It was surprising to say the least when 2K games announced it was working on a sequel to The Darkness. Whilst the 2007 game was well received by critics, it seemed to split the opinions of those who played it, especially those unfamiliar with the dark graphic novel on which it was based. Many loved its dark atmosphere and faithfulness to the comic; yet others were baffled by a game which involved demonically possessed mobsters, WW1 and bizarrely, the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird in its entirety.
Launching a sequel to such a divisive title, especially after four years seems like a risky move. Especially when you take into account that 2K is launching the game this October, a month packed with titles as hugely anticipated as Battlefield 3 and Batman Arkam City. This is probably why 2K was keen to stress that the Darkness II not only addresses issues of the first game, but is different enough to stand proudly on its own, attracting both fans and newcomers to the series.
Original developers Starbreeze have been replaced by Digital Extremes, creators of the popular Unreal series of games. This change of developer has brought with it a different style; although it isn’t an attempt to reinvent the series. The game follows on two years after the events of the first, continuing both the story and the basic style of gameplay. The demo being previewed showcases some of the early levels of the game.
Once again players take control of Jackie Estacado, a mafia hitman possessed by the spirit of the darkness. This possession allows him to utilise a pair of very nasty looking demonic arms. From the gameplay and footage being previewed, it seems the overly dark and sardonic tone of the original has been slightly altered in favour of more intense action and broad humour with the intention of creating a more enjoyable, fun and accessible experience.
The biggest change that 2K were keen to point out is a new system they‘re calling Quad-wielding. The darkness powers often felt disconnected from the gunplay in the first game, but players are now able to utilize both weaponry and powers alongside each other. This makes it possible to slash, grab and rip enemies in two, without having to stop shooting. This seemingly simplistic change in gameplay makes the combat in The Darkness II a great deal more satisfying and visceral than its predecessor.
Speaking of visceral, anyone who felt the first game perhaps wasn’t quite bloody enough, you can relax. Digital Extremes have made every attempt to turn the gore up to 11. Jackie is able to impale, disembody and dismember his enemies by utilising a variety of objects in the game world or slashing and grabbing with the demon arms.
Early on in the demo, players are encouraged to grab a discarded metal sign post and launch it like a spear directly into some poor sods face. It’s gruesome yes, but as the game goes into slow-motion to watch the enemy pinned into a nearby wall, it’s clear the Darkness II doesn’t want to be taken too seriously. Other objects such as crates and circular fan blades are easy to find, but the player is also encouraged to seek out less obvious ones, such as ripping out a car door and bludgeoning your enemies.
Not quite psychotic enough? Well perhaps you’ll enjoy the ability to grab your enemies by each leg and rip them apart down the middle like a sheet of paper. Or there’s the ability to eat the hearts of your enemies in order to build your darkness powers. When 2K highlighted the fact that the games 18 certification was still to be confirmed, it was deservedly met with laughter from the audience.
The Darkness II also looks very different visually, with cell-shaded graphics designed to emulate the look of the graphic novel. This was a great decision, making the game feel like an interactive comic book. A scene early on in the demo, set in a moodily lit restaurant with lavish décor, was very impressive indeed. Other parts of the demo, such as a shootout inside a subway station, managed to evoke the look and feel of the first game, whilst feeling characteristically different.
In the first game, players had to avoid bright light in order to use their darkness powers. In the sequel Jackie can now use his powers anywhere, but when in bright light the screen becomes obscured by a glare effect. To prevent this, players are encouraged to shoot out any lights that are nearby. This is certainly an improvement on the unforgiving system of the first game, but still has the potential to irritate gamers looking to just enjoy the carnage.
Digital Extreme has also made their sequel a much more linear experience. Gone is the ability to wander around an open world in search of side missions and collectables. The Darkness II is a traditional first person shooter, with the player simply working through a series of linear missions. This decision was made to create a more focused and enjoyable game, but it may upset those who liked one of the more interesting quirks of the first game.
Also removed is the option to spawn darkling assistants at will, used in the original to help attack enemies and solve puzzles. The mischievous hobbit like creatures, are still a big part of the game, but they now appear at scripted moments to work alongside the player. During the demo, one of the creatures appears in a dapper Union Jack outfit, proceeding to jump on the heads of enemies as well as pissing on them… Presumably so you don’t have to. Whilst it’s a shame to lose control of these creatures, this decision has allowed the developers to give the creatures more personality and therefore make more of an impact.
The Darkness II is looking to be a worthy and potentially superior sequel to the original. As someone who had mixed feelings about the first game, I came away from the preview impressed with a few minor reservations. Fans of the comic will be pleased with the unique cell-shaded visuals and Paul Jenkins script, whilst there’s plenty of insane gory action for FPS fans to enjoy. We’ll find out in October if it’s enough to keep this unique and potentially divisive experience able to compete with the big titles of the year.
The Darkness II is released on 7th October 2011 for Xbox-360, Playstation 3 and PC.