Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Darkness II Review

General George S. Patton once said, "Give me an army of West Point graduates and I'll win a battle. Give me the powers of an ancient, dark force from before time began and two demon heads on my shoulders and I'll win a war." I'm not making that up.* And he would have been right. The Darkness is an incredibly powerful force. History lessons aside, the big question was how it would stack up to the original game. We here at the O and E love the precursor and it sits comfortably in my personal top 10  favorite games list. So how does Darkness Dos fare?

Two things are obvious pretty early on. The art style and the shooting mechanics. While the original had a very normal look to it, the sequel is designed to look like a comic book, which makes sense... because the Darkness is a comic. In fact, the feel is a little closer to that of the comics, but I'll get to that later. The new style isn't better or worse. It's just a matter of preference. I happen to like it more, but I can see how it would make things a tad too cartoony for some.The shooting is a bit harder to explain. For those of you who played the original Darkness, you might remember the shooting being a bit weird, but not in a bad way. It had an odd, fluent feel and Jackie, our protagonist, would reach his hands around obstacles to shoot if you were trying to take cover. It took some getting used to, but once you did it felt very natural. That has been replaced by a more conventional shooting style. I actually kind of miss the old aiming mechanics, but its loss doesn't take away from the game at all.This too comes down to preference. Don't think there aren't any clear improvements, though. The Darkness powers alone have been expanded on and improved.

Also, this handsome devil.
 Unlike the first game, your darkness powers and abilities have taken on a bit of an RPG element. Killing people in different ways and eating hearts earns you varying levels of dark essence which you can use to unlock skills in four different skill trees. Most of the original abilities are back, such as hurling black holes and the darkness guns, only this time you have to buy them and they can all be upgraded. Yes, they were given to you at certain points in the original, but now you can get them as soon as you are capable. Being able to upgrade them is an even bigger bonus. You darkness guns, for example, are much better than they were in Darkness 1. Instead of equipping them, you activate them and a dark essence surrounds the guns you are currently wielding, which turns them into infinite ammo spewing death machines. You know, because sometimes guns aren't efficient enough with that. You can eventually upgrade the darkness guns to last longer, auto-aim when you are duel-wielding one handed weapons, and shoot through walls. Combining all of these things usually results in a room full of exploded bodies. And this is only one example. Even using the darkness heads works differently. The right bumper controls the right head, which you use for slashing in a horizontal or vertical fashion, and the left bumper controls the left head, which you use for picking up objects or people. And speaking of grabbing people, you can eventually execute them in four different ways, each of which has a different effect. One gives you more health, another gives you ammo, the third reduces the cooldown of some of your abilities, and the last creates a shield which the left head holds up in front of you. Oh, also, you can spit locusts at people. You get biblical up in this bitch.

Unfortunately, you can't kill anyone's first born or inflict them with boils, but there is some crucifixion. Too soon?
 Naturally, doing all of this leads to supreme amounts of gore. And I mean SUPREME. While the first one had its moments (you did eat peoples' hearts), this game blows it out of the water. People explode, get ripped apart from having each leg torn in the other direction, have their spines ripped from out of their asses; it's fucking glorious. Of course, the gore isn't the focus. It's merely the icing on the cake of perhaps the most important element. The story.

Whichever darkness head gets the bigger half gets to make a wish.
While the story is still strong, it plays out a bit differently. For one, the open-world element of the original is gone, with linear gameplay taking its place. While this is a negative, there are moments when you get to walk around your penthouse and talk to people. One character, Dolpho, let's you play minigames where you shoot bottles and pigeons. I'm still waiting for PETA to get all pissy about the latter. You also get to look at the artifacts you've collected throughout the game in a tidy case while a new character, Johnny, tells you about them. His voice actor is amazing by the way. But what makes a good story doesn't lie in whether or not it's open world. It lies in the writing, characters, and plot, and Darkness II certainly delivers. The story is a bit more comic-booky this time around with more supernatural elements and connections to the actual comics. One example is constant mention of the Angelus. However, the big question on the minds of everyone who played the original was if they could possible pull off something as emotional as the scenes with Jenny from the first game, because you know (spoiler) she's dead. The answer is not quite, but they get damn close. This time around, your interactions with Jenny take place through visions Jackie has, that have more behind them than you would think at first, and seeing her in an asylum. I'm not going to explain the asylum at all because it would give too much away. In any case, your moments with her bring out a sense of emotional loss that I rarely feel in games. Of course, playing the original and actually seeing her die makes up a large part of that. At one point, the game tells you to press X to let go of her. There is no time limit and you can do it when you want, but despite how simplistic that action is, it's way deeper than you would think. The game doesn't let go for you. It makes YOU let go. And by that point, you won't want to. It's little things like this that make the Darkness II one of the most emotionally involving games I've played since the original, and that came out in 2007. Oh, and the game also gives emotional weight to the darkling that follows you around and fights for you. Unlike the first game, there is only one darkling and he is always there with you in the combat sections of the game. He also has a personality and a connection to Jackie. I'm not going to give anything away, but they make you care about that little guy.

Look at the little scamp.
 This leads us back to the original question. Is it better than the original. The answer is yes. Yeah, the linear gameplay isn't as good, the story is too short, and nothing ever hit me as hard as Jenny's death, but two is an improvement over one in literally every other way. There's also a new game plus mode which is incredibly fun because you start the game out as death incarnate. Unfortunately, I never got around to playing the multiplayer mode, but I hear it's pretty good and has it's own unique story. The main game itself is enough to earn your purchase, however, and I couldn't recommend it more.

9 out of 10

*I'm totally making that up.


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