The Darkness 2

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360/PC
Genre: FPS
Players: 1 (Online: 1-4)
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Drug References, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content)

The Darkness 2 is a bit rough around the edges. While the core game is there, the presentation and plot do little to solidify it, making it difficult to keep the drive to complete it going. Let’s dig in from the outer layers.

Reviewers praised the first game’s story, but I can’t imagine the sentiment stuck for the sequel. While I definitely laud the efficiency with which the story is told, it’s not one that’s all that great. Often in a first-person shooter, the player gets trailed along some plot without a lot of information. It’s easy to miss key points, forget where you are or generally ignore everything but “I’m here. Shoot now” (here’s looking at you, Call of Duty). Jackie Estacado, the main character, has a voice, which certainly helps. He asks lots of questions so we always know what’s going on, even if we’ve been passed out on the ground. The story itself, however, isn’t very compelling and the intricacies do get muddy. I think I’ve got the gist of it, but I can’t say for sure.
Additionally, Jackie has terrible motives. He’s sad about losing his girlfriend Jenny and seems to believe the Darkness has trapped her soul in hell. For this reason, even though she is already dead, he thinks he needs to save her. Somehow, this constitutes running headfirst into traps he is fully aware of. This is incredibly frustrating and can make it feel like you’re constantly taking steps backwards in the game. It’s also rather linear, and while I recognize the need for such titles on the market, I can imagine we’re reaching a point where games have become so immersive and player-driven that linear titles lacking a unique and pleasing graphical presentation or unique style of play will soon disappear altogether.
But I digress. As a result, there were times at the beginning where I wasn’t sure if I was playing as Jackie Estacado or the Darkness itself, a real identity crisis that made it very frustrating to continue playing along with all of Jackie’s idiotic decisions.
To top off the weird and frustrating story, the game ends with a choice. Choose one option and you watch a quick cutscene before credits roll. However, a lack of the ‘ping’ of a game completed trophy will quickly tip you off that “Oops, I picked the wrong one”. It will also make the plot pretty much impossible to ascertain. Before going further, I’d like to say that the option to choose the “wrong” ending is a bit counter-intuitive. The ‘Continue’ option from the main screen will give you the chance to choose the other, and another 20 minutes of gameplay ensues before credits roll again. Here comes the satisfying ‘ping’ and the satisfying conclusion of having at least some idea of what was going on. But wait, there’s more! If you sit through the credits, one more cutscene rolls – one which topples the already flimsy Jenga tower that has been tied together over the last six hours.
I will say that I enjoyed the majority of monologues from Jackie between various missions. They do a lot to develop Jackie’s character, but unfortunately, this isn’t capitalized on. The plot is too confusing to give the player a chance to emotionally bond with the emotionally torn Estacado.
The graphic style is a bit odd, owing to the game’s comic book roots. It takes on a Borderlands-like appearance without the outrageousness of Borderlands, making it hard to take all that seriously sometimes. Also, cutscenes are avoided nearly entirely, leaving most conversations in first person. This works well in most cases as they’re kept short and often take place while traveling, but this makes a couple moments where Jackie is getting intimate with this vision he keeps having of Jenny very awkward.
For the most part, gameplay is tight and fun. The whole “avoid the light” thing can get rather frustrating, and ammo is pretty limited, so it’s not rare to find yourself dying a couple times before deciding on a better course of action. This results in a big video game taboo – a short cutscene after dying and before restarting from a checkpoint. This is really annoying because it happens a lot and is in no way, shape or form interesting. The two Batman games are similar transgressors here, but the variation of scene, less-common deaths, and the villain speaking directly to you make it a little less frustrating. The Darkness will make you want to scream. Not to mention that I was on average difficulty with two ranks left to go. Kudos to anyone willing to tough that out.
Combat is fluid and better than your average shooter in many ways what with the demon arms and all. This puts some variety into combat. However, the lack of a cover system is glaring. An RPG-esque talent tree allows you to upgrade several of Jackie’s abilities, including the arms, but you’ll never notice some of them as they require much more focus on the direction of the right control stick during swipes than anyone should have time to devote amid the bulletstorms that often occur.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the quality of voice-acting. Everyone (other than Jenny, oddly enough) embodied a mobster rather well, not that there’s a whole lot to capture. Johnny Powell in particular is great fun to listen to – especially his opening monologue recapping events so far. A potentially cheesy pitfall was avoided here.
To wrap up the single player, can someone please explain to me the obligatory meandering through a brothel in games like this? Perhaps it’s simply an aspect of mob-life I don’t understand, but there just seem to be a lot of games out there trying to be edgy and gritty that put you in a strip club or brothel for the sake of being in a strip club or brothel, offering up sex scenes and moaning as though someone has picked up the game for that one sequence. It’s not the soft-core porn that was Duke Nukem Forever, but still seems pretty unmotivated.
There is also a co-op mode called “Vendettas” in which up to four players can play through a number of scenarios with varying characters, all which encompasses other short story arcs. I didn’t dabble much here in my time with the game, but it’s a bit more lighthearted and fun-focused – something this game desperately needs. Unfortunately, this is online-only. I’d seriously love to see way more local co-op from games. Seriously.
Bottom Line: 7.5
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