Based on a little known but reasonably well received comic book, The Darkness was a relatively successfully first person shooter developed for the 360 and PS3 by Starbreeze Studios back in 2007. While it didn’t exactly change the world of video games upon release, it nonetheless proved a largely enjoyable experience thanks in no small part to its enigmatic lead and commitment to story in a genre famed for its action-orientated approach to gameplay. As fond as I was of it though, I have to admit, I never in a million years expected there to be a sequel. But hey, here we are; new art style, new developer (Digital Extremes have taken over development duties this time around), but thankfully, the same commitment to quality and story-driven gameplay found in its under-appreciated progenitor. The Darkness II won’t win any technical awards and probably won’t be found atop too many ‘best of’ lists come the end of the year, but it does provide a memorable experience and proves that the terms ‘first person shooter’ and ‘decent story’ do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Returning as mafia boss, Jackie Estacado, The Darkness II does a great job of balancing story with all out action. Combining clichéd but entertaining mafia conventions with the wholly supernatural Darkness itself, The Darkness II once again delivers themes of love, loss, acceptance and all out violence. The themes covered and the arc followed isn’t greatly removed from the original, but the story is still largely compelling and is helped along no end by the consistently high standard of both the writing and the voice work. A few fans of the original will inevitably bemoan the replacement of the original Jackie voice actor, but to be honest, his replacement does a fine job with the material and really shouldn’t be a cause for concern for the majority of gamers.
While the welcomed split between all out action and moments of relative quite in which you can explore your surroundings, talk to NPCs and even take in a black and white movie return in full, fans of the original will be very happy to hear that The Darkness II sees a major improvement to the original’s rather lacklustre shooting mechanics. With sharper controls, meatier weapons and greater variation, the quad-wielding mechanics of The Darkness II allow for some very inventive (and extremely violent) ways to take down the myriad of enemies baying for Jackie’s blood. Combine that with a basic skill tree that drip feeds additional abilities as you progress, and you’re left with a combat system with more than enough variation to keep the action entertaining right through to the final credits and beyond.
The combination of shooting down your enemies and simultaneously using your Darkness powers to slice enemies in half while attacking distant foes by flinging conveniently placed environmental items across the screen never gets boring, but it’s the ambiguity and somewhat existential search for Jackie’s old flame, Jenny that really keeps the game ticking along. You see, Jenny was actually murdered in the first game, so as you can imagine, the search for her gets pretty weird. In fact, much of the story tiptoes the line between the real and the imaginary, leaving you never quite sure if what you are experiencing is real or whether it is all within the confines of your Darkness infiltrated imagination. There are no actual choices to be made here, but at the very least, the story will keep you guessing……and that’s more than can be said for the majority of first person shooters.
Another stand out feature of The Darkness II comes in the form of the art style employed. Unlike the relative realism of the first game, the sequel takes a more comic book approach via the use of some very impressive cell-shading techniques. The actual engine used is the same created in-house for 2008’s decent but underwhelming Dark Sector. Despite the ageing engine though, the visuals on display never feel dated. There are a few technical hiccups that tarnish the overall experience and the frame-rate does have the occasional stutter, but for the most part, this is a technically sound and artistically impressive sequel.
The package is rounded off by a surprisingly decent set of online co-op missions. Wisely choosing to forgo the Call of Duty dominated world of online competitive shooting, The Darkness II instead opts for a collection of co-op mission that often link in directly with the events of the main story. Playing as Darkness-powered assassins on behalf of Jackie, you and your friends can take on missions that are hinted at throughout the game’s core narrative while allowing you free reign to experiment with all the possibilities that come with Darkness-enabled superpowers. It’s not going to steal months of your life away, but it does serve as a pleasant distraction and is a far sight superior to the poor online offering found in the original.
A few technical hiccups aside, The Darkness II proves an extremely welcome and highly assured sequel to the already largely impressive original. The story might not be a huge departure from the first game’s but the quality of the writing and the high calibre delivery of the script keeps the tale from ever going stale. The mechanics are solid, the Darkness-enabled quad-wielding combat is consistently entertaining and the cel-shaded visual style perfectly suited to the source material. I never thought a sequel to The Darkness would get made but I’m sure glad it has.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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