The Darkness II Review
The Darkness II continues the story of Jackie Estacado, a mobster who also serves as the human vessel for the Darkness. The Darkness is an evil sentient force that gives Jackie access to some deadly powers, but that is also quite demanding and not above psychologically torturing its host. If you missed the original game, the game opens with an optional recap of the events of the first. It will bring you up to speed on the storyline, but you won't feel as connected to the characters as you would have if you played the first, especially with regards to Jackie and his relationship to his beloved but deceased Jenny. Introductions aside, the story proper opens with Jackie as the head of a crime family that comes under a surprise assault from a vicious and well-armed foe. An ancient society known as The Brotherhood has finally tracked down the Darkness to Jackie and they want it for themselves, and it's of no matter to them that removing it from Jackie will kill him in the process. As Jackie, you must track down the Brotherhood's base of operations, find out who's its leader, and eliminate him before he does you.
Presentation is the game's strong suit, both in its story and its graphical style. The story mixes elements of occult conspiracy that owes at least a nod to Lovecraft with psychological aspects that will have you questioning what is real and what isn't right along with Jackie himself. The Darkness II expands upon the series' mythology to a greater degree than in the first game and there are opportunities to learn more for those who want to - for example, hidden artifacts scattered around the game's levels each come with an extensive history that you can read when examining the artifact back at Jackie's office. The game's graphics use a hand-drawn style that resembles the style of a graphic novel and fits the game's mood and atmosphere perfectly. The voice-acting is superb, especially that for Jackie, both during the gameplay and in the cutscenes which feature Jackie delivering story narration while seated in a dark room. All of this works together to make The Darkness II one of those games that you'll want to finish as much to see how the story plays out as to enjoying the gameplay itself. I do have to warn you, though, that the ending was a bit disappointing in that 1) you'll probably see the twist at the end coming for some time, and 2) it's obviously written as a set-up for The Darkness III.
When it comes to gameplay, The Darkness II includes a few unique elements that make it different than your typical shooter. You may have heard the term "quad-wielding" used in the game's marketing. This comes from the fact that in addition to the two hands you have for holding weapons the Darkness gives you two additional appendages in the form of a pair of demonic snakes that come out of your shoulders. These snake arms can't hold guns, but they are certainly deadly in their own way. You can use them to lash out and grab opponents, and the game has a large collection of gruesome fatalities that can be dished out with the demon arms. For foes out of your reach, you can use the arms to pick up objects and hurl them at your enemies, impaling, crushing, or bisecting them from afar. The demon arms also serve as your only means of restoring health by feeding them the hearts of your fallen enemies. Using the arms is quite easy and intuitive - each bumper trigger corresponds to one of the arms and you can control the direction of their slashes with the sticks while holding down the bumpers. Are the demons arms and quad-wielding the greatest thing to come to shooters? No, but it is a novel, fun, and cool feature.
One of the benefits of being connected to the demon world is that you get a minion to help you along the way. The housecat pelt wearing imp that acts as your companion serves several purposes in the game. First, he's your guide, directing you where you need to go next (albeit a service of dubious importance in a linear game). More importantly, he's an extra weapon in your arsenal, always willing to jump onto the head of one of your foes and gouge his eyes out. One of my favorite attacks was to snap up the imp with a demon arm and then fling him right at an attacker. You'll even have a couple of opportunities to possess your imp and take control of him. While it is fun in a twisted sort of way to perform eye-gouging fatalities on your own, I felt that the game didn't take full advantage of the possession sequences. You spend more time scurrying through ventilation systems than anything else and I wish that there was a greater opportunity to cause deadly mayhem as the imp.
There is a downside to the hosting the Darkness ... well besides that whole psychological torment driving you towards insanity thing that is ... and that's that it makes you vulnerable to light. When bathed in the light of a streetlamp or a car's headlights, you lose the ability to use your Darkness powers including the demon arms and your health begins to bleed out. Unless you can take out the light source or get to darkness quickly, the light will kill you. You'll quickly become acutely aware of light sources, making sure that you locate them and take them out whenever you enter a new area. Your enemies are well aware of your vulnerability to light and will try to exploit it by shining spotlights in your direction or tossing light grenades at you. In crowded areas this can often get out of hand, leaving you to run in circles while staring at a whiteout screen in a frantic attempt to find your way back to darkness.
Outside of a couple of boss fights, most of the enemies that you face in the game aren't particularly interesting and there's a marked lack of variety to them. Overall I'd rate the enemy AI as average for the genre - smarter than brain dead but not so much so that enemies will give you a serious challenge. After playing the game I was left with the impression that if it weren't for the strong storytelling and the novelty of the demon arms, The Darkness II would be a pretty average shooter. And a short one at that; you'll probably be able to complete the game within eight hours.
In summary, if story, atmosphere, and style are important to you in a game, then you will probably enjoy your time spent with The Darkness II. On the other hand, if you're looking for a challenging, marquee shooter, then you'll probably find the game a bit lacking.
Final Rating: 84%. An average shooter wrapped in an entertaining story.