In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom spears The Darkness 2 with a pool cue, and cackles at the sky.
The shooter campaign is a dwindling phenomenon. Every so often we'll get doozy, with corridors, hundreds of NPC enemies and big beautiful guns. Last year it was Wolfenstein: The New Order. In 2012 it was The Darkness 2: a a bloody, low-fat hunk of schlock entertainment that cast you as a sort of demented Don Corleone with extra demon limbs. You avenge your girlfriend by wiping out hordes of gangsters as your criminal pals watch with growing concern.
The Darkness 2 is notable for a few reasons. The cross-hatched, cel-shaded style recalls the series' comic book origins, and gives it an abstract quality that has aged handsomely. It also has a curious plot device that pulls you into a mental asylum every so often and asks you, with a wink and a nudge, if any of this is real at all. Aren't all of these crazed killing sprees, punctuated by gory tentacle dismemberment fatalities, fantasies only a psychotic mind would enjoy? Are you, the player, having too much fun with all this wanton murder?
Fortunately it's too tongue in cheek to be judgemental, but it rightly highlights The Darkness 2's remarkable violence. It's unusual for the way it incentivises you to rend and puncture the bodies of your enemies. As your fleshy human paws dual wield submachine guns, your black demon arms hover over your shoulders, hissing and gnashing. Tap “Q” and they rip the heart of the nearest dead enemy and consume it for health. If you're looking at a piece of glowing environmental detritus, it can be seized by a demon arm and thrown with deadly force. If you happen to grab a pool cue, or anything vaguely pipe-shaped, the projectile spears enemies and pin them to any nearby surfaces.
This is very satisfying, but I think the rush has more to do with environmental control than the violence your extra arms inflict on enemies directly. The Darkness 2's levels don't look special—expect lots of warehouses and back alleys—but you can mess with them in ways that other shooters don't allow. Car doors can be yanked off vehicles and used as impromptu riot shields. Explosive barrels aren't there to be shot, but thrown with satisfying accuracy at clumped gangsters. Find yourself in trouble? Seize a wounded enemy from twenty feet away and eviscerate them for ammo, experience or more health; spit choking gas at enemies; throw an imp; pull a pipe off the wall and use it to kill a sniper.
The addition of extra arms seems like a gimmicky way to spice up the corridor FPS, but in practice they iterate on Half-Life 2's gravity gun by giving you an extra array of spatial interactions. Even better, you can use these in concert with the traditional FPS pistol-rifle-shotgun trinity to conduct absurd scenes of destruction.
This creates an interesting sense of ambidexterity too. The familiar WASD-and-mouse combo handles familiar shooting actions with your character's human hands, while other keyboard prompts handle your extraordinary off-hand abilities. Cleverly, these abilities can't be used if you're too near a light source, and light sources can only be destroyed with ordinary human guns. The WASD-mouse instincts help you to snipe fluorescent lights, bulbs and power generators, while the rest of your brain analyses the environment for things to grab, throw and break. It could easily become too confusing. Instead, when you successfully pop a light to unleash a black hole, it feels peculiarly like you're giving yourself a handshake.
It's not a classic. It's necessarily short, because after a while it can't seem to invent new environmental actions for your extra arms to use. The enemies are total fodder, devoid of intelligence or even basic survival instincts. This doesn't matter hugely, though. They are horribly outmatched, and as the orderlies of The Darkness 2's asylum will imply, they're just nonexistent playthings for Jackie's violent imagination anyway. Why not indulge him?
The Darkness 2 is one of our favourite overlooked shooters. Take a look at the rest of the list and stock up in the next Steam sale.