The Darkness 2 Hands-On Preview -- Beginning to See the LightBy Alex Reveliotty - Posted Jan 13, 2012
Like a lot of people I passed over The Darkness in 2007 only to pick it up used several years later. While the original game had its flaws, I found the game’s dark atmosphere, story, unique gameplay mechanics, and brutal violence thoroughly engrossing and have considered myself a member of its small, loyal fan base ever since. So it was with tempered excitement that I fired up this preview build of The Darkness 2. Tempered because the original developer (Starbreeze) wasn’t behind this sequel, and because initial screen shots appeared to indicate a brighter, more colorful art design. Within minutes of starting the game any concerns I had about this sequel were over--Digital Extremes’ Darkness 2 instantly struck me as a confident, surprisingly polished, loud, gory, good time.
The Darkness 2 takes place two years after the first game. Once again you play as Jackie Estacado, current Don of New York’s Franchetti crime family and wielder of “The Darkness.” It’s an unprecedented time of success for Jackie but between keeping The Darkness under control, and mourning the loss of his true love Jenny, he hasn’t been able to enjoy it. When the game begins, The Darkness desperately wants out, and when Jackie’s fatally wounded in an unprovoked attack in an upscale Italian restaurant, it provides The Darkness with the perfect opportunity to resurface.
In no time, Jackie’s Darkness arms (two lethal snake/eel like creatures) and his superhuman ability to withstand punishment and regenerate are back, and his enemy’s blood and limbs are splattered everywhere. In the healthy portion of the game I was able to play through, Jackie carves a path of destruction through seedy New York pool halls and brothels searching for answers behind the attack. It all leads to a strange crippled man and an ancient group called The Brotherhood who seems to know everything about Jackie and desire The Darkness for their own.
Darkness 2 introduces quad wielding. This lets you dual wield weapons with your human hands (left and right triggers) while also grabbing items, eating hearts, and throwing projectiles with your left Darkness arm (left bumper) and viciously slashing enemies with your right Darkness arm (right bumper). As chaotic as that might sound it’s surprisingly intuitive and easy to master. I was comfortably dual welding a submachine gun and revolver with my hands, impaling goons with pool cues with my left Darkness arm, and slashing mobsters in half with my right Darkness arm in a matter of minutes.
The new cel-shaded look of Darkness 2, dubbed “graphic noir,” definitely helps the game stand out. The game looks gritty and grounded while also staying true to its comic book origins. While environments are certainly not as literally dark as they were in the original game, light is still Jackie’s enemy, and there’s no mistaking the damage light does. Damage from light feels like an artsy version of Modern Warfare 3’s stun grenade effect; colors wash out, your Darkness arms retract, movement becomes sluggish, and a sizzling noise surrounds you.
As you'd expect, each level throws waves of enemies at you, and they get significantly harder as you progress, eventually using Jackie's biggest weakness, light, to their advantage. They pepper you with flashbangs and funnel you into chokepoints surrounded by generator powered spotlights. Later enemies also have Darkness imbued armor that has to be smashed off before you can effectively stop them. The game’s physics engine caused enemies to impressively rag doll off of walls when you toss them with your Darkness arm, lifelessly sway after getting pinned to the wall with a metal pipe, or crumple over furniture after you empty a clip into their face.
Speaking of horrific acts of violence, the more savage your kills, the more Dark Essence you collect. Even something as simple as shooting out lights gives you Dark Essence. You use Dark Essence to purchase talents for Jackie from Dark orbs found throughout each level. Talents include the ability to create a black hole that sucks in enemies, grow vicious blades that do extra damage, or channel The Darkness through your guns. You can also upgrade your weapons with extended clips and explosive ammo. Quad wielding while firing explosive rounds, anyone?
Unlike the first game, you only have access to one Darkling (a small demon like creature), and he serves as your companion throughout the game. He joins you in combat, points out specific objectives, and even desecrates enemy’s corpses. There’s even a moment when you play as your Darkling character and scurry through vents and tear out enemy throats.
For all its brash, quad wielding mayhem, The Darkness 2 also includes some surprisingly quiet moments as well. Jackie’s mansion serves as a hub where the narrative plays out between action scenes. Here, Jackie’s friends and family try and sort out who’s gunning for Jackie and why. There’s a rich story here that sucked me in. In fact, I was disappointed when this preview build ended as I was thoroughly engaged.
The Darkness 2 is shaping up to be a fun sequel with a surprisingly rich story that feels a lot closer to the original game than I was anticipating from what we’d seen of it early on. It’s seems like one of those rare sequels that builds on what worked in the original and fixes what didn’t. We’ll know for sure if the full game can deliver on this promise when the game releases February 7. Isn’t that right, Jackiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie?