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The Darkness II Review

The Darkness came out years ago when the current generation was still growing and as a result it was a rare gem. Now in such an established market where FPS juggernaut Call of Duty has demolished its competition, does this game even stand a chance? Not only that but in the midst of high profile games coming out every month, should you pick this game up now or or perhaps a little later?

The Darkness II puts you in the shoes of Jackie Estacado, a mob leader and the host of a demonic being known as The Darkness, trying to fight against an evil organization so that the world might have the lesser of two evils holding The Darkness. It’s a simple plot and it’s not hard to get caught up in the emotions of Jackie as he struggles against the loss of Jenny, his girlfriend who died in the previous game. The story is not completely complex but at the same time it’s not all that simple. There are details about the world of The Darkness that you can pick up through talking with the various NPCs at your mansion and it really fleshes out the universe you’re living in. Not only this but it develops the mythos about The Darkness and how it works. It’s a fascinating world and you begin to question if the story is really about The Darkness or the journey that Jackie goes through. The Darkness II definitely attempts to tell an ambitious story and for the most part it works. It has a charming cast of loyal mob henchman, your Aunt Sarah who won’t hesitate to scold or cook for you, and your crazy Darkness consultant Johnny.

Meet The Darkness!

Unfortunately the game does fall a little short when attempting to actually tell the story. The narrative perspective juggles between what is currently happening and the retrospective that Jackie tells in between each chapter. In addition to juggling these two perspectives, Jackie also explores a strange medical ward where The Darkness doesn’t exist. It’s extremely difficult to grasp the story when so much is going on and while it all makes sense in the end, getting there is a hassle. Too much jumping around in storytelling can throw a player off and The Darkness II has heaps of it.

Luckily for The Darkness II, story is not the main draw of the game. In fact, the combat is perhaps one of the most unique and entertaining in recent FPS history. Being the host of The Darkness gives Jackie some perks such as two demonic tentalcular heads that pops out of his back. These heads in addition to your two hands become part of the quad-limb combat system. The bumper or the first trigger buttons allow you to control your demonic limbs. You can grab people from afar with the left and slash in various directions using the right. In combination with you dual-wielding guns using the left and right trigger, it’s very satisfying. The best part of it is that you can do all of this at the same time, which was a limitation in the previous game. There is nothing like 7 guys heading toward you and you grabbing one to throw back at them, slashing 2 of them away, and shoot the remaining three. It’s all visceral, it’s all gruesome, and it’s all pure fun. The control is super tight and it caters to how you hold your controller too so your index and middle finger can individually control each limb allowing total freedom. It’s an extremely rewarding system for those that can multitask your arms and demonic heads.

Pop goes the weasel!

In addition to the raw combat, the game sports executions when you grab enemies. There are four executions and each give Jackie a certain boost such as ammo or health. This gives plenty of reason for you to just grab someone and then rip them in half whether you want to see the brutal fatalities or be rewarded for being just awesome. The grab also allows you to choose whether you want to use that enemy you picked up as a boost or as a weapon since you can hurl him back at his friends. Though it’s a bit disappointing that this grabbing and execution mechanic can be a bit overpowered. You’re completely invincible when executing someone and there is no downside at all. The animations also get old after a while since each execution style has two or three animations each. There’s definitely diversity but it can get old somewhat fast.

All of what Jackie can do in combat and more is done through a leveling mechanic resembling skill trees. As you progress through the various areas there is a black portal that allows you to upgrade Jackie’s powers. In order to do so you have spend Essence, which are points you earn from killing enemies fashionably or not and collecting relics. Upgrades are done in a fashion where unlocking one skill will unlock a series of new ones. There’s a variety of abilities to choose from whether it be gaining extra health from executions or the amount of ammo you can carry. Each tree sports a certain style with many abilities and you won’t have every ability by the end of the game. However, there is a New Game+ which allows you to carry over existing abilities and continue upgrading Jackie. This adds an extraordinary amount of replay since it’s just a blast ripping through enemies through the sheer destructive capabilities that Jackie possesses.

The Darkness II’s combat unfortunately fails due to poor enemy AI, bad bosses, bland levels, and lack of enemy types. There are only a handful of enemies that will actually present a challenge and rather them posing an actual threat it’s the level design themselves. Jackie becomes far weaker when exposed to light since it disables his Darkness abilities. When you put this together with levels that sport a huge area of light or random spots of light, movement is extremely limited. Often times you are stuck in a corner gunning down enemies instead of running around and freely killing everyone which quickly becomes a chore. There’s a difference between strategic placement of light and not; The Darkness II definitely fits into the latter. Couple this with enemies that do not know how to flank or effectively defeat you other than through sheer numbers, it becomes a monotonous cycle of “who wants some lead in them next?” The types of enemies aren’t varied either and the boss fights are almost as uninspired since they all possess some sort of teleporation technique making it hard to hit them. The actual combat system is flawlessly amazing with only a handful of shortcomings but itt’s the mechanics and systems that revolve around the combat that has serious problems affecting the potential that The Darkness II has to offer.

Limbs... All four of them...

The campaign is fairly short clocking in around six hours, however, the ability to go through it again with all your abilities makes a second or perhaps a third run worthwhile. In addition to the main game, there is a co-op mode called Vedetta. This mode can be both played offline by yourself or online with up to a total of four. These are short missions that are separate from the campaign but helps to flesh it out more. It takes about two hours to complete but the draw of it comes from the ability to play as one of four different characters. Each has his or her own skill tree and has a very unique playstyle. One character holds a sword in one hand and a gun in the other allowing for some dynamic close and far-ranged combat. While the actual mode is over real quick, the ability to play as four different characters adds an incentive to play through more than once. All in all,  Vendetta is very enjoyable especially when played with a party of four as you cruise around the map killing everything in sight.

The audio is top-notch, though a bit stereotypical. Each mob member has the same type of accent akin to mafia movies but delivers them in a way that’s compelling and believable. Beyond the mafia, there are other characters that portray a unique personality. You feel the weight and emotion as Aunt Sarah tries to tell Jackie to move on with his life and it really hits home and you chuckle at the odd antics of your Darkling friend. The acting is a great and brings life to the somewhat flat characters. The music, when you can actually hear it, is dramatic as it ranges from pulsating rock to a dramatic high note. There are definitely gems in the soundtrack but it’s sad when it’s covered by all the screaming that your enemies make as they die. The visual style of the The Darkness II is notably different especially when compared to its predecessor. The Darkness II takes a more cel-shaded style to resemble comic books more. Colors are gritty at the same time being very vibrant to give that faded out look. It’s an opposite direction to the original but it works as the painterly-esque style gives violence more of a presence.

The Darkness II is a violent, brutal, and bloody game that feels great to play. It has an excellent combat system that constantly gives satisfaction to the player as you kill enemies in such a stylized fashion. The audio resonates and delivers a compelling narrative while the visual style complements the comicbook look that it’s trying to imitate. Perhaps it’s disappointing, then, while these aspects are terrific, the awful portions bring down The Darkness II to be a less enjoyable experience than it could be. The visceral combat, whether it be single player or multiplayer, is a blast to go through only that it is marred by the flaws that affect the combat. Still, in a time where military shooters dominate the market, The Darkness II is a refreshing take on the FPS genre, one that will be appreciated for what it can do, rather than what it actually does.

7.0 out of 10

Reviewed using Xbox 360

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