The Darkness II Review
At its heart, The Darkness II is a first-person shooter, but having demon abilities adds a few additional skills to the mix. Jackie can carry rifles, pistols and uzis and generally use one in each hand, taking care of the shooting part. He also has a pair of demonic tentacles that rise out of his shoulders, and each has a different ability — one slashes like a blade, the other grabs things and throws them or uses them as a shield. Having basically four hands instead of two has led Digital Extremes to create a control scheme it calls “quad wielding,” and it works to great effect throughout The Darkness II: in any given situation, you have guns to blast people with and giant snakes to take them apart in various ways. Having the extra tools makes Jackie feel extremely powerful, and you’ll wade through countless bodies throughout the game’s six-hourish campaign.
It’s the controls that really make The Darkness II work. On a gamepad, the preferred method of play even on PC, they feel great. Triggers play their usual roles but shoulder buttons access the tentacles, and a flick of the right stick allows directional slashes that can be devastating against opponents. But credit Digital Extremes for doing a fair job of translating quad-wielding to a mouse and keyboard. It’s not the best way to play, but it is fairly intuitive — the grabbing tentacle finds its controls on the Q key (right beside your walking controls, which is pretty handy), while the slash is dictated by a combination of clicking down the scroll wheel on your mouse and using the mouse to direct the attack. Meanwhile, the left mouse button handles the gun in your right hand (or just fires if you’re only holding one gun); the right button fires the second gun or aims down the sights of a single gun.
In practice, these controls work pretty brilliantly even if they feel a touch awkward at first. As Jackie fights off first mobsters and later, a Darkness-hunting group of evil crazies called The Brotherhood, you’ll never feel at a loss for means of killing guys, and as long as you’re quick and careful, you can maintain your health by having the tentacles eat the hearts of the dead. But that doesn’t mean Jackie is invincible — in fact, Digital Extremes has done a really great job of balancing Jackie’s awesome power with some intense vulnerability. In most cases, you’re pretty unstoppable, but if an enemy shines a light in your direction, The Darkness retreats and suddenly everything hurts a lot worse. Players have to tailor their attacks to deal with light threats before all others, and while you’re an all-powerful demon, it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to die a few times on the harder two of the game’s four difficulty settings. This is a good thing.
As mentioned earlier, The Darkness II taps out at about six hours of campaign length. Normally I’d call that a little short, but in The Darkness II’s case, it’s actually pretty perfect. The game keeps a tight leash on the player, offering little in the way of exploration and a lot of linear, corridor-type shooting. There’s a wide variety of enemies and a few decent boss fights to keep things interesting, balanced by the fact that it’s fun to use (and upgrade substantially) your demonic powers — but much more length to the game and it probably would have started to get boring. The short length masks the fact that the enemies would probably seem a bit dumb and encounters get repetitive long-term, and keeps players enticed straight to the end without really exposing the games flaws.
The shorter campaign is punctuated by a well-written, well-acted story. The plot was the highlight of the first Darkness game, focusing mostly on Jackie’s inner turmoil with The Darkness. This time out, the enemy is a frightening external force that could take The Darkness from Jackie, which would leave him both dead and unable to save the soul of his dead girlfriend, Jennie. Sequences in which Jackie wakes up in a mental institution, surrounded by his mobster friends rendered gibbering idiots, break up the pace and add some compelling bits. The Darkness II also has its fair share of compelling, interesting characters, all of which are deftly acted throughout. Add to that a comic-inspired art style that really pops throughout the game, and you have a presentation that fits the tone and source material perfectly, and makes a shortish FPS a pretty compelling experience.
The Darkness II throws in a four-player multiplayer mode rather than the competitive multiplayer the original saw, and it’s actually a pretty successful addition. Players take on the roles of one of four different international characters — an Irish stereotype, an Israeli female soldier, a Japanese stereotype and a Louisiana voodoo practitioner — each with a different Darkness power because of found artifacts. The co-op mode goes pretty fast as well, lasting only an hour or two, but ratchet up the difficulty and it’s a pretty good time with friends. It fits in well with the single-player story and provides new ways to play, with each character getting their own methods of fighting and their own upgradable talent trees. It’s also well-acted and hilarious in a lot of ways, especially if you pick the drunken Irish hooligan character.