The Darkness 2 - Review



The original "The Darkness" game from 2007 was one of the first games that i played on my PS3. My decision to give the first game a shot mostly resulted from my interest i had in the comics that i used to read, when i was younger. Sadly, the only positive thing that transported from the comics to the first Darkness game was the style. But a forgettable, flawed and ultimately uninteresting gameplay pulled the game into oblivion. Additionally, the game's story was more of a hit n' miss kind of thing. Simply put, the original "The Darkness" was far not as fun to play as a game based on that comic series should be.
Therefore, my excitement was expectedly low, when i heard that 2K Games were developing a sequel "The Darkness II". Out of all game franchises out there, i was honestly wondering, why the hell 2K Games placed their bets once more on that franchise. It was when the first gameplay footage was released, that i realized that something was different: "cel-shading graphics? actual AIMING with guns? and a health bar?!". Obviously 2K Games noticed the original's flaws and adressed them by choosing a new developer: Digital Extremes (Bioshock).
Later, after i played the actual demo, i was quite impressed. So i decided to take a look at this sequel.




Story

"Darkness 2" takes place two years after the events of the first game. Jackie Estacado, the current wielder of The Darkness, has used his powers to become the Don of the Franchetti crime family. He has been unable to shake the thoughts of his dead girlfriend Jenny and has since, with the help of estranged occultist Johnny Powell and his study into dark essence, contained his supernatural powers, and now The Darkness "wants out in the worst way".
After being attacked several times by a mysterious cult called "The Brotherhood", their leader Victor wants to take control of the Darkness for his own goals, Jackie sees no other way to stop him than to free his inner demons again...

Let's get one thing out of the way first: the plot of "Darkness 2" is packed full of plot holes and inconsistencies. The biggest one being that "Darkness 2" basically CAN'T HAPPEN! At the end of "Darkness 1" we see Jackie getting devoured by the Darkness after taking his revenge on his uncle Paulie. So first of all, i had the question: "HOW THE FUCK DID JACKIE GET BACK TO LIFE AGAIN!?". But well, this huge plot hole isn't adressed...at all...like many others.
The story of "Darkness 2" as a whole is quite underwhelming and standard stuff. We do not learn anything new from known characters and nothing interesting from new ones. It's the basic "bad guy wants power to take over the world so you stop him- story". The mafia characters are extremely clichee but fit the comic book style of the game, i guess.
An exception in that regard is the Darkling, a darkness-troll that helps you out. The game gives that little guy plenty of character and makes him incredibly likable and one of the good guys (although that doesn't make sense -- because a darkling is not a seperate creature but just another part of the Darkness like the Darkness-tentacles).

At times though, the game threw some great surprises at me. Most notably, when Jackie finds himself in weird parallel universes. In this case, in some chapters Jackie finds himself trapped in an asylum with the doctors telling him he's insane and that his brain is playing tricks on him. Of course every player's first thought is that this is clearly another one of the Darkness' tricks. But the deeper you get into the game, the more the lines between reality and asylum start to blurr. In the end you really start thinking about what of both worlds actually IS reality and what illusion. In this regard, the game gets pretty "inceptiony".
It's fascinating how the asylum parts include almost zero action but turn out to be the highlights of the game.

The story is completely told through Jackie's point of view. He is probably the game's most "deep" character although this isn't saying much. Except for some slightly moving emotional parts involving his lost love Jenny, we don't get to know that much about him. But luckily his relationship with Jenny is depicted deep enough in many chapters to make us care for him (them both).

Although there are some short cutscenes during loading-times that show Jackie talk about some experiences he made in his childhood, those stories are more or less out of context and add a total of ZERO to the story. Obviously those cutscenes should make Jackie more of a 3-dimensional character but...those cutscenes are just unnecessary.

All in all, without regarding the massive inconsistencies and plot holes throughout the entire game, i honestly thought that the story was pretty flat but "easy and entertaining" at the same time.
BUT.....the game had to kill all of this with one of the most UNFITTING showdowns and endings to any game ever. I am serious, the ending is so abrupt and just..."not right", it's almost at the same suck level as the ending of "Resistance 2".

The funny thing is: "Darkness 1" had a lame story but a great emotional, sad ending. "Darkness 2" went the other way: solid entertaining story but lame ending.



Gameplay

The gameplay of "Darkness 2" got a massive and well needed makeover. My biggest complaints were adressed right away, NOW Jackie actually gets a health bar, which was missing in the first game (made me nuts back then! -.-), aiming movements got improved and were much more fluid, PLUS you had the ability to carry 3 weapons while also being able to dual weild any of 'em. Additionally, the Darkness-tentacles can be used simultaneously while shooting.
Those were the essential aspects about the gameplay that were missing in the first game. They make the game much more fluid and more fun to play.

The Darkness itself feels much more powerful in "Darkness 2". Now you can not only throw objects, use them as cover and execute opponents in different ways, but most importantly, now there is an upgrade system to evolve your darkness powers.
Despite the fact that an upgrade system in this game is a great idea, it's fairly not a well designed upgrade system.
First of all, you quickly notice that the XP points you need to purchase powers can most effectively be obtained by grabbing enemies and executing them, triggering a repetitive execution move that makes Jackie momentarily invulnerable (cheap!).
Second, as you scroll through the powers, you notice that most of the powers are not really that useful or just lame. Most notably after purchasing the "Black Hole" power, you won't really need to buy any other power to use in battles.

Enemies have surprisingly effective tactics defeating Jackie. Not only do they use firepower but also different sources of light to weaken him. They truely add to the "annoying factor" of constantly shooting every single light bulb before entering a battlezone. But well, the game isn't called "The Darkness" for no reason. Still a little more enemy variety wouldn't be bad.
However, some inconsistencies also happen considering the light sources: some light sources that SHOULD hurt Jackie, actually don't. Like fire and moonlight. At times that tends to confuse you during battles.

There are also some small segments in which you take control of the darkling and enter a stealth like game mode. But the stealth is really not that well developed and fairly short. It's a nice break between the constant shooting and slicing but overall pretty unnecessary.

To sum it up, the gameplay improvements are by far the biggest strength of the entire game. And although you quickly realize that the gameplay itself isn't doing anything greatly new or exciting, it's fun to play as some kind of darkness-god and shooting and slashing your way through hordes of enemies. Amongst all the gore, it's you who has to make the game fun to play for yourself (if that makes sense).


Multiplayer

Suprisingly enough, "Darkness 2" DOES have a multiplayer mode which comes in form of a co-operative mode called "Vendettas". Each player can choose between four characters of whom each one has specific darkness powers. Other than that it's just you playing through missions that put you through one area full of enemies to the next. It gets boring extremely fast and the characters don't differ enough to make it exciting (note: NO darkness-tentacles -.-). The addition of a cooperative-campaign doesn't help much. It's just a boring lazy artifact story that just connects each coop mission with the other.

"Vendettas" can only online be played with a partner. When offline you play alone.

Co-op fans sure should try out "Vendettas" but be prepared to be most possibly underwhelmed.


Graphics

The new cel-shading graphics fit "The Darkness" franchise perfectly and underline the comic book look of course. The game looks especially good when looking at large vistas. Like the view from Jackie's balcony or the mansion's interrior itself.
Yet still, when up close, some characters' textures look muddy and the models rough around the edges.
But compared to all the games that feature more or less all the same mishmash of rehashed-unreal 3 graphics, "Darkness 2" graphically pops out in a positive way.




Sound

Voice acting is solid throughout, with some performances sticking out, like the awesome Darkness voice of Mike Patton.
Same thing with the game's score. It does a great job setting the mood right but it fails sticking in your head as something memorable. However, i have to admit that i was quite surprised hearing plenty of licensed music in the background of many levels like "Black Betty" or "No Rain" by Blind Melon. Nice to hear actual "band music" in a game for once.


The Verdict

Overall, "The Darkness II" was a surprising game: I was surprised that "The Darkness" actually got a sequel, i was surprised of how much better it looked and played, but in the end, i was also suprised of how many flaws were still present in the game (storywise).
I am truely glad that the franchise has made a step into the right direction. Although it more or less "neglects" the first game by almost completely ignoring what happened in there (-- plot holes   inconsistencies). I would say that the original "The Darkness" was in some kind of identity crisis, in which it didn't really know what it wanted to be.
Digital Extremes practically gave the franchise an own face. Here's hoping the developers keep on fixing some of the details in the gameplay and most importantly give us an effective, great story WITH a great ending next time (and no cliffhanger! Cliffhangers are bullshit!).

With that said, "Darkness II" is a perfect rental. It's fun and entertaining to breeze through the campaign and remember the game as a nice, joyful experience, that hopefully keeps on evolving and improving in the same direction (to maybe someday become something bigger).


Final Verdict: 7 out of 10

Status: Hidden Gem

 

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