GDC 11 – The Darkness II Presentation
If you’re a game developer, and you want to make it clear that you’re not messing around, literally crucifying your main character is a good way to do that. The Darkness II demo presented to journalists at GDC on Friday began with an interactive cutscene, as a gigantic nail (more like a railroad spike, honestly) was hammered through the hand of protagonist Don Jackie Estacado.
For those unfamiliar with the first game, developed by Starbreeze Studios, the story went something like this: Estacado, a lowlife Mafia tough, is betrayed by the New York Mob, who attempt to murder him. He is a saved by a malevolent spirit called The Darkness, which possess him and enables him to embark on a path of revenge, but gradually takes over his body and mind. Along the way, Jackie’s girlfriend Jenny is kidnapped and murdered by his adversary, “Uncle” Paulie, making his eventually victory over his enemies an extremely Pyrrhic one.
In the Darkness II, Jackie’s demon-derived power has made him the Don of his family, but this is not to last. Switching away from the torture cutscene, the developers showed off a captivating, well-concieved gameplay sequence. From Jackie’s first-person perspective, you arrive at a classy restaurant, whose lush decoration and profusion of NPC’s showed off the game’s distinctive art style: “graphic noir,” as the devs dubbed it. Using what appeared to be subtle cel-shading, the game stylishly evinced its comic book roots without detracting from the realism.
Like any mafiosi worth his chalk-stripe suit, you are immediately escorted to a private and desirable table in the back, where a pair of floozies await. Suddenly, however, the restaurant is ambushed by Jackie’s enemies, who begin to wreak havoc, pouring in from all sides. Jackie is horribly wounded in the foot, and must be dragged backwards by his consiglieri along the ground to safety, all the while plugging baddies with a .45. The sequence was an imaginative take on gaming’s rail-shooter conventions.
After more excruciating crucifixtion-based interrogation at the hands of “The Crippled Man,” clearly an important antagonist, we were returned to the gameplay. Having escaped through the restaurant’s kitchen, The Darkness within Jackie began to manifest, healing his injured foot and equipping him with the franchise’s distinctive Demon Arms, which hang on either side of the screen like glowering black piranhas. Though these poweful acoutrement were an important part of the gameplay in the first Darkness game, they were not always available. Realizing an opportunity to innovate, the current devs have made them an ever-present part of The Darkness II, demonstrating a bloodthirsty enthusiasm in the process.
Your demon arms can and will eat the hearts from dead enemies, just as they did the first time around. One has a more utilitarian function. It can pick up objects and hurl them at great speed — you really haven’t lived until you’ve seen the splayed jaws of a dead sprite wrapped around the stem of a parking meter that has flown javelin-style through his mouth and out the back of his head, pinning him to the concrete wall behind. In of the most imaginative mechanics, the grab arm can rip the door off a nearby car, holding it in front of Jackie like shield as the protagonist empties his clip through the broken window. Done with the door? Throw it at somebody like a whirling Frisbee of death, cutting him clean in half.
The other arm is more like a jet-black demonic matchete, able to slash at anything within range. The developers were very proud of this mechanic, pointing out that you can use it to slash in literally any direction, though they refused to be drawn on whether this could be adapted to the Playstation Move or other, similar peripherals. The slasher arm can also team up with the grabbing arm to perform a number of grisly executions, all with irreverent names like the “Anaconda” (both arms wrap around an enemy, squeezing him to death ) or the “Wishbone” (think Thanksgiving, exept it’s a person, not a turkey bone, and you don’t get to make a wish after).
Though fans of the original will have reservations, pointing out that the first game’s ending was pretty final, and that the game was such a satisfying product of Starbreeze’s eccentricity, Digital Extremes are making all the right moves to assuage these fears. One of the first things they did was secure Mike Patton to reprise his role as the voice of The Darkness, which was practically a requirement. They’ve also shown their respect for the source material by working closely with Paul Jenkins, who was one of the main writers for the original comic book, and who wrote the story for the first game. Combined with the game’s inventive, fun-looking new mechanics, and an appealing, distinctive look, these fan-friendly touches suggest that 2K looks has Made the right Man.
Check out our video interview with Darkness II developer Tom Galt!