THE DARKNESS II PREVIEW

The Darkness II Preview
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THE DARKNESS II PREVIEW



Written by Chris Price
23 Monday 23rd January 2012

The Darkness originally emerged at the dawn of next-generation gaming, providing an Xbox 360 launch title (and subsequently buggy PS3 release) equally dense on characterization and context as on ideas. Taking the spine of the million-selling Top Cow comic book, The Darkness delivered a bleakly entertaining first-person shooter, replete with chunks of internal monologue. A killer who embraces an old-fashioned moral code, at odds with his father and the evolution of his environment, Jackie Estacado finds himself at the mercy of an otherworldly succubus which gives him the strength to wreak revenge on those who killed his girlfriend. Though it offers him immortality and demonic abilities via two demonic serpentine heads protruding from his shoulders, he’s also chastised for his stubbornness in submitting to the powers of the Darkness. 

The Darkness 2 suitably amps up both the violence and intensity. Benefitting from the four years of technological advancement since the original, it’s cel-shaded aesthetic redesign is more Crackdown or Borderlands. While the original languished in a muted greys and greens, the sequel is a hive of neon hues, halogens and crackling fires – all liberally splashed with the arterial spray of many a vanquished goon.

Starting with a Half-Life 2 on-rails introduction, a Scorcese-esque steadicam through a brasserie, The Darkness II evolves into a world of stereotypical Sicilian prototypes, hamming their incidental dialogue to a tee. Once it all goes pear-shaped and a mysterious 50’s teamster-style mob crash your party, it’s clear that not only Jackie’s position as mob boss is up for grabs, but also his considerable netherworldly powers.

Just like it’s progenitor, ballistic gunplay bookends each sedentary section of puzzling. The dual wielding of pistols and machine guns returns, as does the close quarters ‘Hong Kong’-style execution. But providing there’s no direct lighting, the Darkness can now be utilized just as readily as your firearms to fling poles and manhole covers or to tear hoodlums asunder and fling their body parts at their colleagues. 

Bright light has a more noted effect on the ability to use your additional arms, withering them away, whereas the ability to strike in different directions adds a layer of puzzling. The copious collectibles return for relic hunters, with a counter letting you know how many are remaining on each level. Also included is the ability to upgrade the powers of The Darkness by consuming the hearts of the vanquished or by executing hyper-violent kills (impale two bad guys on the same scaffolding pole for example), which increases your dark essence and all manner of defensive and offensive abilities. The Darklings return, in a more playful Gremlins 2 style, assisting, farting and urinating their way to glory, and helping you out mid firefight, acting as slimy little NPCs.

While Kirk Acevedo has been replaced by the slightly more enthusiastic admonitions of Brian Bloom as the voice of The Darkness, Mr. Ipecac’s Mike Patton returns with his unhinged snarl still lending a genuinely demonic voice to your assistant.   

The Darkness II certainly shows its evolution, displaying a truer recreation of its paper-based progenitor, and a more energetic experience overall. Action sequences are riots of colour and chaos, and there’s a palpable power behind your demonic arms. But how the game deals with it’s more sedate moments will be crucial. The volume of puzzles and adventure sections will be important in determining the ebb and flow of the game. How it will overcome the original’s more frustrating elements (such as the control of the ‘Creeping Dark’, visibility of logical puzzle elements) is still up for grabs. And whether Brian Bloom can add his own spin to the mumbling charm of Acevedo will define whether Jackie ranks alongside the Nathan Drakes of the world, or becomes yet another gun-toting protagonist with greasy hair.  

Second time around, The Darkness seems to have brightened up a little, both figuratively and aesthetically, though its ability to deliver the surprises of the original’s somber narrative as part of the complete package is yet unconfirmed. But there will be many glad to see the return of this particular comic book hero – it looks like good ol’ Jackie is back – and he’s packing some serious heat. Whether it fizzles away as quickly as it ignites, we’ll know in March. 

The Darkness II is out on 10th February for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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