Originally published on GameInformer.com March 2, 2012, at 3:40 AM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 3/8/12.
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Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
It's not everyday that one sprouts demonic appendages that bestow deadly power to their host. What's more rare is that once so endowed, one spends the majority of their time slumming it in their mansion. But when I wasn't painting the town crimson red with friends in The Darkness II, I was content to enjoy the small things the game had to offer.
I should note that I've only just begun the single player campaign, though I have finished the co-op campaign. These impressions are based on my limited gameplay. (I offer a spoiler alert as always, though I'll avoid major developments.)
The game begins with an optional prologue that summarizes its predecessor's story, chronicling a mob figure's newfound Darkness powers and his personal vendetta. This is done via artful storyboards consistent with the series' comic book origins. The one caveat is that the narrator is an awkward Woody Allen clone that amuses and grates.
It's worth noting that the atmospheric cut scenes that bridge different segments of the story or even function as kinds of loading screens return from the first game. In them, your character, Jackie Estacado, ruminates on his unusual journey. I appreciated their design and insight before, so welcome their return.
The opening narrative that follows the prologue passes for a gameplay tutorial. It is well integrated, introducing basic controls and mechanics in a way that is intuitive and organic. I won't dwell on this portion as I addressed it in an earlier overview of the demo, but it is an effective foundation for what you'll encounter later.
I will highlight certain elements that stand out and warrant special mention. One such feature is the much-ballyhooed quad-wielding gameplay mechanic that utilizes your hands and your serpent appendages simultaneously. I hadn't given this much thought until I used a parking meter to skewer one foe while targeting others with my dual-wielded pistols.
This is exciting enough but imagine my surprise when the body of your impaled foe reacts convincingly to the bullets of his former comrades when you stand on the opposite side. I wasn't expecting that level of environmental interaction so it had me spellbound for awhile.
Hurling projectiles such as pipes or parking meters to impale your enemies or even car doors to slice them in two is indicative of the gruesome gameplay such demonic powers enable. Add to that finishing moves like the wishbone and you have a recipe for a title that is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Speaking of, other gameplay elements that make their return for this sequel include eating your victims hearts, which helps restore any health that you've lost along the way. Likewise, you can boost talents with the Dark Essence that you obtain from various sources. This upgrade system is more robust than I remember in the original game, and helps expand gameplay.
One random element I enjoyed was the behavior of your serpent appendages when at rest. Typically such action is restricted to hissing menacingly but once in awhile they appear to snap at the environment, including picking up and tossing items including corpses. At least I don't recall hitting related buttons and it did appear to happen on a few occasions.
In the first game, a key feature of gameplay was alternating between our world and the underworld. This surreal scenario changed up gameplay much like in titles such as Soul Reaver. In The Darkness II, there was one moment so far where Jackie enters a kind of altered state and it's unclear what it represents. This enigmatic scene holds promise for a deeper experience.
A funny thing happened on the way, as I became distracted by the elaborate mansion. I paused often to reflect on the meticulous detail, which was both captivating and quite funny at times. Take this library, whose artifacts and other items suggest this mob boss has more in common with Nathan Drake than Tony Soprano.
I probably spent more time in the rec room than anywhere else for a variety of reasons (whether they're worthwhile or not will depend on your disposition). As with other areas, I was impressed with its overall design but it was the detail once again that was most compelling. Even a long-winded joke about the Lone Ranger entertained.
But what first drew -- and held -- my attention was the jukebox. It played familiar music and, in fact, was genre appropriate upon entering the room for the first time. Leoncavallo's "Vesti La Giubba" from the opera Pagliacci is a staple of mob movies and even The Flamingo's version of "I Only Have Eyes for You" made me wonder if I stepped into a time capsule.
Thankfully, other more contemporary tunes followed such as Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing", Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" and Blind Melon's "No Rain," as well as more edgy fare I couldn't name. It might seem an odd collection by some standards, but the variety of licensed music was refreshing and shows a measure of commitment to the title.
The bar had its own revelations that proved worth the careful inspection, at least in the judgement of this nerd. My favorite label on the shelves was "Rhymes With Rum," which included the description "Ultimate Rum. [Consume] at your own risk. 98% alcohol."
I was also curious what mobsters read in their spare time so was grateful to find some reading materials. The bar itself had several copies for everyone's reading pleasure, including "Insolvent Monthly" and "Shipping and Receiving." But what La Cosa Nostra library is complete without "Modern Exterior" or "Elite Dining?"
Finally I was tickled to find this scoreboard nearby, which just proves that Jackie Estacado pwns me in a virtual game of billiards; or maybe I just let him think so, after all, he IS the boss!
Still, I got the last laugh by posing as the boss in front of a bathroom mirror and leaping onto the countertop just because I could (though the stance suggests he's having a Bridesmaids moment). In fact I was able to leap on a barstool and couch as well. That said, the reflection is convincing and offers a rare glimpse of the character gamers control.
The ability to turn on the water wasn't limited to the faucet, as one could also start a shower. That said, it's odd that the developer would go to that trouble -- when you can't even open the shower door! Just chalk that up to Jackie's darkness powers, I guess.
The mansion's common areas all demonstrate the same impressive attention to detail that adorns many of the rooms. Whether ornate furnishings, elaborate chandeliers, interesting artwork, lively fires or smoldering cigarettes, these areas all suggest the kind of lifestyle you'd expect from such wiseguys.
When walking the property or most anywhere in the game you have an opportunity to speak with non-player characters. Inside the mansion you can speak with various employees like the henchmen in the rec room or even the maid in the library. And often, the result is humorous.
Indeed, the dialog on the radio likewise is written for laughs, lamenting the dangers of playing video games, if I remember. This self referential joke is welcome if increasingly cliche. Interestingly, with all their money, the only radio they can afford is a cheap old-fashioned transistor type. I guess you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Whereas one could watch TV programs such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" in the first game, regretably the TV in Jackie's office is not interactive. However, detailed photos prove more compelling, and even the scene outside the windows is impressive with wind-blown trees and blurry head and taillights passing in the streets below.
There are mansion exteriors to explore and they are just as interesting, with busy koi ponds or preoccupied guards such as Dolfo. When he's not shooting pigeons he's apparently taking issue with the radio broadcast. At least his target practice involves a minigame that is overly simplistic but provides a momentary distraction.
The bedroom also is impressively designed. But what is most interesting about this room is the table with the picture of Jenny, among other items. Jackie's love interest continues to figure prominently in this sequel though how she fits into the story this time around is more mysterious.
I wrap up my single player progress to date with visits to Aunt Sarah. Like Peter Parker's Aunt May, she is a kind of fiesty parental figure who imparts kernels of wisdom to our conflicted protagonist. She is a lively NPC and one of the more interesting ones who, I hope, will play a more prominent role.
I played through the cooperative campaign with mojomonkey12 and it starts inauspicious enough, with a team of hardcore stereotypes that should make even the least politically correct gamer blush. You apparently choose between a black New Orleans voodoo practitioner, a drunk Scotsman, an Asian swordsman and a female Mossad agent.
At least the scenario is promising, as you take your marching orders from Jackie's henchmen and pursue what amounts to story side-missions. In practice, however, they are the standard "move from point A to point B, clearing each area of foes as you go," though dark essence is supposed to imbue your weapons with extra power.
As is standard for us, our journey involved a healthy dose of partner revives, made more common by the degree to which light can blind you in this sequel. Like in the first game's solo mode, light also interferes with your powers, though to be honest one's powers in co-op never seemed to be as impressive as I would have hoped.
The one possible exception is J.P. DuMond, whose midnight stick (yup you heard right) tosses foes into the air -- even when behind cover -- to finish them off with your guns, while his ability to conjure black holes can take out several enemies at once.
All told, the co-op campaign lasted about two and half hours. It's pretty light on content as well as gameplay, but is a decent enough exercise while it lasts and is executed well for what it is, which is a nice diversion that allows you to explore the world of The Darkness II with a friend.
So there you have it. The guilty pleasure of playing as a mob boss wielding Darkness powers against your enemies when, that is, you can be troubled to break away from the lap of luxury long enough to take notice. Playing with friends adds to the experience, but hopefully can be improved upon next time. Until then, have a bloody good time!
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