Starbreeze’s 2007 FPS game The Darkness, based on the Top Cow comic series of the same name, was noted for its unorthodox approach to the FPS formula. Developer Digital Extremes has been tasked with developing a follow-up to the unique original in The Darkness II and, while The Darkness II isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, it’s a sequel that’s worth checking out for Darkness fans.
The Darkness II returns to the story of Jackie Estacado, two years after the events of the original Darkness. Jackie is now the Don of his crime family and still mourning the loss of Jenny. He goes out to eat but members of The Brotherhood, a secret society obsessed with obtaining The Darkness, relentlessly assault the restaurant he’s in. Near-death, Jackie is forced to summon The Darkness again and do battle with them. Once more, The Darkness proceeds to play mind games with Jackie concerning an artifact called The Siphon that The Brotherhood has possession of. It tells Jackie that if he doesn’t obtain The Siphon and give it to The Darkness, it will hurt Jenny, who it claims it has obtained and contained.
The story of The Darkness II is pretty good and works well enough for the game, but is nowhere near as dark or involved as the original. Whereas the original Darkness was a story with recurring themes about whether or not Jackie could control The Darkness, Darkness II is much more about whether or not The Darkness can convince Jackie that he’s losing control mentally. The Darkness as a character, though, is surprisingly subdued in the sequel — compared to the original, that is — and rarely directly interjects itself into the events of the game. Other characters generally have less edge, less involvement, and less dialogue than the supporting cast of the original. The plot itself is mostly straightforward and has some moments that will ring familiar and resonate with Darkness fans, but doesn’t offer the same kind of story experience as the original. That’s not to say that the story isn’t entertaining, but again, it just isn’t the same kind of story experience that was seen in The Darkness.
The Darkness II really shines with its core gameplay mechanics, though. Digital Extremes’ invention of quad-wielding is great fun and Jackie can hack, slash, and shoot enemies with relative ease. He can grab enemy shields, use car doors as mobile cover, execute enemies, eat enemy hearts and deploy Darkness powers without missing a step. The control layout may seem overly busy, but it takes about the duration of the tutorial level to get used to quad-wielding, and it’s very easy to handle after that. Jackie also gets a large-sized skill tree (which can have more of its abilities not picked up in one playthrough learned in New Game+) that enables players to pick skills that that they’re comfortable with using to flesh out Jackie the way they want him to be. The Darkness II also consolidates the four specifically-skilled Darklings from the original into a generally useful single Darkling, which eliminates some of the guessing of “Which one(s) do I need to bring with me?” from the original. The Darkness II also improves on the aiming mechanics of the original, which had a tendency to be somewhat inaccurate and a little frustrating.
Vendettas Mode, The Darkness II‘s co-op that supports up to four players online (or available as individual missions offline as well), is great, too. The game features four characters (shotgun-wielding Mossad agent Shoshanna, axe-tossing Jimmy Wilson, voodoo-utilizing witch doctor JP Dumond, and samurai sword-slicing Inugami), each with a Darkness-infused weapon and a sidearm for dual-wielding, in addition to being able to use machine guns or each weapon individually. (They also each have a Darkness power.) They participate in story missions that run parallel to the main game’s story, in which The Brotherhood is trying to obtain the Spear of Destiny for Darkness-related purposes and they’re hired by Jackie’s crime family to try and stop them. While most missions play out the same, each character is interacted with a little differently by story characters on the mission radio, each has their own story, and enemies tend to have different reaction phrases to each of the different characters. The missions are a blast to play with four players, but especially with players who work together, as Darkness II has some light Brink-esque squad benefit mechanics.
However, for as fun as The Darkness II‘s core gameplay is, the game always has the exact same kind of challenge: a flood of enemies. Level after level, in single player or co-op multiplayer, players can expect to face several enemies at the same time, over and over again. Mostly gone are the explorable areas from the previous game, replaced by large-sized levels packed with enemies. Nothing’s wrong with the change, but The Darkness II doesn’t offer any kind of substantial variety with enemy layout, positioning, etc. The Darkness II also is very short and shouldn’t take most players more than a few days to experience everything it has to offer, even with multiplayer included.
Visually, The Darkness II has changed for a graphic novel-style shading, instead of The Darkness‘ regular 3D graphics. The style change-up is solid and works well for the game, making it feel more like a comic book. The bright colors may be a stark contrast from the atmospheric graphics of the original, but they help add a certain visual style to the game.
The Darkness II‘s Limited Edition comes with two bonus abilities: Gourmet Hearts (which adds a little health from eaten hearts) Relic Hunter (which makes it easier to find relics, which grant XP, throughout the game). No outstanding effect can be seen from the abilities, but they certainly don’t hurt to have at Jackie’s disposal. The Darkling gets a Crazy Abdul outfit, which is cool-looking. A poster is included with the game that’s an illustration from Marc Silvestri (the creator of The Darkness comics), which is also very nice. However, arguably the coolest edition for The Darkness fans is the inclusion of a voucher that enables access to a small number of The Darkness comics, including two Witchblade tie-in issues. All are very solid additions that rounded out to make a fairly cool free upgrade from the regular edition.
The Darkness II feels very much like a sequel in transition. Digital Extremes tried to bring back components that made the original Darkness successful, while trying to improve upon the game and add their own voice in as well. The result is a solid success that is fun and very enjoyable, but doesn’t improve drastically on the original. The Darkness II is more focused as an FPS than its predecessor and has improved core mechanics, but doesn’t have much of the dark edge or story experience that was in The Darkness. Darkness fans and gamers looking for a fun FPS alike will still find much to like here, though, as the core gameplay provides nothing less than a crazy and chaotic good time. The Darkness II may be visually different from the previous entry, but it still has plenty of good Darkness moments and gameplay. Also, while the single player and co-op multiplayer may be brief, both are entertaining enough to warrant gamers finding a way to check out the game.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Very enjoyable co-op Vendettas Mode
– Very short, constant waves of enemies