Originally published on GameInformer.com February 1, 2012, at 8:30 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 2/9/12.
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Better late than never, right? Not only did the release date for The Darkness II sneak up on me, but so, too, did the game's demo. This title's predecessor was one of my favorites, so I was eager to see what the developers had in store the second time around this sordid block. (As always, a SPOILER ALERT for demo and game content.)
What I didn't anticipate was that Starbreeze Studios had no hand in the sequel to its game. Instead, Digital Extremes took the helm, which might explain the new art design. Instead of the realistic detail and dark and muted palette of the first game, we're treated to a stylized, bright and colorful, almost cell-shaded portrayal this time around.
I've read complaints about this new direction including facial design. For my money, I was impressed with the presentation. It reminded me of the last gen title XIII and its clear comicbook influences. I find this treatment refreshing, and it in no way undermines the atmosphere of the game, as its origins are in comics and the gore, if anything, is more pronounced.
Indeed, the grim storyline continues the exploits of mob figure Jackie Estacado, whose newly acquired Darkness powers aid him on his personal journey through the criminal underworld. Interestingly, one of the opening cinematics reminded me of the single shot through a restaurant used by Martin Scorsese to great effect in his mob classic, GoodFellas.
It's not long before things go horribly awry and Jackie is on the run. The scripted sequences and cut scenes all serve the story and action well, unfolding suddenly and in the context of the larger scene. They're pretty seamless overall, with the exception of a narrative device at the beginning that seemingly alternates between two timelines.
One such scripted moment helps usher in the game's shooter mechanics, which are as solid as ever. The controls are fairly standard, but well implemented and creatively introduced. Targeting is manual, without the benefit of enemy lock-on, which offers a nice challenge especially given that you're being moved and your perspective is sometimes skewed.
Enemy AI is a mixed affair, as some foes will immediately seek cover whereas others will take a stand out in the open. They will sometimes shift position or location, though infrequently enough that they're not too difficult to target or take down. At least in the default Normal difficulty, they are no worse -- or better -- than those found in virtually any other title.
More than once the demo introduces you to key events or controls via scripted sequences or cut scenes. This is true of your Darkness powers as well. You'll witness the dire consequences of this ability firsthand before the game allows you to unleash your tentacles on your hapless foes.
Wielding your tentacles allows you to pick up and throw objects, including pipes or parking meters. The impact of these projectiles is context sensitive, as such rods will ultimately impale their victims. Unlike with handguns, as long as you throw when the targeting reticule is red (even when not directly over your target), the projectile will hit its mark.
Some moves that involve your Darkness tentacles help remove environmental obstacles, but can be just as effective at eliminating foes. Such intuitive controls allow for consistent gameplay throughout the virtual world regardless of the challenge you face.
Talent Shrines allow you to choose how to upgrade your powers using Essence, which is acquired through actions such as killing foes. You can progress through different skill trees related to areas such as weapons, general powers, tentacle powers and heart boosts. This is an intuitive way to upgrade your character, improve entertainment value and perhaps increase replayability.
Jenny, Jackie's love interest in the first game, will occasionally make an appearance, though how, why and to what end remains an enigmatic element of the story and imbues it with some compelling mystery. As if the Darkness' attempts to control you or your shadowy assailants' efforts to extract the Darkness from you weren't compelling enough!
As indicated, your tentacles can interact with the environment to clear various obstacles in your path whether fences, gates, or doors, usually with a simple combination of (PS3) trigger and face button presses. Such controls often find an alternate use when confronting enemies.
In fact, (PS3) L2 enables you to stun, grab and throw your victims. When captive, you have an option to execute your foes. Depending on which buttons are used and when, you might be treated to a particularly gruesome scripted sequence whose moves are named Anaconda (pictured), Whiplash and Wishbone (you can use your imagination).
Your Darkness tentacles are fairly versatile weapons. Add to this morbid repertoire the ability to wield car doors like Ginsu knives and you have a substantial arsenal at your disposal. Doors can be used to shield yourself (if somewhat inconsistently), though your ability to decapitate or otherwise eviscerate enemies with a slicing throw move is more entertaining.
The cute and cuddly Darklings make their return and are just as entertaining this time around whether mouthing off, slaying or joyfully peeing on their victims. Reportedly you'll be accompanied by one, who you can control remotely to scout or attack just like the creeping dark tentacle ability from the first game.
Light again serves to sap your Darkness power so you'll need to eliminate any light sources in your path. This always added an element of strategy to the first game and will cause you to take a more cautious, deliberate approach to any situation, though particularly when in combat in a well lit area.
Collectible relics appear in possibly every area and encourage some exploration, though they aren't hidden in the demo, just perhaps out of one's line of sight. According to sources, there are 29 total and a related Relic Hunter achievement/trophy. I do not recall whether they have any other in-game benefit such as added Essence.
The weapons options aren't deep in the demo, though you can choose between pistols, submachine guns and shotguns with the directional keypad (PS3), which also allows the option to dual wield. That said, the opportunity to use both weapons and Darkness to approach any combat scenario offers welcome variation and ensures some fun gameplay.
The demo's settings are standard, however, even they show off the title's unique art design to great effect. Yes, some found it an inappropriate change from its predecessor's portrayal, and some even decried its derivative similarity to BioShock or Borderlands (perhaps even Crackdown). Still, I find it refreshing in a genre that more often mines realistic graphics or scenarios.
I enjoyed the stylish presentation, solid gunplay and sense of power derived from wielding the Darkness. In regards to the latter, it is reminiscent of the first title's unique gameplay element and the Talent Shrine upgrades suggest a deeper experience. I'm hopeful the story holds up to the first one's precedent, and based on the demo, am eagerly awaiting this sequel.
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