Review: The Darkness II (PC)


That was the first thought that popped into my mind when I was given The Darkness II to review.


But surely there’s more to the game than that, right?

The sequel to 2007’s comics book based shooter, The Darkness II plays like an interactive storybook that has two parts. One part continues with series protagonist Jackie Estacado’s eternal love for his late girlfriend, Jenny. The other is a slasher fest dripping with gore and otherworldly tentacle bile. Where the original game was a shooter complemented by tentacles, The Darkness II is really tentacles complemented by guns, and makes for a whole lot of fun.

We’ve got a nice preview and a brief history of the game and how it continues from The Darkness over here. But don’t expect The Darkness II to be reminiscent of its predecessor. Like most games these days, it has traded a solid story for mindless fun.

That’s a major flaw in The Darkness II. The action and the killing is so entertaining that it overshadows the rest of the game.

And it’s not just about smacking your tentacles into enemy AI faces, either. Apart from some idiot-proof basic attacks, there’s a neat talent tree with four skill sets.

If the Darkness is your preferred primary attack, you’re gifted with a myriad of ways to tear someone from limb to limb. If you like guns better, you can get nifty talents for them; your weapons can get extended clips while in the dark, and can even be imbued with Darkness. Passive upgrades are also available in one tree, just for the lazy player.

There’s also the environment to make use of. Nearly anything lying on the ground can be used to impale, slice, or explode someone. Killing enemies in more creative ways (and eating hearts, nom nom) gets you more dark essence, which you can use to buy more talents.

Unlike the first game, now you only get one Darkling. But he’s (it’s?) tons more useful than before. Aside from acting as a guide and getting you out of tight spots, he’s also got a lovely British accent, runs around in a Union Jack top, and pisses on corpses. With the right upgrade, the Darkling can also be thrown onto distant enemies.

Combat is given an extra dimension with the addition of lights. The Darkness cannot function in the light, and so you have to shoot out errant light bulbs and generators, and avoid light grenades tossed at by higher-level enemies. Walking into the light first leeches the colour from your vision, then later blinding you, thus rendering even your guns useless. This makes fighting more interesting than simply charging in and mangling folks with your tentacles of doom.

In spite of being relatively comfortable, the default bind for controls were what prevented The Darkness II from being more than a console port. We reviewed the PC version of The Darkness II, and so, PC gamers be warned – this is a game best played with a game pad. The controls just don’t feel at home with a keyboard and mouse.  Its much touted “quad-wielding” control is really more suitable to the gamepad’s trigger and shoulder buttons.

With its only flaw being that it has got awkward controls for the PC, The Darkness II could have gone the route of most FPS games and ditched the storyline, and still come out as a highly entertaining shooter.

It kept it, though, and you’re thus forced to sit through moments of soliloquy, where Jackie muses about life. You have to go back to his mansion every now and then, and sometimes you get visions of being in a hospital’s psychiatric ward. While those lulls make nice breaks from all the killings, they can also ruin the game’s momentum. Nothing’s quite a downer like having to go back to a quiet, hand-drawn mansion after the adrenaline rush of lopping off about a hundred heads.

The game’s art is really good. It’s less noticeable when you’re running around killing things, but when you have a moment to spare – well, it looks like a thousand artists sat down and painstakingly drew in each individual stroke on every character texture. This is what brings supporting NPCs to life. Even though they’re underdeveloped, they at least look good.

Your Darkness expert, Johnny Powell, is a well-designed neurotic mess, and your right-hand-man, Vinnie, is the perfect Mafioso henchman. But aside from them, there are few others worth remembering. At one point, you have to choose to sentence one of your thugs to death. It’s an easy choice because it’s difficult to feel emotionally attached to them;  the game seems to rejoice in forcing such instances upon you rather than building up to them.

This lack of inter-characters development might be due to the single player campaign being really short. Most reviews agree that the game only spans six hours, tops. And if you’re really good, you might even finish it under five hours. But the good news is, it’s got a tight multiplayer campaign mode called “Vendetta” to prolong the game’s experience.

And to keep things fresh, you don’t see a lick of Jackie in multiplayer. Instead, you get four different assassins who have their own Darkness powers. They don’t have tentacles, though. That makes co-op a little more like a normal FPS, since you no longer have quad wielding. Regardless, co-op mode strengthens the game’s replay value a little more – and also ties up with the story arc of the single-player campaign.

Compared to other similar games, The Darkness II hasn’t done too badly at all. Its art style couldn’t be further from the comic, but the noir style the developers chose fit in nicely with how players expect the Mafia to look. And even though the game’s plot was constantly breaking its momentum, the gameplay itself was solid and entertaining, and the lock-on aiming helped keep it more fun than frustratingly difficult. After all, The Darkness II does have a story to tell, and some people do play games more for the stories than anything else.

All things considered, my favourite part of the game is still running around and swinging Darkness tentacles and eating hearts. The story could definitely have stood out more had it had the same pacing as the combat, but one must also remember that The Darkness II is classified as an FPS, and does have certain expectations to live up to.

Graphics 9.0
Gorgeous handpainted noir art style, just like a comic book.
Sound 9.0
The crunching sound as you eat hearts is the best. But the ambient FX is pretty good too.
Gameplay 7.0
Fast-paced blood-drenched run through hell frequently interrupted by emotionally-charged cutscenes.
Lasting Appeal 8.0
Running around with tentacles doesn’t get old that quickly. Enjoy the combat high while it lasts.
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The Darkness II is the first-person-shooter sequel to 2007’s The Darkness for Windows PCs, as well as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was developed by Digital Extremes and published by 2K Games.