Review: “The Darkness II”

By Anders Howmann

If I had to describe The Darkness 2 in one word, I would call it “monstrous.”

As players make their way through the short, but gripping campaign, they will become a six-limb extension of the devil himself. They will suck the light from New York’s crime-infested underground, paint walls and ceilings with gore and dismembered limbs, send swarms of bees at their foes and cut people in half with car doors.

The Darkness 2 makes Gears of War 3, a game in which you can chainsaw lizard men in half in a fantastic geyser of blood and flailing limbs, look as tame as a Saturday morning cartoon.

Violence and inevitable controversy aside, The Darkness 2 is an excellent, cinematic first-person-shooter experience that fills this sparse spring game release season. While I would not recommend shelling out $60 for this single-player driven game, it would be worth buying once the price drops in the used-game market.

The plot follows the story of Jackie Estacado, a New York crime boss who has been cursed with the powers of the Darkness, a force that allows him to sprout snake-like arms from his shoulder blades and regenerate health in the dark. If Jackie is caught in the light, the Darkness that possesses him is rendered useless. However, this power comes at a price — it has an agenda of its own, and if it isn’t controlled it will destroy the life of its host. Jackie has kept the Darkness contained for two years after the events of the first game, but when he is assaulted by a rival gang, he is forced to unleash the Darkness in order to survive.

As the story escalates, it strikes the same emotional chords as the original. The love and grief Jackie feels for his dead girlfriend, Jenny, and his bleak internal struggle with the conniving Darkness are constant and powerful themes throughout the narrative. Thankfully, the game leaves behind many underwhelming plot elements of the original, such as levels in the “Otherworld,” a dimension of hell where World War I never ended and players are forced to fight through waves of Germans. (Do all games really have to include an iteration of a Nazi or a zombie? I digress…)

To be honest, I didn’t expect much from The Darkness 2. While its predecessor was entertaining, it was riddled with issues such as horrible enemy AI and repetitive game-play mechanics, such as forcing the player to shoot out hundreds of lights to maintain the power of the Darkness.

The Darkness 2 is one of the most satisfying shooters I’ve ever played. I truly felt like an unrelenting, murderous force of carnage as I played through the six-hour campaign. Enemies become progressively more difficult to defeat, using giant flashlights and even powers of the Darkness against you.

The game’s cell-shaded, comic book style fits much better with the narrative and looks beautiful to boot. While its title may not suggest it, this game basks in gorgeous lighting effects. The environments have been rendered with care, creating an experience that immerses the player entirely.

The animations and weapon models are some of the best I have ever seen in a first-person-shooter. It is a morbid joy to watch Jackie cut enemies down with the powers of the Darkness while simultaneously dual-wielding submachine guns.

The game is top-shelf quality, but it simply does not provide enough value to warrant a $60 purchase — herein lies the tragedy of The Darkness 2. Granted, it includes a four-player cooperative mode that is fun and addictive, but unless you have friends that have bought the game, it might be more of a novelty than a full, multiplayer experience.

The Darkness 2 provides exactly what its developer intended. It consumes the player in the dark, bloody world of Jackie Estacado. The plot is developed perfectly and the cinematic quality and style of this game truly sets it apart from the run-of-the-mill war shooter that many publishing companies are using as a crutch. The game is innovative and it has character. These qualities are rare in the current FPS landscape of Call of Duty clones.

So if you have morbid fantasies of ripping mobsters apart with giant arms that come out of your back while simultaneously filling them with bullets, car doors and even the rare ventilation blade, take the plunge and buy The Darkness 2. If this doesn’t appeal to an immediate, prurient interest, wait for the inevitable price drop that will occur within three months.