Game Review: The Darkness 2
As a fan of comics I love the artwork, the stories, the characters, and all the crazy action that goes on. Now since The Darkness 2 is based on the comics (or some of it at least) it contains most of what every comic has. And as much as it succeeds in making me feel like I’m taking control of a comic book, the game unfortunately still falls short in its delivery of all aspects that make not only a comic book fun to read, but also what makes a game fun to play.
Now I’ve never played the first Darkness game so going into this I had no idea what was going on outside of the basic plot elements involving The Darkness and the game’s main protagonist Jackie Estacado. So I playing this I had nothing to compare it to, which in a way is good. One of the hardest things about playing a sequel is that you can’t help but compare it to the previous game. So let’s get into then shall we?
The Darkness 2 picks up two years after the first game. Jackie is now in charge of the family business and has also managed to keep the Darkness at bay. And of course what would anti-hero be without the death of his girlfriend haunting him. I guess there are some clichés you can’t get around. So the game starts off with Jackie having dinner at a restaurant with a couple of beautiful women (why should I feel sorry for this guy?) when suddenly the place gets shot up by a mysterious group of people who want to take the Darkness from Jackie. And what is the name of this mysterious group you ask? Why like any evil cult, it’s called The Brotherhood. Seriously, The Brotherhood? Was it really so hard to come up with an original name for a cult? Anyway, the Darkness saves Jackie’s life and Jackie being a mob boss tries to figure out who is behind the attack and get some good ol’ fashion payback.
The story, for the most part is good. But it tends to fall flat in some areas. Throughout the game it’s mentioned that Jackie is not really in control of the Darkness and never was. And there are moments in the game where it does a decent job of showing us that the Darkness is making him a little crazy. But I would like to have seen the Darkness interact with Jackie more to stress this fact even more. There are moments when this should be happening, especially during gameplay, but it never goes all the way with it. Also whereas in the first game you could summon darklings to attack enemies, The Darkness 2 sticks you with one darkling to add to the story. And while in some aspects it does, there’s never enough interaction between Jackie and the darkling throughout the game save for a few moments towards the end. Of course since the mafia is involved Jackie get’s to talk to a bunch of cliché mobsters in between missions, but ultimately it’s pointless since they don’t provide much of anything other than allowing you to waste time. Before and after each mission Jackie talks about his life growing up and what it’s like dealing with the Darkness and it’s these moments that add depth to the character and the story overall. It’s just a shame the rest of the story couldn’t do as much. And I can guarantee that by the end of the game you still won’t know what the Brotherhood’s endgame was. For a powerful cult they had some pretty vague agendas.
However we are talking about a game after all so let’s get to what really matters. Despite the story the gameplay is really fun. Of course being a mob boss Jackie uses guns which work just like any FPS game. But using the Darkness is what makes playing so entertaining. Throughout the game you have two demon arms (I call them Heckle and Jeckle). The left arm grabs enemies, doors and just about anything that can be picked up in the game while the right arm slashes and maims. The arms can also be used to perform special executions which depending on how desensitized you are can either be really cool to watch or really messed up. I consider myself to be extremely desensitized, but there is one execution animation that made me pause the game and cringe for a good 10 minutes straight. Also depending on what kind of execution you do you can replenish health, ammo, recharge time on Darkness abilities or create a Darkness shield. There are also a few Darkness abilities such as charging your guns with Darkness energy or sending a swarm of flies to stun groups of enemies. While these abilities are helpful it would have been nice to have a few more abilities. After all you are wielding one of the most powerful forces known to man so it would be nice to feel like it. You can upgrade your abilities using a skill tree/wheel using darkness points you earn from doing anything, from killing enemies to shooting out lights. Light plays a role in the gameplay as well. The Darkness hates the light and Jackie’s health won’t recharge if he is in direct light so shooting them out is critical. Overall the controls work very well considering you can control four weapons at the same time.
Where as you could summon darklings in the previous game here, you’re just stuck with one. However the little guy is very helpful. He runs around and stuns enemies for you as well as acts as a navigation guide throughout the levels. There are a few moments where you take direct control of him, but those moments are very few which is a shame since those segments were very fun to play through. In between missions you’re in Jackie’s massive New York penthouse (again how am I suppose to feel sorry for this guy?) where you can interact with his mob, but other than that there is not much to do and feels pointless though it can be a nice break from all the action and killing.
The graphics are gorgeous. The game really shines here because it’s like looking at a comic book. The game uses cell shading and hand drawn textures that not only make the visuals pop, but you really feel like you are in a comic book. I just wish more energy went into the enemy design. At first seeing the different enemy types is exciting and challenging especially since they’re designed to fight the Darkness, but after a certain point you’re just facing the same enemy variants and it can get pretty boring. The level design is nice, albeit linear, but then again what FPS game doesn’t have linear levels. Ultimately the levels boil down to sections where you fight a wave of enemies then paths that lead you to the wave. The boss fights are boring and unimaginative. In fact you can use the same tactic on all the bosses. The AI is fairly inconsistent. The enemies will either be smart and flank you or try to get you to walk into light or they’ll just run at you and eat bullets.
Of course the good folks at Digital Extremes jumped on the co-op train and included a co-op mode called Vendettas. Here you take control of one of four characters, each one having their own Darkness ability and back story. Each mission takes place during the main campaign and has you facing the Brotherhood and hunting down Darkness artifacts. However this mode feels like they just included it in the game just for the sake of having online co-op. All the characters supposedly work for Jackie, but they’re never once mentioned in the main story. It was boring and was not needed. The developers energy would have been better spent on expanding the main campaign’s narrative, especially since it only clock in at about 7 hours.
While the gameplay was fun and satisfying and the story was good, ultimately it fell short in some aspects that really could have made this game shine. The co-op mode felt unnecessary and was boring. Aside from hunting down some relics hidden throughout the game and playing the New Game + mode there’s not much reason to go back and experience the game again. Also the ending felt like a huge copout and of course leaves us with the possibility of a Darkness 3. I say go ahead and check it out, but don’t waste $60 on this one.