By Ryan Rayhill
You would think after being possessed by a demon, going to war with his own crime boss uncle and having the love of his life murdered before his very eyes, anti-hero Jackie Estacado would have re-evaluated his lifestyle and retreated to a hippie commune in the Catskills. Or worse.
Instead, with his uncle and former don of the Franchetti Crime family out of the way and his demonic interloper, known as the Darkness (creepily voiced again by Faith No More’s Mike Patton), under control, Jackie is now the head of the family, doing his best to leave any non-mafia unpleasantness behind him.
However, as we saw in a recent hands-on demo of The Darkness II, with a story penned by comic scribe Paul Jenkins, unpleasantness has a way of finding Jackie. When paying a visit to one of his business concerns, an unprovoked attack leaves Jackie near death and with little choice but to unleash the monster within as he embarks on a mission to hunt down his assailants, an occult group known as the Brotherhood, who happen to operate out of a very charming whorehouse. Led by an acerbic, disfigured gent by the name of Victor Valante, the Brotherhood not only know about the Darkness but want it for themselves, at any cost.
The Darkness II isn’t your average FPS, as you not only have assorted artillery like pistols, shotguns, and sub-machine guns available to you throughout, but also a host of demonic powers, all of which can be used in tandem with each other to deliver an impressive array of carnage.
Two demon “arms” that protrude from either side of the screen each have different uses as one grabs everything from bad guys to environmental objects, while the other is purely a slashing weapon used for melee attacks. You are also accompanied by a sneering, Johnny Rotten-esque little demon, or darkling, that serves to not only help take out your enemies in a variety of grisly ways but who can also get to places you can’t in order to unlock doors, spy on the enemy and overcome various other obstacles.
Your powers can also be augmented by coming across “talent shrines” placed throughout the game. This new addition allows you to upgrade your skills - such as faster weapon loading, healing abilities, and our favorite, Swarm - by spending “essence,” a form of currency within the game you earn through each kill. While we only got to play with a few of these talents in our brief demo, Swarm looked to be the most satisfying thusfar as you unleash a cloud of dark matter that stuns and confuses enemies like a hive of angry bees, setting them up for an easy kill.
Like the original, light plays an integral part of the Darkness experience as your powers are weakened when exposed. Yet here it isn’t just knocking out lamps or avoiding street lights; the enemy knows your vulnerability and actively use it to their advantage through floodlights, flashbangs and even high-powered light-emitting cannons, making each situation in The Darkness II a little trickier than your average run and gun shooter. Even on normal difficulty, we did not have an easy time playing through the demo the same way we would your average Call of Duty or Halo. Strategy and environmental awareness were constantly needed in how we approached each situation to avoid a quick death at the hands of the Brotherhood. A welcome change of pace, to be sure.
There is certainly a learning curve to mastering everything available to you in The Darkness II but once you get the rhythm down, it’s like conducting a symphony of destruction. At any given moment you may be able to grab a car door to use as a shield, hurl a piece of pipe like a javelin to impale someone on the other side of the room. Then, silently assassinate an unsuspecting lackey in the next room with a throat rip, unleash Swarm to confuse another or your demonic appendages to squeeze the life out of them. Of course, you could also just shoot them in the face. The kill combos in Darkness II are visceral and excitingly abundant.
Visually, The Darkness II hearkens back to its Top Cow comic roots with a cel-shaded style that departs from the original game’s more drearily realistic look and is that much better for it. Blood gushes as you rip guys in half, environments are more lush and hookers’ dresses pop vibrantly (in more ways than one).
Despite all the power at our fingertips, we ended our demo with Jackie at the mercy of Victor and the Brotherhood, literally crucified and faced with perhaps the toughest decision of his life. But after having spent some time with perhaps one of the most intense, cleverly written and deep FPS games we’ve ever played, our decision to let The Darkness II consume us when it hits in early 2012 is an easy one.
Check out the trailer for The Darkness II below!