If you couldn’t tell from my list of glob knows how many reviews, I am not bound by anything in terms of what I pick up and when. So a positively received title that was a sequel to a game you could get for $5 at any given Gamestop, which somehow was a disappointing product in regards to sales? Sure, why not. The Darkness II because I picked it up for $6.
The Darkness II Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: 2K Games
Set two years after the prior title, The Darkness II takes place in the shoes of Jackie Estacado, a young head of a large crime family who is getting over a series of events that resulted in the death of his girlfriend, Jenny, and the mystical power of a being known as The Darkness. Though the story started when it did for good reason, as Jackie is attacked by a group that wants to take The Darkness out of his body and use it for ancient evil things. With the predictable ancient powers of evil tearing the protagonist apart while still being a powerhouse, call-backs on those long thought dead, and quite a bit of rage from the protagonist as he more or less refuses to cooperate with people who introduce themselves with bullets.
At the same time, I actually found the rather large cast of characters in this rather short retail title to be endearing, the antagonists to be rightfully ruthless in their assault, and the voice acting to be rather quality from all involved. Even if Mike Patton as The Darkness provoked a smile on my face when I’m sure he was suppose to be more creepy, though the modified Levi Brush font for its dialog sure didn’t help. Yet, there was a certain point in the story where I felt it could easily become something more interesting, if not continuing the path of being a bit on the cliche side. Though, it certainly was far better than I expected considering it was an adaptation of a mid 90s IMage comic. However, I also expected a more solidified conclusion, but that was apparently a bit too much to ask, as the game might as well have ended with a never to be followed To be continued, as the game had very low sales.
Not that it was very much due to the game being necessarily poor in quality, as the gameplay would prove otherwise very quickly. The Darkness II follows particular route of a linear yet somewhat frantic shooter with the health based regeneration, impulsive weapon grabbing, and even throws in a creative kill system for good measure. A system that acts to highlight the game’s quad wielding mechanic, an idea that sounds cooler in terms of advertising than it does in the actual game. With two tentacles representing The Darkness popping out of Jackie’s… body, they are pretty simply a ranged grab and toss, or a melee slash that I primarily used for an execution move, which due to the manner in which the game handles experience rewarded from creative methods of murder is the best strategy for next to every enemy in the game’s first half. Which certainly does lead to many a repeated animation, and also invulnerability as the animation is going on and enemies attempt to clip into Jackie’s face.
In many cases the fact that the game decided upon using a rather large and open environment for action came across as a bit overwhelming for me, not unlike how I felt towards many of the encounters in Bioshock Infinite. It becomes increasingly more hectic when the environment is covered with bits which can be picked up and thrown, often slicing men in half or impounding them onto a wall, as the usable objects can sometimes get lost in the action and only are given a bright orange dot and purple hue when you are within reach of them. As such, I often forgot about them unless they were placed in front of me.
However, what I probably disliked above all else was how Jackie, cannot stand being in the light because, well, it’s called The Darkness for a reason. I have no problem when the enemies decide to bring in men carrying flood light, in fact I found it to be a rather nice touch, but detecting Jackie’s immersion in what can be classified as light in a game that opts to have a comic book-esc art style, it is easy to not realize there is a light to your left, explaining why Jackie’s vision went to crap and he cannot aim. Though the game seems to be rather picky about aiming in general, with headshots being harder to get than expected, and hitting certain lights being a hair bit frustrating after aiming at what looked to be the center of the blinding rays.
Despite my gripes, however, I actually am somewhat fond of the gameplay as it is rather invigorating, yet the decision to hide experience rewarding collectibles in nearly every stage strikes me as a bit odd, given the game’s fast pacing that results in six hours being the expected completion time. A time that almost explains why about 90% of the gameplay is walking around and shooting, with the only other form being a duo of fairly basic stealth sections where you play as the Darkling. A very crass, crude, and cockney little demon who in regards to gameplay acts as a somewhat helpful distraction, and supposedly comic relief, despite that not being necessary especially when that includes farting and pissing on a dead body. It, along with a focus on borderline ultraviolence with the slicing of people in half, feel rather out of place in the title, as they make it far more like, well, what somebody would expect from a 1990s Image comic.
Yet, in spite of how I would likely criticize the stylistic and visual choices made in the source material, based on the softball of knowledge I have about that era of comics, I am very fond of the game’s art style. Using that same good old semi-cel shading from titles like Borderlands and The Walking Dead, though with what I’d call less stylized proportions, it’s not all that surprising. Yet, the game needs to fulfill its title, so the color palette incorporated is on the darker side, which I would be okay with if the distinction between stylized light and harmful light was a bit more clear. A move that is not made much better by how fast I believe you are expected to go through the environment.
On the more technical side, there are several sections where the game fixates Jackie’s vision on another character, a move that I believe was intended to showcase some sort of LA Noire level technology in terms of facial movements, but the motions still seemed a bit on the stiff side. I also found there to be a very odd dip in frame rate whenever the game was displaying an Full Motion Video in the environment nearby Jackie, when the majority of the game runs fine otherwise.
In a market that has become as competitive as games, I feel as if there is no sadder position to be in where the final product you have made passes the test with a “good”, but is not something that would ever hope of getting out of the maybe pile for anybody actively involved in the medium. The Darkness II is caught somewhere in this pile, and while I can vouch for it being a rather enjoyable middle chapter that can firmly stand on its own, but at the same time is lacking much of an oomph to recommend among the colossal number of games in any given marketplace.
The game is good at its core, that much is very true, but the hiccups start to get more than a bit too present to be pushed aside, or the title might just be lacking in a textbook full of different manners.