The Darkness II Review
A heartful of wasted potential.
It’s not always good when a developer changes for a franchise mid-way. It’s especially not good when the said change is for a developer as good as Starbreeze. For The Darkness II, Digital Extremes task as the replacement was a daunting one – it’s not only hard to adapt a comic series into an excellent video game, but it’s even more harder to maintain the same level of quality and polish presented in the first. Whereas the original was a first person shooter fused with side-questing adventure, The Darkness II places bets on the safe cards and caters directly to the genre-fans without any of the nonsensical distraction. It’s a cautious move, and because of it the game feels shunted when it could truly be something better. Digital Extremes plays it safe; ultimately a bit too much for the game’s own good.
One of its biggest problem is its single player campaign. It’s a remarkably short story stretched over needless ‘find & kill him’ missions, lengthy “loony bin” sequences, and criminally easy boss battles that never quite challenges your overpowered self – with or without the powers of the Darkness. This is not to say the story is bad. The impeccable writing and voice acting performances weaves a grim, dark and dreadful world of revenge and longing, but it fails to build on the characters and the plot between breather spaces before it wants to push you into the action once again.
The story takes a while to get there, with the initiation and the end placed between filler missions basically used to show off the overhauled combat system. And this is the game’s biggest strength- I have never made carnage so easily, so beautifully, so instinctively like the Darkness II allows. The demonic arms you get with the whole Darkness-package allows you to tear a new one, in all manners of the literal term. When you will overcome the awkward 15mins of the learning curve, it’s a bloody dance from there on. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to the extra pair of limbs: you will slash and grab enemies before you will even think of using your dual-wielded SMGs.You will pickup pieces of the environment by just thinking about it, as if the Darkness itself is reading your mind and dutifully obeying it’s master. And you know you have had too much of the Darkness when you use the demon arms to pick up ammo than simply using the ‘action’ button. It’s addicting.
And the arms are upgradable. ‘Essence’ is what you are after, a lurid purple-ish substance that absorbs into the Darkness after every enemy is silenced. Each level will have these essence portals placed at strategic points by your demonic monkey side-kick (who calls you a monkey to deflect inferior complexity). The portals can be used to receive, upgrade or enhance old and new powers, making the demonic arms even more effective in battles, even though there is a lack of clear visual and aural ques to immediately notice it. The upgrades are divided into three tires, with some fetching a better health per heart-ate rate, ammo per limb torn, and additional bonuses per skull sliced open.
But it’s only these many times you can do all that before you start to look for a meaning for your madness. I mean, it is fun, every time, to slice enemies with a car door, or impale them with a pole, or tear them into half with a move aptly titled Wishbone, but it starts to lack purpose when every mission and every level feels similar, something you have already done before 30 mins back. There is no change of pace, the game starts and ends with almost the exact action set pieces throughout.
The 4-player co-op doesn’t do much to salvage the repetitive nature of the single player campaign, either. Digital Extremes manages to put a nice spin to it but falters with the lackluster implementation. In the co-op campaign, you can play as one of four characters, all of whom share a common demon with Jackie. They are hired goons by Jackie’s right hand man, who sends them to missions as and when “the boss” requires. Each character has their own strength and weakness, and a special weapon to absorb the essence. The missions are standard ‘fetch and kill’ and are way to easy with four human characters. You can play the co-op campaign offline as well, but they are too boring and linear to warrant that.
The Darkness II is a series of wasted potential. Where it has a great story, it fails in narration. Where it has one of the most amazing gameplay, it fails by being repetitive. Where it manages to give the co-op a nice flavor, it fails with its half-baked execution. Digital Extremes manages to make the game their own. The cell-shaded art style and the improved combat system is damn near perfect. But they fail to take it all the way. The Darkness II could have been one of the best games this year, but it will now only join the many first person shooters that are forgotten the moment they are done with.