(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 4 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 4 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 2 Stars
The Darkness II
- Street Date:
- February 7th, 2012
- Reviewed by:
- High-Def Digest staff
- Review Date:1
- February 14th, 2012
- Game Release Year:
- 2K Games
- Digital Extremes
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Released during June 2007 by Starbreeze Studios and 2K Games, The Darkness quickly became a hit among both critics and consumers alike. The dark first-person shooter told the story of Italian-American, mafia hit man Jackie Estacado and the love of his life Jenny Ramano. There are spoilers ahead if you haven’t played the original yet. After the don of the New York mafia attempts to assassinate Jackie, the 21-year old hit man discovers an ancient power called the Darkness. After the don also orders the death of Jenny, Jackie exacts his revenge with his new found ability and murders all men in his path to get to the don.
The original game’s heavy emphasis on storytelling was the catalyst for the game’s success. The developer even allowed the player to sit on a couch as Jackie to watch the entire To Kill a Mockingbird movie starring Gregory Peck as well as a complete episode of Flash Gordon, Popeye cartoons and two more movies; Sonny Chiba’s The Street Fighter as well as Sinatra’s The Man With The Golden Arm.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Right from the outset, the story takes off at a breakneck speed and the pacing seems much faster than the original. Picking up two years after the narrative of the first game, Jackie Estacado is once again forced to call on the Darkness to fight off a shadowy organization known only as the Brotherhood that is seeking to control the power for themselves. While Jackie has used the power to become the don of the entire crime family, he’s also been forcing the Darkness down within himself.
This leads Jackie to face memories of his dead girlfriend Jenny as well as hallucinations that are making him believe that he could be insane. Much of the game’s quieter moments are dedicated to exploring the relationship with Jenny’s soul and focuses on Jackie’s inability to deal with the situation. Ripped right out of Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys or even Scorsese’s Shutter Island, Jackie’s frequent interludes at a mental hospital suggest that the events in game are all a figment of his imagination and his recovery is entirely dependent on addressing his guilt over the death of Jenny. It’s an extremely interesting layer to the narrative that’s somewhat dampened by the ending; but more on that later.
At its core, the game is simply a first person shooter. However, combat is accentuated with the familiar demonic tentacles with more teeth than a mutant piranha. When Jackie hides in the shadows, these maniacal arms of death become available. The left arm can be used to grab objects in addition to throwing them, ideal for both defense and offense. For instance, Jackie can rip off a car door and utilize it as a bullet shield. Alternatively, Jackie can slice through enemies by chucking the car door at them. Pool cues and light fixtures also make effective tools to create enemy shish kabobs. The right arm is dedicated entirely to offense and is used to smash objects as well as enemies within the environment. When used together, the arms can spilt a screaming enemy in two by simply pulling on the enemies legs. Jackie can devastate enemies with the tentacles while continuing to blast away with pistols and shotguns residing in his two human arms.
Conceptually, Jackie is feeding the Darkness with the more gory, execution style kills. This gives the player a currency called Dark Essence that can be spent on character talents. Talents include bonuses such as overcharged weapons and new executions as well as more health. With the massive focus on utilizing executions, the developer did a solid job adding enough variety with the execution styles without getting stale. However, level design has become much more linear than the first game. While exploration and side missions were a big part of the original game, The Darkness II is much more focused on keeping Jackie on a path of destruction.
Complete with a working-class British accent and Union Jack jersey, Jackie occasionally has a helpful Darkling at his disposal during the campaign. The Darkling can scamper off to snatch up weaponry and reach areas within the levels where Jackie cannot. Identical to the tentacles, the Darkling cannot survive in light. It provides some moments of comic relief during the game, but isn’t a huge help during major battles. Sadly, enemies aren’t terribly inventive when it comes to fighting Jackie, even at the higher levels of difficulty. They typically line up for the slaughter and don’t execute any significant flanking moves during battle.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Moving to a cel-shaded format, the visuals within The Darkness II are definitely more vibrant and colorful than the original. However, Digital Extremes does a stellar job of differentiating between darkness and light, especially in how that alters Jackie’s ability to use those terrifying tentacles. The variety of the visual effects in regards to the varied killing animations was also impressive. However, I wasn’t enthused with the overuse of some character models of enemies though and I noticed framerate dips with the slightest bit of slowdown on rare occasions.
A quick note about the resolution: The game’s retail packaging states that The Darkness II runs in 1080i / 1080p natively. However, the highest supported resolution on the PlayStation 3 is 720p according to 2K support.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Similar to the original Darkness, the voice acting within The Darkness II is absolutely fantastic. Mike Patton returns as the voice of the Darkness entity, but the voice of Jackie’s character has been replaced by Brian Bloom. Bloom does extensive video game voice work and is well known for his work at Varric in Dragon Age II. All the voice actors do an extremely great job with immersing the player into Jackie’s world. Most importantly, they sound like they are authentically from New York City.
The creepy sound effects also whip around the player during the game and anyone with a solid surround system will hear Jackie’s long tentacles around them. Just listen when the arms are ripping an enemy in two; there’s no way you won’t get squeamish at the sound of organs exploding and cartilage ripping apart. Bass is used effectively, both during the sound effects and the music. I did hear a couple “boomy” effects from time to time, but the action moves so quickly that it comes as quickly as it goes. The soundtrack for The Darkness II, while suitable for the game’s content, definitely isn’t as good as Gustaf Grefberg’s work within the original.
The obvious weakness of The Darkness II is the extremely short single player campaign on most difficulty levels. Including a fair amount of level exploring, a competent FPS player is looking at about five or six hours to play through the story at least once. After the player completes the campaign once, they can restart with all previously attained stats and upgrades in an attempt to locate all hidden relics or complete the skill tree. However, this isn’t much of an incentive when the player already knows about all the scripted moments and is prepared for each challenge.
Beyond the main campaign, the player can dive into the Vendetta missions that can be played through alone or with three co-op players over the Sony Entertainment Network. Designed to expound on a handful of plot points, the player takes control of one of four characters and tears through the levels with a weapon infused with Darkness magic. Inspired by silly stereotypes, characters include Shoshanna, a Jewish femme-fatale with pistols, Jimmy, a Celtic boozehound that wields axes, JP Dumond, an African-American that loves voodoo, and Inugami, a Japanese man with an Uzi and katana. Each character has a unique skill tree, but skills can be maxed out quickly.
It takes about 90 to 120 minutes to finish all levels within Vendetta. There’s definitely an imbalance to the co-op levels if all four human players are in a co-op match. The enemy A.I. is simply too clueless to keep up, even on the hardest difficulty level. Most surprising, there’s no competitive or co-operative multiplayer mode to explore. While I can appreciate that Digital Extremes focused more on the story experience rather than the multiplayer options, it doesn’t encourage people to keep playing The Darkness II after blowing through the main narrative.
In regards to the single player narrative, your enjoyment will mostly dependent on how much you enjoy cliffhangers. Without diving into specific plot details, the incredibly unsatisfying ending is designed to setup the game for future DLC or a third entry into The Darkness franchise. The narrative feels unbalanced as well, as if the developer set events in motion almost too fast at the beginning. If I had to place a wager on a reason why the story ends so abruptly, I would guess that the publisher pushed for an early release date and interrupted production at Digital Extremes.
That being said, fans of the original The Darkness will find The Darkness II an entertaining, fast-paced sequel, but not a game that’s going to give you endless hours of entertainment, thus worth the full $60 MSRP. Ideal for a rental through a service like Gamefly or Redbox, check out the single player game over a long weekend and enjoy the ride before it careens off the road into a brick wall.
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- Online Co-op
- Online Versus
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