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The Darkness is a first-person shooter, based on the comic book series of the same name, released in 2007 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. You play as Jackie Estacado, a mob hitman with some kind of evil force inside of him that awakened on his twenty first birthday. After his girlfriend, Jenny, is murdered by his Uncle Paulie, Jackie seeks revenge and proceeds to dismantle Paulie’s businesses and eliminate the asshole. What made the The Darkness stand out as a game is the Darkness, itself, which added a unique and fun element to the gameplay. The Darkness was developed by Starbreeze Studios but development of the sequel was taken over by Digital Extremes. The Darkness II was released in 2012 and the change in developers shows. The obvious difference is the new visual style but the new gameplay mechanics introduced in The Darkness II make it a much more fast-paced game compared to the original. You still utilize the Darkness to slay enemies in brutal ways but now you’re given more options to do so.
Once again you play as Jackie Estacado, now don of the Franchetti crime family. He still mourns over the death of his girlfriend, Jenny, because no comic book character is complete without obsessing over a dead loved one. Jackie is still the host of the Darkness and has managed to suppress the evil force until one day he is attacked while dining at a restaurant by a rival mob family. After this awesome intro sequence, Jackie unleashes his Darkness powers to kill the attackers. He soon learns the attack was masterminded by a secret society known as the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood eventually captures Jackie and reveal their plans to use an object called the Siphon to steal the Darkness from Jackie because… they’re insane. The story is alright for what it is and, unfortunately, I have yet to read the comic books so I can’t say what does or does not stick to the source material. Many characters from the first game return, albeit with different voice actors, including Jackie who is now voiced by Brian Bloom and I think he gives a much more believable performance compared to Kirk Acevedo in the first game. Much of the interaction between mob thugs is full of comical and stereotypical Italian Mafia style dialogue but the real stand out voice work is from Mike Patton, who returns to voice the Darkness. Just like in the first game, his demonic and creepy performance is truly memorable and it’s only a shame the Darkness doesn’t speak more often.
The Darkness II deviates from the open world nature of the first game. It’s a very linear experience filled with balls to the wall action. The two tentacles of the Darkness stick out of Jackie’s body and he can use them to brutally rip enemies to shreds. Killing enemies rewards Jackie with Dark Essence that can be used at Talent Shrines to upgrade Darkness powers, making Jackie stronger. Multiple Talent trees offer different benefits like new Darkness abilities, executions, and ways to replenish more health and ammo. Using the Darkness, Jackie can execute enemies in a very violent and gory fashion. Ripping bad guys in two like a wishbone and tearing their heads off are just some of the ways you can brutalize enemy forces. You’re encouraged to perform executions to replenish health, ammo, and to recharge abilities. You can send out a green swarm of insects to stun enemies, making them easier to grab, and channel Darkness power into your guns, making them more powerful. These are the only two major abilities in the game and I think the lack of others is a big missed opportunity. This also limits your talents to upgrades for only these abilities when there could have been so much more. The iconic Black Hole attack from the first game returns but you need to work your way up the talent tree to unlock it and you can no longer use it at will.
The Darkness tentacles will still eat the hearts of dead enemies although now it serves the purpose of replenishing health. You can also use the tentacles to beat enemies to death, open doors, and pick up objects to use as projectiles. Almost everywhere you go are objects that can be grabbed and hurled at enemies. It’s nice to be able to chuck a chair at an enemy to cause damage but it’s even cooler to impale them with a pole. If you pick up a large object like a car door, the Darkness will use it as a shield to protect Jackie from gunfire. In addition to the Darkness attacks is an arsenal of modern weapons Jackie can equip to dispatch enemies. Jackie can equip three weapons and even dual wield two of them. Ammo seems to be scarce and even with upgraded Talents, I always seemed to run out of ammo during most encounters. The gunplay is satisfying but guns seem to take a backseat to Darkness powers and the balance between them isn’t great. When you’re out of ammo you’re forced to use Darkness powers so you normally need to run out into gunfire to acquire more ammo but you’ll get swarmed often, and dying is frequent, especially on the two higher difficulty modes. Because of the Darkness powers, you can “quad wield”, meaning you can dual wield guns and still use the Darkness tentacles to attack enemies, making you feel like an unstoppable killing machine.
The Darkness has one major weakness. Light. Jackie must remain in dark areas to use Darkness powers and just like in the first game you’ll be shooting at lights but it’s far less often. However, some lights cannot be shot and require you to destroy a generator. Because The Brotherhood is fully aware of the Darkness, they will use lights against Jackie to make him more vulnerable to attacks. Jackie can no longer summon Darklings but instead, one Darkling will accompany Jackie and assist him in combat. The Darkling also must avoid the light or he will perish. He will attack enemies and if you purchase the appropriate talent, you can throw the Darkling at bad guys, making it a somewhat useful attack if you run out of ammo or if there are no other objects nearby. The Darkling plays a major role in the story and you can even control him during two sequences. He can execute enemies by ripping out their throats or poking their eyes out. The first sequence feels more like a tutorial on how to control the Darkling and the second sequence is at the very end of the game and involves basic stealth mechanics. Because the Darkling is controlled only twice, the entire feature feels random and underutilized.
You’re always moving from point A to B shooting at enemies but all of them feel like bullet sponges. Enemies encountered later in the game wear armor so they can just take more damage before dying. If you’re not moving forward, you’re normally in a small area fending off waves of bad guys and ambushes are common. Some enemies come equipped with what looks like a whip of some kind that is used to strip Jackie of his active weapon. These are easily the most annoying enemies in the game. It’s not that the enemies are particularly hard to take out but the challenge comes from dealing with multiple enemies attacking you at once. They shoot at you, smack you around, and shine lights in your face. The end of the game includes some bullshit ambushes making that feeling of being a badass dude with demonic powers begin to fade and quick. You constantly get swarmed by waves of enemies and it’s just not fun. I would quickly have to alternate between using guns and Darkness powers, whether it’s to regain health or ammo, and during these later ambushes I found myself just running around in circles, trying to stay out of the light while avoiding relentless gunfire, looking for dead bodies so the Darkness could eat their hearts. I would often fumble with the controls because I would have to react quick and then, just as quick, change my attacks so I could replenish health or ammo. Meanwhile more enemies would be approaching, sometimes carrying lights, making me unable to use Darkness powers when I needed to use them most. The difficulty spike seems to get a bit ridiculous at the end and for the wrong reasons. I was playing on the second highest difficulty mode so maybe it would have been easier if I toned it down a level. There’s a few what I’ll call “boss fights” here that involve you battling it out with a unique enemies. These guys are just major bullet sponges that take longer to kill compared to your standard enemy. None of these fights are particularly amazing or memorable and they all play out the same for the most part.
The Darkness II is presented in a cel shaded visual style that helps the game represent its comic book origins. The visuals are bold and colorful which makes the violence that much more gratifying. The sound work is well done, all of the guns sound powerful, and really pack a punch when fired. The music is alright but there was nothing here that really stuck with me. When talking about the performance, the game ran fast and smooth all the way up until the end when all of a sudden the frame rate would stutter which became really annoying. There’s not many graphical options to tweak so I just ended up dealing with it. At one point the ragdoll of a dead enemy was freaking out but luckily I encountered no major game breaking issues. Whenever you take damage, there’s this nasty blur effect that’s just obnoxious and overused. It’s one thing if it was brief but the blur seems to remain in effect for way too long. There was no way to turn if off in-game so I had to deal with that, too.
There is a bit of replay value in The Darkness II. There are collectibles called Relics hidden throughout the environments. Other than giving you some backstory, they provide you with bonus Essence. After beating the game you unlock a New Game+ where you can play through the story again or play through any chapter with all of your purchased talents, essence, and collected relics. Then there’s the Vendettas mode. This is clearly designed for co-op but can be played solo. You can play through a Campaign or Hit List. Both modes of play involve you choosing from one of four characters, each with different Darkness abilities. You run around, shoot bad guys, and complete objectives. You can purchase more talents for your character but the talent trees are much more limited than what’s on offer for Jackie in the story mode. I will say it’s nice to have a mode like this and experimenting with the different characters is cool. Sadly, the Vendettas mode never reaches the heights of gameplay seen in the campaign.
Overall, The Darkness II is a great sequel with some noticeable problems. Compared to the first game, everything moves along at a much faster pace while retaining the satisfying gunplay and brutal violence. The developers were smart to let you use the Darkness as a more offensive weapon and it is very cool stuff but when it comes to the Darkness powers, themselves, it’s hard not to realize that the Darkness elements never reach their full potential. Sometimes I felt like the talent tree was just a rushed mechanic. I’m fine with all of the violence and non-stop action on offer here but the constant ambushes gets annoying. The difficulty doesn’t always feel balanced making the game seem unfair or cheap at times. The Vendettas mode is a nice little addition that can keep you distracted, although it’s probably best enjoyed with a few buddies. If you enjoy shooting shit and ripping enemies to pieces, then The Darkness II may be the game for you but that’s pretty much all you’ll be doing.