The Darkness 2 review
The hyper-violence of The Darkness II is comic in the extreme – in both senses of the word. The game is based on the comic books of the same name, and its characters are, as befitting the title, black and white in morality.
After his escapades in the previous game – neatly summed up by an optional ‘previously on The Darkness’ cutscene – Jackie starts The Darkness II as the head of a mafia family, under attack from sources that want his power. He’s obviously a violent man, having killed his first victim, according to cinematics, at 16, but he’s given salvation through his relationship with girlfriend Jenny. One small problem: she was killed by a rival mob boss in the previous game. Without her physical presence, Jackie’s moral checks are loosened, but even so the game is careful to steer him so the people in his way are unquestionably more disgusting and evil than he is. Jenny’s death serves as a girlfriendshaped carrot on a stick, driving Jackie forward.
The Darkness II’s enemies are so unquestionably nefarious that I rarely had time to stop and question the linearity of the levels. Your main antagonist has a hunchback, a limp, and a burned-up face, for God’s sake: if he’s not comic book evil, I don’t know what is.
On the friendlier side, Jackie has a supporting cast of mobsters to help in his quest for vengeance. Between missions, you’re sent back to the Estacado homestead, a plush apartment in central New York. These sections serve to add character to the gang Jackie is acting head of, but they could do with being a touch more interactive: after trudging around the grounds I was rewarded with one bottle-shooting minigame and a few incidental conversations.
That story can’t keep up the pace forever. The final levels are a slog where their predecessors were a sprint, and the procession of maniacally grisly deaths eventually dulls the shock receptors. But developers Digital Extremes have orchestrated some careful pacing: the plot’s headlong rush – ‘chase them, find him, kill others’ – has occasional moments of uneasy calm so interesting I won’t spoil them. These moments of clear air serve to highlight the ferocity of Jackie’s cleaving path, putting him in situations he can’t shoot, slash or chew his way out of.
There are acceptable outs for players wholly unengaged with the story – cutscenes and dialogue can be skipped – but the plot remains involving in a way rarely seen in shooters. Again, I’m dancing around my words to avoid giant spoilers, but The Darkness II plays with concepts of unreliable narration in a way that only games allow. It makes you question the veracity of the story you’ve just played.
Also, it lets you pull peoples’ guts out of their bum with giant demonsnake arms. The Darkness II is a dumb shooter that’s three times as clever as it looks. So too is Jackie’s murderous repertoire three times as extensive as that of other shooters. It might not last long and the action doesn’t alter its tone, but The Darkness II’s charms stuck with me long after I turned out the light.
A dark, violent comic book given light and heart. a ripping yarn that tears along as fast as you can tear through bodies.