The Darkness II Review

Wow. I mean... wow. The Darkness II is actually good. And I mean really good. It isn’t going to go down in history as one of the all time classics but it goes well beyond basic adequacy. I’m actually genuinely shocked by this; I’ve found a modern first person shooter than I actually enjoy.

In my review of Duke Nukem Forever I said that I used to enjoy FPS games, but went off them when realism and multiplayer emphasis took over as the main driving points behind development. Couple this with the grey and brown crap that constitutes the art direction of most modern shooters and you have a recipe for a bland experience that I honestly couldn’t care less about.

The Darkness II does everything right. The art direction uses cell shading to create comic book style visuals which are genuinely stylized (as opposed to the normal use of the term stylized- I.E crap) while maintaining a pretty high base of technical quality too. The visuals fall apart a little when viewed up close, but not horrendously so. Cross hatching as shading also adds to the theme, as do some very nice general lighting and particle effects. The colour palette is bright and vibrant with striking solid masses of colour which play off very well against the black edge lines which are a product of cell shaded graphics.

The end result is a game that looks striking and memorable, as well as displaying excellent levels of polish.

The sound is catchy, visceral and intense. The musical score isn’t memorable, but it is functional and provides a solid background for the gameplay.

Speaking of which, the gameplay is excellent. The Darkness II has to be one of the most interesting shooters I’ve played in years. You start with your basic FPS mechanics and a three gun weapon limit. Wohoo! Weapon limits- because I’ve never complained about those before. Still, in the Darkness II there is a trade off for this arbitrary mechanic in that you can hold two one handed weapons and a single two handed weapon. You can mix and match the one handed guns so you can hold only one and use the iron sights on it, or hold two and lose the ability to aim. In return though, you gain the ability to turn anyone in front of you into a puddle of gore through concentrated fire. Reminds me a lot of Skyrim’s hand allocation system actually...

Trade off! Decision making! Variable play styles, all of which are valid! In a modern FPS single player mode no less!

It isn’t all rosey of course; the guns are the same generic set you get in every modern FPS but hey- at least you have a little choice with regard to how you use them.

Complementing your gunmetal are the Darkness arms- these babies are awesome. One of them is used for your melee attack and eating your enemy’s hearts- which is how you regain health. You do regenerate some over time, but simply hiding behind a wall won’t be enough to get back to full strength. Another modern trend that I hate bucked by this game!

The other arm is context sensitive. If an enemy is stunned you can pick them up and then execute them in a variety of grizzly ways for a number of different effects. One way gives you back more health than just eating their heart, another gives you some more ammo (which raises all sorts of icky questions), a third lets you create a shield and the final one recharges your powers.

You can also use it to grab other objects from a distance such as guns and ammo while you hide in cover, or other more... interesting objects, such as lengths of pipe or fan blades. These items can then be forcefully (and usually terminally) reintroduced to their owners.

Let me describe to you the moment where I fell in love with this game. I walked into a pool hall, totally unarmed bar the Darkness arms.

I knocked the first guy to the floor with one swipe, and then picked up the pool cue he was carrying before it hit the floor. This pool cue was then used to nail one of his mates to the wall (through his face), before he could get a shot off at me. I then grabbed his pistol with the Darkness arm, spun around and headshot a third guy who managed to get a hit in on me. By this time contestant one was staggering back to his feet, so I picked him up and threw him at a fourth guy who’d just burst into the room, killing him and stunning the newcomer- who was then picked up and executed by being held in one of the Darkness arms as the other one re-enacted the dining room scene from Alien on him.

This took place in about four or five seconds and was entirely unscripted.

What I’m trying to impart here is that the mechanics and level design of the Darkness II offers a huge range of options and possibilities that allow you to engage in the sort of awesome badassery that you normally only see in cinematic sequences. Call me crazy, but I find that sort of thing far more entertaining than just running around like a rat in maze trying to shoot someone in the head.

There’s also a levelling system (what game doesn’t have one these days?) which is perfectly executed. Kill enemies, get XP. The more interesting the death, the more XP given. Find a levelling up point; spend XP to unlock talents in one of the trees. Simple, effective and hugely entertaining.

The trees each have their own emphasis. One focuses on the use of guns, another on the darkness arms, another on powers and so forth. Each talent actually offers new ways to play and provides a genuine bonus that you can feel in gameplay. Not one of them is filler or a dud. Genius.

What really impressed me in the Darkness II though was the story. Now, it’s no epic. It’s not a subtle nuanced plot, but it is very well executed and extremely tightly directed. It’s a gangster story with a supernatural element- nothing more. It doesn’t try to be clever, but it takes the time to firmly establish motivations, build up the stakes and immerse the player in the world as well as the entrails of their enemies.

Most of the story is built up in dedicated exposition sequences which you play through (but you can skip most of them if you are so inclined). These are very well put together- long enough to get the point across without rushing, but short enough that they don’t leave you chomping at the bit for more action.

Enemies show very little variation, but the fights remain interesting thanks to varied environments and the game’s use of light as a weapon. When standing in bright light you lose your Darkness arms, the ability to regenerate health and most of your talents are nullified. You also lose the ability to see and hear clearly. Consequently taking out lights and avoiding windows becomes a key part of your combat tactics. And that’s the key- it’s a part of your tactics. The inclusion of the light mechanic never feels artificial or forced; it’s simply another obstacle which rolls seamlessly into your considerations as you get better at the game.

It’s also a nice touch that later in the game you get enemies using flares, as well as giant high powered lights as weapons against you. Enemies attempting to actually exploit a weakness!? The horror! The AI on the light carrying goons is also pretty good- they stay out of your way wherever they can, and position themselves to try and box you in so that their mates can surround you.

Finally the acting is superb. Every actor and actress in this game evidently gave the role their all. I honestly can’t say anything more about the performance, they nailed pretty much every line and I don’t think I could fault a single moment of the story telling.

In closing, if you’re looking for a break from vanilla, beige and brown realistic shooters, then you owe it to yourself to give the Darkness II a try. You won’t be disappointed.

1 Response to "The Darkness II Review"

  1. Alan says:

    Excellent. It sounds like they've taken some of the promising but misused ideas from the first game and really put them to good use. I wasn't even considering buying this, but now it's shot up to 'almost essential'.

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