STAFF REVIEW of The Darkness II (Xbox 360)

Thursday, February 16, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

The Darkness II  Box art It sure doesn?t feel like it?s been almost five years since I played the first Darkness game, but it has. I remember playing it and being impressed with how decent it was for a new IP, hoping it would stick around since it left us with a cliff hanger ending. Here we are half a decade later and Jackie Estacado is finally making his return to continue his exciting story surrounding The Darkness.

The game itself is actually based off the comic book series from Top Cow that?s been around for over a decade. I actually never knew that Jackie?s journey has been around that long, but after finishing The Darkness II, I?m probably going to pick up some back issues, as I really enjoy the relationship between Jackie and Darkness. New to The Darkness II is not only a new art style that mimics the comic books, but also a new developer as well, Digital Extremes. Don?t be fooled though, the cell shaded visuals do not make this story any less grim, dark, and full of gore in any way.

The Darkness II takes place two years after the conclusion of the first game, and Jackie Estacado is now the Don of the crime family in his city. During those two years, he?s manages to contain and bury The Darkness inside of him and seems to have everything under control. That is, until someone tries to put a hit out on Jackie, unsuccessfully, forcing him to either let The Darkness resurface, or die still mourning for what happened to his girlfriend.

Now that The Darkness has been essentially freed once again, Jackie must also now deal with the true motives of The Darkness, as well as trying to figure out who tried to take him out. The story starts off with an explosion that has Jackie critically wounded and being dragged out of the place by one of his henchmen, as he tries to keep them alive by shooting any followers. It looks like Jackie is about to die, but instead uses the powers of The Darkness to save himself, thus freeing the monster that he?s held in for the past two years. While the first game was more about getting back at the mob, with The Darkness? help of course, the sequel is more focused on a more supernatural theme and the ongoing internal battle between Jackie and The Darkness, as well as Darkness? origin.

I don?t want to delve too much more into the main plot for a few reasons, the first being is that it?s pretty interesting if you played the first game and know all the characters involved, and secondly, because it?s quite short to begin with.

During your journey, you?ll not only have the appendages from The Darkness as your disposal, but you?ll also rely on a Darkling that will follow you around and help in what ways he can. He?s quite entertaining, is crude, will urinate on dead enemies, fart nearby, and have witty one-liners from time to time. He does all of this with a British accent and accompanying shirt while also wearing a dead cat on his head. He?s not only the comedic relief this time around (as there isn?t as much witty banter between Jackie and The Darkness this time around) but also has an important role in the narrative as well. There are even a few sections where you?ll be controlling him to help Jackie along the way.

There are some familiar faces that return, such as Jackie?s girlfriend Jenny Romano who was murdered previously, Aunt Sarah, and Jimmy the Grape among others. Jackie will think that he sees Jenny from time to time and The Darkness will play even more tricks on his mind to try and make him doubt his own reality. There are a few times where you?ll be given a choice of what you want to happen during the story, though it?s not often as I would have liked, and it doesn?t feel as if my choices weighed all too heavily on the final outcome anyway. Both games share the same writer, so it should feel similar, though Darkness II definitely is a little more of a serious tone and doesn?t has as much subtle humor the first game had (outside of the Darkling?s antics). Just make sure you stick around after the credits if you want a somewhat satisfying ending after the short journey.

One of the most notable changes you?ll notice right away, aside from the change in art direction, is that the game is not an open world design like the first game was. While I didn?t mind this change, as it pushed the narrative forward, some may be disappointed, as the only area open for exploration is Jackie?s mansion, and even then, there?s not much to explore.

Returning of course is a variety of weapons that can be duel wielded if chosen (pistols and SMGs), or a more powerful gun that takes two hands to wield like Shotguns and Assault Rifles. The returning star of the show of course is the demon arms that Jackie gets to control all at the same time. Each demon arm has its own uses, such as the right one being used as an independent weapon that can slash horizontally or vertically, or the left one that can interact with the environment, pick up enemies, eat hearts, and more. When you combine shooting with both weapons and using both demon arms, it?s called quad-wielding, and actually becomes second nature fairly quickly and easily. The grizzly executions return, and even give added bonuses such as health, ammo, or shields (if you?ve unlocked those skills). They are incredibly gruesome and will have you tearing, squeezing, and slashing enemies apart with ease as long as they are stunned beforehand. Your demon arms even have the abilities to throw items like poles to impale foes, hold car doors to act as a shield (and throw), and many other items to throw and stun enemies (or blow up if you upgrade the skill).

As you kill, dismember, and explode enemies, you?ll earn dark essence, which is essentially the game?s currency to upgrade your skills at a designated shrine littered throughout the levels. Another way to get massive amounts of dark essence is to find hidden relics scattered around in hard to find places, doing so will not only give you the currency you desire, but is actually tied in with some lore about The Darkness and its gruesome history. Upgrading your powers can be done in any order you wish and vary from tree to tree. Some skills focus on specific moves or skills like upgrading how much health you get back from eating hearts and doing executions, while others will boost ammo clips and even allow you to throw devastating black holes (though not as powerful as the first game). It all depends on how you end up playing, you can choose to boost what you do consistently, or help with the skills you don?t use as often. Once you boost the skills you want to use and learn new ones, you become an even more feared machine of death for anyone in your path.

There is multiplayer included this time around with The Darkness II, but it?s not the competitive multiplayer you may have been hoping for. Instead, Vendettas mode as it?s called is a co-operative experience for up to four players that runs parallel to the singer player campaign, showing events happening elsewhere at the same time with different characters that have unique abilities. This co-op campaign only lasts for about two hours or so from start to finish, but it?s unique enough to at least go through once or twice with different characters, as you?ll be looking for more game time with The Darkness II once the very short campaign credits roll.

There are four distinct characters to choose from, and while they won?t have the demon arms to play with, they each have their own exclusive abilities that try and match what Jackie is able to do. Inugami is your assassin who wields a sword that is cursed, Shoshanna has an interesting weapon that can Gun Channel, Jimmy can summon multiple Darklings (little Jimmy?s), and DuMond carries a voodoo stick that can lift enemies off the ground and create black holes. The characters each have their own upgrade paths, allowing for multiple playthroughs for those that want to complete the game 100%, but there?s very little incentive to and the characters are very unforgettable in the end. It was interesting to see the parallel storyline that related to Jackie?s situation, but aside from that, you won?t be playing much Vendetta mode unless you have friends with the game as well after you?ve been through it once already.

Jackie is voiced by someone new this time around, Brian Bloom, and he does a fantastic job, though fans of the original will notice the slight difference. Mike Patton returns to once again masterfully voice The Darkness itself and doesn?t miss a beat this time around either. Many of the other main characters are voiced without issue, though I hope you have a high tolerance for the cheesy stereotypical Italian mafia accent, as it?s vastly overused and feels forced by some of the lesser characters.

I have nothing inherently bad to specifically mention aside from the lack of diverse enemies. Once you?re near the end, you?ll realize that you?ve essentially been fighting the same handful of enemies over and over, with the only new mechanics being that they have new armor and will throw light grenades.

Sadly, my biggest complaint is with the story itself; not the narrative or storytelling, but the length I which you complete it. I finished the game in one sitting, actually, I timed it and it was exactly five hours from start to finish. The co-op will add a few more hours, but it doesn?t add all that much more unless you really want to spend the time upgrading each character. Some players will enjoy the New Game + mode where you keep all your upgraded skills as you go back through again, but the shortness and ending almost made it feel like half a game. If you enjoyed Jackie?s first outing, you?ll enjoy it once again here, albeit a short return back into hell.

5 years between cliffhanger endings is just mean.

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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