Saturday, 6 October 2012

Review: The Darkness II (PC)


I know this is was released earlier in the year but I was lucky enough this week to get a brand new copy for just £2.  It was probably the best value for money game I have bought all year so far.

Bitey holds, Slashy punctures
Sadly I missed the original game which was only available on consoles so I am not sure if this game takes place straight after that or is anyway connected, but I get the feeling it isn't mandatory to have played this to know what is going on.  In the game you play as former Mafia hitman and now don Jackie Estacado.  Jackie is kind of unique for the mob because he has a little extra help from a demon that dwells within him simply known as 'the darkness'.  I don't know if this follows the comics at all or if this is a different version of events for the computer game, but some of the details will escape you if you haven't read any of the comics prior, although it isn't essential to enjoy the game, it just helps.

Anyway Jackie is living the high life of a mafia don while still mourning the loss of his childhood sweetheart Jenny who was killed in the previous game.  While trying to enjoy a meal one night at his favourite restaurant he is ambushed by another group of mobsters who injure him severely enough to force him to reawaken the darkness within him.  It turns out Jackie had been in control of it since the events of the first game but now needs its power more than ever to find out who is trying to kill him.  Cue a tale of extreme violence, a mysterious ancient cult, redemption and questions about reality as Jackie tears apart (literally) every mobster and cultist in his path to find the truth and maybe see his lost love once more.

The Darkling is a good friend to have in a pitched firefight
The darkness II is one of those games that warrants the 18 certificate sticker it has.  Sure many games over the years have featured extreme violence through the use of machine guns, but how many have allowed to summon two demonic tentacles with faces, sharp teeth and attitudes that when used pull peoples heads off, throat fucks them to death or pulls their spinal columns out via their arseholes?  Not many I bet.  The use of Jackie's powers are very in keeping with the comics and the controls for using them are relatively simple.  On the PC the tentacles are mapped to Q for the "bitey" as I like to call him.  Bitey eats hearts, picks people up and helpfully holds car doors and other heavy objects as shields for you while you reload.  "Slashy" on the other hand is the more anti-social of the two.  Mapped to the middle mouse button, he will cut foes in two, sever power lines, smash lights and perform most of the grisly kills for you when Bitey has picked them up.  In fact you will tend to utilise these two more often than the guns simply because they do more damage, attack quickly and who doesn't like seeing a mobster get bisected?

Guns do still have their uses though.  Light is something the darkness hates very much, so whenever Jackie is forced into a brightly lit area he loses his darkness powers until you leave the area.  This is where weapons come in handy and the fit the usual mix of pistols, smg's, shotguns and assault rifles.  Sadly these weapons don't leave massive holes in foes heads or bodies when hit repeatedly, which is an oversight when you take into account the grisly nature of the darkness kills.

Slashy likes eating heads, apparently they are good for you
Your final piece of weaponry comes in the from of the darkling, a small goblin like creature that obeys Jackie's commands.  In the comic and the original game there are far more darklings, but here Jackie only has access to the one, but he does work well for you.  Sporting his dead cat as a hat and wearing a union jack T-shirt, I get the feeling this darkling likes the punk era of British music, even shouting a few lines from the sex pistols here and there in his London accent.  The darkling can used in a few ways.  Firstly he will automatically attack enemies that get too near to him, usually holding them in place for Jackie to eviscerate them.  Other times he will show you the way to your next objective.  With the right upgrade he can be picked up and thrown to grab a mobster or cultist and beat him death for you.  On a couple of occasions you will also be able to control the darkling to access small areas and open the way for Jackie.  Sadly these areas are few and far between but still are quite fun.  One of the better aspects of the darkling is his invulnerability.  He can shot, burnt, blown up whatever he will return a few seconds later to assist you once again, so don't worry about him when you are gunning down swathes of goons.

All this mindless killing does have a function aside from progressing the game.  Kills award essence which can be spent on upgrades.  These upgrade points are found around the levels or in Jackies penthouse home which you will visit several times between the violence.  The different paths of upgrade can improve Jackies kills with darkness tentacles, power up his guns with dark energy, increase his damage resistance, allow him to see enemies through walls and many more.  It is unlikely that you will unlock all of the powers on your first run through, but you can restart on a new game+ so don't worry about missing anything in that regard.

The HUD is usually dominated by the darkness arms
The singleplayer campaign is brief but fun, although it would have benefited from a few extra levels.  The other source of entertainment is the vendetta's campaign, which is a cooperative or singleplayer campaign that runs concurrent to the events of Jackies story.  Vendetta's see you playing as one of four character who each possess a weapon powered by the darkness.  These four hired guns range from Inugami who wields a cursed katana, Shoshanna a mossad agent armed with a darkness gun, Jimmy a loud mouthed Glaswegian who hates the English and wields a darkness axe and finally there is JP Dummond a creole doctor turned voodoo priest who wields a cursed voodoo stick/cudgel.

Vendetta mode basically expands the storyline of the game while allowing you to play as different characters.  The campaign is fun and challenging which is why having a friend or two is a good thing.  Each character has their own darkness power and upgrade tree (albeit smaller) so repeated playthrough's will increase their power.  Vendetta is probably where you will spend most of your time with the darkness II.  Aside from the vendetta campaign there are hitlist missions which further expand the game.  Vendetta can be online or off also, allowing you to enjoy the game without issue of finding other players to complete it.

Though the game is relatively short and not really justified in asking for full retail price, the storytelling is amazingly good.  Characters are fleshed out and well rounded, the pacing is good and the writing feels like that of a comic book or film rather than the usual script of a standard video game shooter.

The brotherhood present a tougher challenge later in the game
Graphically the darkness II features a cel-shaded art style that fits the comic aesthetic perfectly.  Animations are smooth and over the top like a comic book.  Apparently the development team hand painted a majority of the assets of the game to create the comic style.  It puts me in mind of Borderlands cartoon violence although far more gorier, but the effect is brilliant overall.  My only complaint is the way lighting is handled.  When in the dark the game never seems any darker.  Shooting lights out does make the area slightly less bright, but the areas are still well lit anyway.  It works on a gameplay perspective but it may have been alot cooler if Jackie was stalking his enemies through the darkness as his foes fire frantically into the pitch black in hopes of hitting you.  Its not a major issue, but it still would have been nice to actually see a level in the dark.

The voice acting in this game is brilliant.  The darkness is voiced by Faith No More's lead singer Mike Patton who does a great job of giving life to the demonic entity.  All of the cast should be commended though because each of them put in a great job.  The music is great to listen to, being sorrowful and quiet in the expository parts while heavy and fast when ripping a mans skull out through his chest.  The sound effects are all suitably loud and "wet" for the varied dismemberment's.  Guns are as expected, loud and distinct with enough punch to them to sound convincingly nasty to be shot by.

Overall the darkness II is one of those rare games that has a story and characters you want to see more and learn more about.  You care about Jackie's crew of thugs even though they are mobsters, they're your mobsters.  You feel the connection between Jackie and his lost love Jenny while also developing a friendship with your darkling helper.  It is a game that merges both combat and story brilliantly and belongs up there with the likes of Half Life for its storytelling.

SCORE: 9.0/10

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