(Review) The Darkness 2

(Review) The Darkness 2
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Game Name: The Darkness 2
Platforms: XBox 360, PS3, Windows
Publisher(s): 2K Games
Developer(s): Digital Extremes
Genre(s): First Person Shooter
Release Date: Feb 7, 2012
ESRB Rating: M

Darkling

Root canal

Anyone who watches the show knows that I’m a big comic book fan. I’m the guy who was huge into comics, then got out of them, and am now slowly returning and asking my friends what I should be reading. Because of that lapse, I completely missed Marc Silvestri (The Darkness’ creator) at Marvel, his leaving for Image comics, and his eventual founding of Top Cow Productions (a partner studio of Image) – where The Darkness was finally released to the world. As such, I own exactly zero issues of The Darkness. Somehow, despite knowing very little about the series, I picked up the original Darkness game by Starbreeze and loved it. Then, with Starbreeze having moved on to other, less dark and evil pastures, the game was picked up by London’s own Digital Extremes and they gave it a go.

Because of how much I liked the original Darkness game, I was really excited when I found out that not only was a Darkness 2 coming out, but that the folks at Digital Extremes were working on it. Like others, when I found out that The Darkness 2 was going to be more action focused than the previous one, I was a bit nervous. The story and characterizations in the first one was what made it so great. But then I went back and played the original with Warren and I realized that the first one had a great story but the action, particularly in the open city world, was really lacking. Shooting out streetlights wasn’t really important and three enemies would appear on the street for you to kill. My excitement started to build again when I started to realize that if Digital Extremes could maintain the importance of the story and also bolster the action I would be a very happy gamer.

Luckily, the finished product does not disappoint me and I had a lot of fun playing The Darkness 2.

Visuals:

Bright lights

Light is your enemy

Build on Digital Extremes’ Evolution engine, The Darkness 2 reminds me a lot of XIII, a high-espionage game by Ubisoft that’s also based on a comic book series. A sucker for cell-shaded, illustration-style art, The Darkness 2 is right up my alley. From the characters to the powers to the levels and environments, The Darkness 2 looks gorey and great.

Both the powers (especially the executions and Black Hole) look and feel really visceral and devastating and the the enemies are well designed. The Hellgate Field (the carnival level) is a great contrast from the mental asylum areas that go from gritty and dingy in the former to clean and sterile in the latter.

Gameplay:

Combat

This poor dude is about to get wrecked

The most exciting part of The Darkness 2′s gameplay is the unique “Quad Wielding” ability that allows you perform four attacks at once, via a gun in each hand, and the inky tendrils that float over your shoulders almost the entire game. I found this to be an excellent addition to the game (and wonder how much I’ll miss it in other FPS games) as it really made me feel like a A+ bad-ass as I tore through enemies (literally) and redecorated every area red (HEX: #800000, to be more exact). Everywhere I went and everything I did I felt like I was truly in control over an evil demon force that allowed me to destroy everything I saw.

My only complaint about the quad-wielding is that because I’ve played a lot of first person shooters in the past that don’t have this functionality, I occasionally found myself pausing from shooting and then hitting a button to throw a ceiling or a/c unit fan (btw, nice Dark Sector nod there, Digital Extremes) through a few evil jerkbags. Every time I did, I reminded myself that I didn’t have to break from the action to do that because the game does a great job of staying out of your way during combat.

One thing I referred to in Epicode 136 was the “fatalities” and how I wish I had more Street Fighter-style control over what they did and how they look. While they don’t exactly give you that level of control, the executions do vary depending on which button you press (Daisy Pop vs Anaconda). The finishers are satisfying and while they are limited in number, often you’re so focused past them on all the killing that you only see the +30 that pops up after they’re finished.

Another complaint I had was because of the way I upgraded my character, I didn’t get the Black Hole power until very late in the game. I kept getting the ability to use that power just as all the enemies I was fighting were killed, leaving me to carry around the black spark that you throw (grenade style) into the fray. The problem was, at the end of combat I wasn’t looking for more enemies to kill, I was looking for ammo. To pick it up, I’d often use the left Darkness arm which would pick up the ammo or weapon and toss the Black Hole into an empty battlefield, wasting it.

Another interesting part of gameplay is the way light works against you and your powers. Not only are you rewarded for shooting out lights, but if you expose yourself to light the darkness will scream and vanish, even in the middle of other action. Pick something up to throw at your enemy? Step into the light and you’ll drop it. Later in the game, enemies carry huge lights over their heads that force you to think strategically during battle. Other enemies also throw flashbangs at you that momentarily force the Darkness away. It’s a cool addition to the game that does a good job of stopping your onslaught. It’s also introduced as an offensive weapon at a good point in the game, when you’re starting to get a hang of your powers and tearing enemies left and right. It helps keep the action balanced, even though things always in your favour.

Multiplayer:

The multiplayer in The Darkness 2 is a cool experience as well. You control one of four different characters and take on missions that run parallel to the main story. In one part of Jackie’s adventure, he asks the boys to go and pick up Johnny Powell, a crazy dude who knows a lot about the supernatural and one of the multiplayer missions is just that – you set out to bring him back for Jackie.

One thing I like about it is the inclusion of four new characters to the game. Digital Extremes could have easily just dropped in four of Jackie’s nameless, cookie-cutter goons but they took the time to design four unique characters each with their own combat style.

Upgrades:

Upgrade tree

The Darkness’ modus operandi is death and destruction – and the more that happens, the merrier the demons become: you gain extra essence by eating your enemies’ hearts, shoot out street lights, collecting ancient relics, and perform gorey finishing moves. Essence is used to increase Jackie’s evil powers. The game features two sub-menus that compliment the game, one of which that actually affects gameplay and the other which is more of a passive artifact collection and description of each time (complete with voice-over, I should add). Through the skill tree, you gain the opportunity to summon swarms of insects to disorient your foes (think the Insect Swarm power from BioShock), the ability to make shields around yourself to protect you in combat, healing powers, gun channeling, and more. There are four quadrants to the power up system and about 10 powers on each tree – meaning you’ve got a lot of cool tricks up your sleeves (or rather, over your shoulders) to unleash on your foes.

Story:

Darkness 2 - Asylum

Is this real life?

There are some great moments in The Darkness 2 in terms of storytelling. Like I said earlier, I was a bit worried that tD2 would ditch the story that made the first game so great in favour of action. While The Darkness 2 is certainly much more action-oriented, the characters that you meet really make the world feel alive. Not only is the voice acting excellent (although sometimes the dialogue and mouth animation don’t match up), but each character has multiple lines of recorded dialogue. I spent a lot of time chatting up everyone I met to see what all they had to say. Try spending time with Adolf in the Asylum – it’s a great example of what I’m talking about.

There were two key points in the game that actually tugged at my heartstrings, and there are many more conversations that while they don’t add to the game directly (the target practice area on the balcony, for example), they do offer enough spice to make the world feel lived in and alive.

SPOILER ALERT: I have to say that I think the post-credit scene was perfect. Having endured all kinds of blood and violence, the simplest and one of the most peaceful scenes in the game is much more powerful than anything you’ve done leading up to that point.

Summary:

I had a lot of fun playing The Darkness 2. The action was excellent and the story, while I was worried that it was going to be overshadowed by the focus on violence, was good. The Darkness 2 has an excellent presentation style, good story, and an awesome amount of action and violence. It’s certainly not a game that will unseat something like Battlefield 3 of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 from the top of the FPS/XBox live multiplayer leaderboards, but it does a great job of keeping fans of first person shooters who like interesting stories mixed with their action entertained.

Disclaimer:

The Darkness 2 was given us by Digital Extremes for review. I finished the main campaign in about 10 hours on normal difficulty.