Extremes have taken over development duties from Starbreeze Studios, a move that paves the way for something a little bit different. Moving away from the monochrome nature of its first outing, this sequel ushers in a feeling of chaotic beauty, mixing endless massacre with vibrant visuals, amounting to some of the most addictive gameplay we've seen in quite a while.
Set two years after the events of the original, Jackie is immediately thrust back into a world of conflict. A date with two lovely ladies is turned into a murder scene, as it becomes obvious that the power of the darkness is highly valued by a mysterious organisation. Escaping the restaurant, Jackie retreats. From this moment, his battle begins once more. Riddled with this overpowering demon, it doesn't take long before you're back in goon smoking territory.
|No, that is not a big purple dildo
While plenty of changes are implemented throughout this sequel, the most obvious is undoubtedly the visual style. Digital Extremes have confidently asserted a cel-shaded look that mimics the comic, and it's a complete contrast to the grit of the first game. The use of colour works admirably, distinguishing this title away from its predecessor and making it instantly recognisable in its own right. The palette is rich and full of life, each location offering a gorgeously styled depiction of the world Top Cow Productions first unleashed in 1996. In fact, this vibrancy is actually rather intelligent, lending itself as a vital tool in the game's most satisfying element: its combat.
Now, the premise of quad-wielding combat sounds amazing, but many developers would overcomplicate it. Thankfully, Digital Extremes are having nothing of the sort. Allowing you to control two demon arms whilst dual-wielding weapons works spectacularly well. Quite simply, aiming and firing your weapon is exactly the same as any FPS, with the left trigger zooming in, and the right trigger doing the business. Each demon arm has a specific use, allowing you to slaughter foes in a devastatingly quick time. With a press of RB, the right stick controls the right arm, mimicking any push via a limb-splitting slice or flick into the air. This leaves the left arm to mop up anything that's left behind, as it chomps hearts away from corpses, and grabs anyone who's made themselves available for an execution. More on those in a minute.
With four avenues of destruction, The Darkness II quickly outlines itself as one of the most fun games this generation. Plenty of enemies fill the screen, and it's amazing how they can be wiped out within seconds. As bullets fly, it's often easy to forget you're being sandwiched by two unique weapons. If things get up close and personal, a few whips with the right arm and even the most hardened of enemies will be left on the floor. If you want to get a head start on your enemy, scenery can be utilised to your advantage. Chairs, car doors, plant pots, many things can be launched with the power of the left arm, often ending in gruesome results. Impaling someone through the skull with a snooker cue never gets old, and will have you chortling with a sadistic manner.
Four execution styles aid your combat, providing extra boosts such as shields and ammo during the heat of battle. Each execution is completely over-the-top as blood paints the floor by the bucket load. Taking a few seconds to step back from the action allows you to see the carnage caused, as limbs and mangled bodies litter the floor. There's always a simple solution to combat: if someone doesn't fall under a barrage of bullets, the arms will provide a telling strike. This does make the game remarkably easy throughout, as the developers intend on making you feel the advancing power of the darkness at every single encounter. The enemy tries to even things up by utilising the light against Jackie, but ultimately, it possesses very little threat.
|The light is more dangerous than most opponents. Getting rid of it should be your main priority
Mobsters were so 2007, and they don't make much of an appearance against Jackie this year. Instead, a Brotherhood hunt the darkness, looking to trap its essence for themselves. This essentially provides the main boss for the game, in the form of Brotherhood leader Victor. Encounters with him aren't particularly enthralling, and don't do the character justice. You'll fight him on a number of occasions, but don't expect anything other than a rinse and repeat task of shooting him X amount of times.
Away from the combat, plenty of other decisions have been made to ensure this is a totally unique trip into Jackie's universe. The developers have done away with the open world aspect of the first title, instead focusing on a linear tale that places an importance on plot. You wont be taking trips on the subway, exploring New York or watching full television programmes, it simply doesn't happen here. Instead, a confusing narrative is woven around Jackie's personal demons; namely the loss of Jenny and his inability to control the darkness itself. Only one darkling aids your quest this time round, and yes, his name is Nobby. He's a delight to have around, draped in his union jack and often providing X-rated quips that will be familiar to any British person who plays the game. In some respects, Nobby should be seen as a sexier Geri Haliwell.
This is a story that whisks you to the confines of a mental asylum on many occasions, begging the question of what is real and what isn't. Much of the level design is uninspired, and echoes of Dark Sector, also from Digital Extremes. While graveyards and parking lots still look beautiful, they're not the most entertaining place to bust some heads. That said, an excellent sequence takes place in an abandoned carnival, and once the main villain of the game shows himself, set-pieces appear often. Themes of isolation, death and revenge play a big part, as Jackie struggles to get things clear in his head. Ironically, this will do the same for you, as the narrative never quite makes as much sense as it wants to. There's even a hint towards Nazism throughout, as Victor takes on the look of Hitler, while a patient named Adolf speaks complete rubbish in the asylum. This is definitely one that deserves its 18+ certificate.
Although The Darkness II is immensely fun, it's rather short. Many players will complete it in two sittings, and there isn't much to go back for. The entire campaign can be replayed with all your advanced abilities in tact, making the game even easier from the outset. Two endings are on offer, one of which provides an extra level and interesting set-up for the next title. The other, well, is completely terrible and a massive let-down. Luckily you can replay any mission at any point, meaning both can be experienced within quick succession of one another.
|Words cannot describe how fun this is
Those wanting multiplayer will be pleased for a short while, but the Vendetta and Hit List modes don't add much to the title. Both allow 4 players to take part in mini-missions, none of which have much connection to the main story. Hit List, as you would expect, forces you into a small arena to eliminate an individual who is wanted by your Mafia buddies. Unoriginal, uninspiring, and to be honest, it never outshines the single-player. Okay, the gunplay is just as tight, but each missions feel like they've been scraped up from the Left 4 Dead waste bin.
Platform Played: Xbox 360
THE DARKNESS II VERDICT
As ever, the lure of The Darkness is very much in tact. It’s pleasing to see a title that opts to set itself apart from its older brother, and it’ll definitely be remembered for doing so. This is a different experience to the original, but one fans will love from start to finish. Despite its short-length, bland level design and forgettable bosses, The Darkness II is a thoroughly entertaining blast from start to finish. Who knew dismembering hordes of enemies would be such a guilty pleasure?
TOP GAME MOMENT
The quad-wield gameplay is absolutely brilliant.