The Darkness II – Videogame Review
The Dark Fright Returns
The funfair had seen better days.
UK Release Date: 10 February
Price: £49.99 Format reviewed: Xbox 360
Also available on: PS3 and PC
Publisher: 2K Games
We all hear voices in our head occasionally. Sometimes they’re helpful: “Don’t forget that Mothers’ Day card like you did last year…” At other times, annoying: “You think you checked you turned the gas off, but did you //really//?” But to our knowledge, we’ve never known anyone’s voices to turn against their owner and manifest themselves as two jet-black tentacles with an insatiable hunger for human hearts. Nobody but Jackie Estacado, that is.
The first Darkness game dealt with Jackie coming to terms with his “gift” on his 21st birthday and coping with the murder of his soul mate Jenny. Under the watchful eye of The Chronicles Of Riddick developers Starbreeze, it became something of an cult hit. Not popular enough to cement itself in charts or any Game Of The Year lists, but good enough to get a few sizeable “Bring Back The Darkness” petitions online.
That was then and this is now, and things have changed dramatically. First up are the new developers Digital Extremes (also currently beavering away at Star Trek: The Game for Paramount) who’ve stepped in and shaken up the core mechanics into something almost unrecognisable.
Realistic visuals have been retired for a “Graphic Noir” effect, which does a superb job of bringing the comic books to life. Rather than diminish the Darkness’s uber-violence, the striking mix of crosshatch shading and bright tones enhances it. Rip somebody in half like a wishbone and you can now make out their brain, their spine, their organs… pretty much everything, in fact, as their halves lie quivering on a grimy subway floor. And headshots look glorious, if you’re into that kind of thing. Which we are. In a big way.
‘Quad-wielding’ is another sizeable change that sees you attacking mobsters with up to two guns and two Darkness arms simultaneously. The Left arm, “Grabby”, is used to pick things up – be it people (for executions), car doors (for shields and body-slicing Frisbees) or poles (for human skewers) – while the right arm, “Slashy”, simply cleaves people in two.
Far from being complicated, it’s quite refreshing to wield that much power. But the extra clutter has seen some of the first game’s better touches die an undignified death. There’s no drawn out animation when a Darkness arm rips a heart out of a body and slurps it down greedily, for instance, as these moments are now throwaway blips in more hectic/less memorable gunfights. And gone are the kooky out-of-body Darkness arm puzzles and assassination trips so many were so fond of.
Returning writer Paul Jenkins does keep the tone mostly consistent with game one, however, by throwing in a few curveball moments the original is famous for. And special mention must go to online mode Vendettas, which offers an entire bonus campaign designed for four people with a story interwoven into the single player adventure.
Purists will scoff at the changes, but the voices in our head tell us The Darkness II’s a slender improvement over the much-loved original.