Thursday, June 12, 2014

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

It is with great satisfaction that I can revisit a franchise I have grown to enjoy in comic book form and its original game, although with the property switching game studios, The Darkness II has changed some of its elements, though thankfully not the ones lying at its very core. Mobster Jackie Estacado and his demon arms are back with a vengeance. The game plays in a rather similar way to its predecessor, but it is as though the action has been amped up, with the vibrant use of cel shading, and more spectacular and brutal Darkness powers.

It also stays a bit closer to the comics, with the inclusion of the Brotherhood and Angelus, the latter being more of a cameo. As well, Jackie's character model resembles the comic book look more this time around. Our antihero's powers lie dormant, until he is attacked by seemingly a rival gang. After her passing, Jackie sees his girlfriend from the original game, Jenny, in visions, as he is tortured by her loss. Jackie is being sought by a secret society, the above-mentioned Brotherhood, whose leader makes an attempt to obtain the Darkness powers through occult means.

The game has some rpg elements, with the inclusion of a talent tree, since you can buy Darkness talents with "essence points" by eating hearts or finding relics, and there is even the incorporation of a few dialogue options. There are talent shrines scattered about the levels for the former purpose. The ability to hurl objects at enemies, as well as grabbing, for instance, car doors as shields, are welcome additions. Pointy objects are of special use, since you can impale your enemies against a wall; this is a comic book world, after all.

There is now one darkling, instead of several. Jackie's demon friend opens doors and assists you during boss fights. As in the first game, he has a punk-rock attitude, and urinates and passes gas over your enemies, while cursing in a cockney accent. You can even throw him against enemies, which is helpful since gunfights can get fairly intense, and there are sections where you control him. There are various weapons at your disposal, and you can grab those that your enemies leave behind. There is the added bonus of playing while dual-wielding two different guns.

The quiet interludes in between missions mimic the pace of the original game, and I for one am glad this is present in the sequel, such as visits to Jackie's mansion, and vivid visions, for instance, of a terrifying psychiatric ward in which Jackie's mobster pals are inmates and doctors; always count on psychiatry to be more chilling than the Darkness itself. The tour of the brothel is explicitly detailed in all its decadence, with sights and sounds which both arouse and repulse. The loading screens are also similar to the first game, featuring Jackie's short monologues.

Curiously, some of the most fun I had with the game are the bonus missions, called Vendettas, which is pleasing since the main story is a tad short. Vendettas is a co-op mode for up to four players, which can also be played offline. Each of the four Darkness Assassins have distinct weapons and powers. This mode ties to the main campaign through Johnny Powell, Jackie's go-to man on the occult, who behaves and talks like a famelic Woody Allen on acid. The Limited Edition comes with a poster, printed on both sides, free digital download of the Darkness Origins Volume 1 and 2 comics, and a couple of minor additions to the game. A worthy sequel in all regards.