In a strange coincidence I started playing The Darkness II at about roughly the same time I started Alan Wake. The plots in each game revolve heavily on light and darkness, which is really just a play on the classic good vs. evil conflict. In Alan Wake the protagonist uses light as a weapon to destroy and evade evil, but in The Darkness II the protagonist depends on the darkness to literally envelop himself in evil to defeat enemies, becoming the monstrous “host” of the Darkness.
Jackie Estacado, Don of the Franchetti family, has laid low with the Darkness bottled up for two years following the death of his girlfriend Jenny. After a failed attempt on his life, Jackie is ready to unleash the Darkness once again, to exact revenge and to continue fighting for Jenny. His new enemies have been tracking him for years, and their leader, Victor Valente, is after the Darkness for himself. Jackie also faces a reality problem, not knowing if what he is experiencing is real while having several brief visions of a psychiatric ward throughout the game.
Before I continue I’d first like to include a precautionary note. The Darkness II is definitely what I’d refer to as an adult oriented game. The entire thing revolves around harnessing evil for violence, has many demonic themes (eating hearts of dead enemies to regain health, collecting dark relics for points, etc.), includes adult themes, and is not something I’d ever buy for a kid. With the appropriate rating there’s nothing wrong that. I’m not discounting the game for this at all, but the “dark” themes turned me off a bit, and I’d guess that reactions to these themes among FPS fans would be mixed.
With that note out of the way, I’d like to continue with an annoyance. Game assistants, such as Wheatly in Portal 2, seem to be popping up more and more these days. The inclusion of the Darkling in The Darkness II was fine functionally, but it seemed like the character was intended to appeal to a younger audience, which didn’t make much sense to me. For example, there were several times where the Darkling would run up to an enemy’s body I had just killed to pass gas or urinate on it. If you’re making an adult game, I just don’t quite understand why you would include something like this. The Darkling just seemed too offensive to me; I wasn’t able to appreciate the character at all. I also feel like the horror element to the game would have been enhanced if the player were forced to play alone.
“…despite playing on rails, The Darkness II is a fairly solid and intense first-person shooter.”
On the positive side I’d say that despite playing on rails, The Darkness II is a fairly solid and intense first-person shooter. I didn’t encounter any bugs or gameplay issues, and there were plenty of enemies to kill. Locales were mixed, and even though I found it a bit cliché, the vacant carnival level was definitely an enjoyable setting. There weren’t exactly a large variety of weapons, but the inclusion of the ability tree, in which new abilities can be purchased with dark essence points (gained through killing enemies), helped. The abilities tree seemed like kind of an afterthought on the whole, but it’s better than just having generic weapons. Items such as extended gun clips, a swarm distraction to stun enemies, and better weapon handling can be purchased in the abilities tree. The Darkness itself is really the most powerful weapon, which can destroy enemies in a couple of swipes if they’re close enough. When things got crazy and I was surrounded by enemies the Darkness always seemed to allow me to break out; it was pretty incredible to use.
Another strong point of The Darkness II was the voice acting. It wasn’t all great, but I was especially impressed with David Hoffman’s portrayal of the half deranged occultist Johnny Powell (example trailer linked) and Brian Bloom as the new voice of Jackie. The loading segments in which each of these characters reveal more of the storyline were some of the most memorable portions of the game. Voice acting in video games can vary quite a bit, and it’s not usually very good; this game is definitely an exception. Sound effects and music were also decent.
Visuals were also a positive, but you shouldn’t go into it expecting total realism. The Darkness II was developed using cel-shaded animation, which is different from the first game. The cel-shading was different than what I have seen before in that it was subtle and at times almost unnoticeable. There was definitely a nice balance between realism and animation, which really made it seem as if I was experiencing the graphic novel on which the game is based.
In terms of difficulty, I’d have to say that I didn’t find The Darkness II overly challenging. The AI was easy to avoid and fool for the most part, but there were a few portions that I had to replay several times to finally move forward. Being equipped with the Darkness felt as if I was much more powerful than the majority of the enemies.
In addition to the single-player campaign The Darkness II also includes a Vendetta mode in which you can carry out missions for Jackie as one of four characters with special powers. These missions can be played alone or in co-op mode, but the Vendettas are definitely not the main attraction. It’s one of those extra things thrown in that you try once or twice but to which you never come back.
Overall, I’d say that The Darkness II is a decent shooter, but there is nothing in it that is amazing; it’s respectable but mostly predictable. Playing a more or less “evil” character felt different compared to all the other standard “save the Earth” games, but other than the Darkness it doesn’t include much that hasn’t been done before. The story and voice acting is a big plus. The main campaign isn’t that long, and the AI isn’t the greatest, but it is intense and still enjoyable if you’re an FPS fan.