Review: The Darkness II
The Darkness was received with mixed reviews but a few liked it, warts and all, for being a little bit different, showing players a good time and having some great graphics for it's time. So with a new developer and entirely different creative direction, does the Darkness II shape up to be a worthy sequel?
- Worth The Time?No, even if it's only 5 hours
- Things LovedThe game is rather well-paced and Vendettas co-op is good fun and ties-in to the story pretty well but there's really not much else that doesn't have some flaw dragging it down.
- Things HatedCombat becomes very routine, almost repetitive and Jackie's character is a droning dopey-eyed stuck-record who can't stop moaning about how much he misses his girlfriend. The plot, storytelling and plot twist ending are ridiculous, empty and lack any effort. Comic-book violence is portrayed in a very arcadey manner, cel-shaded visuals generally come off as just bad graphics, dry boss battles, bugs and broken animations riddle the game. There's an overall lack of effort and polish.
- RecommendationSerious fans of either the last game or the comics may like it but there's really not much to enjoy in what is yet another dead sequel.
- Name: The Darkness II
- Genre: FPS
- Players: 1-4
- Multiplayer: Yes (2-4 players)
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: Digital Extremes
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Price: PS3/Xbox 360 - R515, PC - R345 (BT Games)
- Reviewed On: PS3
The Darkness released in 2007 to mixed criticism. Based on the Darkness comics by Top Cow, the game was all about protagonist Jackie Estacado coming to terms with the powers of the Darkness and the fact that this evil was inside him. Besides that, he also had to deal with a hit put out on him as a result of his belonging to a Mexican crime family. His girlfriend also dies just in case it sounded like there wasn’t enough happening. It was a game that focused on stealthily taking out enemies from the shadows with the aid of demon arms and it was also a pretty good origin story with some emotion to it.
The Darkness II is pretty much none of that. Previous developer Starbreeze has made way for Digital Extremes, a studio who is best known for working on some of the earlier Unreal Tournament titles. The new developer brings a very different game to the table but not for the better. The sequel ditches that stealthy gameplay for a more offensive, violent and gruesome approach. Jackie attacks every situation head-on and rarely ever stops to do things differently. Despite emphasis being put on sticking to the dark where Jackie’s powers are at a maximum, the game opts to rather have players shoot out every single light in a room rather than use any semblance of a tactic. Let it be known that after 30min, having to shoot out lights every time you want to move forward is a chore.
So, the Darkness II picks up 2 years after the events of the first game and Jackie has been keeping his demons at bay for that entire time while also moving up to take his place at the head of the Estacado crime syndicate. Until that is, he is attacked by what is later revealed to be an ancient organisation creatively called the Brotherhood. No, not Ezio’s Brotherhood but another, equally lazy one, that couldn’t be bothered to come up with a less directly descriptive name. The Brotherhood is after the Darkness for reasons that become apparent later on and basically the only reason Jackie puts up a fight is because they go charging in, put him right at death’s door and pretty much force the demon out of hibernation. Clearly everyone in this game is so dim (hehe) that they are incapable of using even the most basic tactics or even a modicum of discretion.
The plot is really all downhill from there on in although that’s making the assumption that there actually is a plot. Jackie unleashes the Darkness, proceeds to hunt down the bastards who attacked him and it’s all very predictable from there. There’s an attempt at a few plot twists and surprises but they’re all so telegraphed that a retarded howler monkey would’ve seen them coming. There isn’t even some character sub-plot going on as there is in Uncharted games. Sure, Jackie’s aunt says some stuff to him and some of his men misquote lines from a dozen gangster/mafia movies but that’s not really anything is it?
Oh, there’s also Jackie’s recurring and increasingly pathetic whines and moans about how he misses his girlfriend Jenny who was offed in the first game but he just comes off as a shallow character with no depth regardless of what he says and his lines have been lifted straight from an old vinyl called ‘The Grieving Boyfriend’ (performed by Whitney Houston because everyone is apparently a big fan now, or at least for a few more weeks). There are also idiosyncracies that make you question just how ‘torn up’ Estacado is about the death of his beloved. For example, the game starts with Jackie entering a restaurant and meeting a pair of blonde twins for dinner. You also get the feeling that he’s ‘seeing’ a lot of women because he can’t even remember them.
It’s an empty plot with very little going for it other than stock clichés, bad writing and idiocy. Actually a lot of that can be attributed to bad writing and equally poor execution. I’ve never picked up a Darkness comic and have actually never heard of Top Cow but I’m guessing that the books are considerably better or they wouldn’t still be going or have spawned two games. The voice-acting isn’t too bad though although the soundtrack would be significantly livened up with some work from Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails as you may have heard in the trailer up top.
There are repeated attempts made to get you to feel something for this mobster with demon tentacles sprouting out of his back but none of them come off. They usually come in the form of breaks in the relentless, mindless gorefest to help with pacing. At the end of each section is a little monologue from Jackie which says nothing special and means very little. Then there are these little playable flashbacks to memories Jackie has of Jenny and while they make the game well-paced, they really just try to recreate that emotion and feeling that Starbreeze created in the bit during the first Darkness where Jackie spends the night in with Jenny and they watch To Kill A Mockingbird – hey, there’s a better way to spend your time then play this game (watch the movie that is, not murder avians).
There are also extended sequences in a mental asylum which take place in the confines of Jackie’s mind as he begins to lose it. You’d think that any caring human being might then feel something for this poor soul with so much shit to deal and a demon on his back (literally) but you’d be wrong. The asylum also features all of the characters you see in the reality of the game but as patients or doctors or orderlies. These also break up the gameplay and cause the game to be surprisingly well paced despite being so utterly poor in every respect.
The game is far more linear than it’s somewhat open-world predecessor and all in the pursuit of being more cinematic and intense but it doesn’t come off too well and rather than looking intense and action-ey like in say God of War, it comes off as arcadey and overdone. I half expected a mock-Mortal Kombat announcer to shout “Fatality!” or “Brutal kill!” every time I disembowelled an enemy. There’s also a lot more violence thanks to quad-wielding. You can dual-wield your preferred fire arm or even tote a shotgun while Jackie’s demon arms slash, grab and dismember enemies. There are four types of executions which all give Jackie some sort of bonus in the form of extra ammo or health etc. Each also has only about 3 animations and when you’re doing about 20+ executions every 6min, it gets very repetitive and routine. You can never even delight in the gore because it’s present in such a comical and juvenile way.
I understand that they’re going for that OTT comic-book violence but the presentation is just so lacking that you don’t care. The gunplay is good enough although you can get through most of the game with two pistols and a can-do attitude. I did and I suck at FPS’s. The aiming is a little wayward but that’s only because they want you to get the skill upgrade which fixes that but more on the skill tree later. Controlling the demon arms is a bit like operating a crane, it looks simple enough but never quite dos what you want on the first try. In The Darkness, the demon arms could bring helicopters down and slither across a room to take out an enemy but in the sequel, they are stumped by a locked gate and need to daze and enemy before being able to make that critical strike. I’m sorry but what kind of sequel are you making when the whole point is to gear the game up to be more action-orientated and yet the protagonist is, by all appearances, noticeably weaker. Maybe if he removed his tampon and shot some testosterone, Jackie would feel a bit more powerful as a character, you know as if he had an ancient demon powering him. Oh, wait.
There’s your typical array of enemies, including old guys with big lights but once you’re halfway through the game, the variety stops coming and combat quickly becomes a bore. There are also several old-school boss battles but these bosses are really just mini-bosses and they may as well be because there’s barely enough motivation to warrant them being fully-fledged bosses. Did I mention that every one of the 3 or 4 boss fights is dead easy and dry as peanut-butter on a cream cracker in hell.
The game also features a rather extensive skill tree which seems to mostly be dedicated to guns rather than actually strengthening Jackie’s Darkness powers. You earn Essence during combat and for doing stuff such as shooting out the lights which in turn can be used to purchase these upgrades or Talents as they are called. You can upgrade so that Jackie can channel the Darkness through his guns or unleash an insect-like swarm on enemies to distract them and so on and so forth. The thing is that while there are many upgrades to choose from, you’ll need barely any of them. For example, there’s one that simply decreases the time it takes to reload a shotgun and there are plenty like it. I purchased a handful of upgrades and made it through the game just fine with maybe only 3 deaths in its entirety.
The Darkness II is really just very easy and I don’t know if it’s Digital Extremes’ idea of making players feel more powerful but it just makes things very boring and droll because there’s nothing to keep you on your toes, there’s no challenge. I think I may have actually gotten bored playing this game because while playing it this past Saturday night, I nearly dozed off during a cutscene. I should mention that I have stayed up all night to play games such as Assassin’s Creed, Arkham City, Heavy Rain and NFS: underground 2 (don’t ask) so it’s not that I was tired, although I was, it’s more that the game just wasn’t entertaining me enough to keep me awake.
In actual fact, if you’re having trouble sleeping, buy this game although it may give you a fear of the dark which would just put you back in the same position so let’s stick with my original suggestion to simply stay away from this game.
The game is also very short, clocking in at only 5 or 6 hours. That’s fine for games like CoD or Battlefield where the multiplayer is still the main focus but this game is all about the singleplayer and you’re telling me that a game with as little polish and effort as this can’t at least be made to last an acceptable length of time? Not that I’m complaining though because The Darkness II was getting a bit long in the tooth by the end of it.
Jackie is also assisted by a little Sméagol-type creature called a Darkling which basically acts as a guide if you don’t know where to go, occasionally helps Jackie out and provides bad humour in the form of dismal jokes and urinating on corpses. Did I mention that it’s a bit Cockney which is just, odd. You also play as the Darkling a few times when Jackie needs a lot of help.
The game is also littered with Darkness comics because that’s obviously a very clever Easter egg to put in a game based on a comic book. One thing that Digital Extremes did right was to opt to embody those comic roots with cel-shaded visuals similar to 2008’s Prince of Persia. However, like everything else in this game, it is terribly executed. They had Olivia Wilde in mind and ended up with pixelated image of her tattooed on a fat man’s belly. Sometimes the game looks good and a lot like a comic book brought to life but most of the time the visual style just looks like bad graphics. Considering that the original was praised for its visuals, this might be particularly disappointing.
Perhaps the only saving grace for this game is its substantial online and offline co-op multiplayer. It’s called Vendettas and follows Jackie’s new team of darkness powered hitmen. They are the new guys that you might hear Jackie’s right-hand man Vinnie mention at some point in the game. There’s Inugami (samurai), Shoshanna (Mossad), JP DuMond (voodoo witchdoctor) and Jimmy who so far as I can tell is only characterised by being paunchy and Irish. Each has their own specialty and unique passive abilities along with Darkness powers. Each also has their own skill tree to upgrade.
There’s an attempt at some humour between the characters but it doesn’t really register. That said, the co-op is cleverly tied into the main story. For example, Jackie asks for his men to find an old contact named Johnny and it is then up to the Vendettas to find Johnny. Going solo is of no use in multiplayer as it is significantly more challenging than the single-player and requires teamwork and communication. At least he developer’s UT pedigree sort of paid off. It’s marred by many of the problems that are translatable from the single-player but it is good fun and almost makes the game not worth burning or selling for crack.
The game is also plagued by bugs and some animation issues, especially online. In addition to this, there’s samey enemies and then there’s fighting the same 5 people over and over again. All the enemy types only have one, maybe two, character models and that’s just another sign of just how lazily and incoherently this game was developed.
The game is short, the gameplay is sub-par, the visuals are wildly inconsistent though mostly just bad, the story is a non-existent turd and any attempts to recreate or recapture some of what the first game had come off as forced and poorly executed and to fans it may even be a slap in the face.
In essence, The Darkness II feels unfinished. You could the impression that the developers spent one morning coming up with ideas and all those ideas were just thrown into the game as were. No time was spent to properly formulate anything or expand on any concept and certainly no effort was made to at least polish the game up a bit. Most of the ‘new’ things this game try out pretty much fall flat on their face and if weren’t for the little bit of entertainment I got out of the multiplayer, I would call this an utter waste of time.
Any game that fails to keep you entertained for even a little bit is not worth it and The Darkness II hardly even makes an effort to draw you in. It is dull, repetitive, generic, ridiculous, unimaginative and as empty as its protagonist. I can handle a game that is flawed but as long as there is some entertainment value, something that gives me a bit of fun, I can handle it. The Darkness II gave me nothing, I felt nothing while playing it and the experience was entirely forgettable. Nothing about it stands out, at all.