Let me start this off by saying that The Darkness II is a gruesomely dark game that doesn’t hold anything back. I totally wasn’t ready for it, but by the end it just worked. We were given a demo by Tom Galt of Digital Extremes, the developer of The Darkness II. He started the demo off by giving us a bit of background from what happened between the events of the first and second games. The Darkness II picks up two years after the events of the first game when Jackie Estacado, the protagonist from the first game, is attacked by a group of strange men. These men turn out to be from a group called The Brotherhood that is intent on taking the darkness from Jackie. Fighting them off forces him to use his powers, but they have been studying the darkness over the years and have learned how to use light to fight it off. They use lights and flashbangs against Jackie, which not only hurt him but render his darkness power unusable.
If you are unfamiliar with the core concept of The Darkness, the main character has two darkness monsters on each shoulder. These monsters are able to grab enemies and objects to cause destruction. Many times throughout the demo, they tore enemy’s heads straight off or sliced them in half with saws or car doors. This is done in spectacular fashion too, they aren’t just doing things halfway. Jackie and The Darkness are still at odds with each other so at times they will fight with each other like siblings on a long car ride. Even this small little thing gives a bit more realism to the whole idea. He doesn’t just know how to work them perfectly; the two have to learn to deal with each other. Having these two monsters as weapons is almost enough in most situations but the character can also wield weapons and even dual wield some. The developer calls this quad-wielding. It makes for some crazy different ways of stringing together weapon and darkness combat.
This wouldn’t be a videogame if there wasn’t some sort of upgrade system though, especially when you have darkness powers. These darkness power upgrades are funded by dark essence, which is collected by killing enemies. Killing them in different ways will earn more essence but it didn’t really seem like it was that big of an improvement. We were shown a few of these upgraded abilities and while some of them were as standard as upgrades come, two really stood out as great demonstrations of how the Darkness affects other weapons. Gun Channeling does something that is seen in a lot of games these days but was presented in such a way that felt fresh. As expected from the name, gun channeling funnels darkness powers to Jackie’s weapon, giving it unlimited ammunition and increased bullet damage for a certain period of time. The duration of this effect can be upgraded using dark essence as well. The second was Heart of Darkness which allows Jackie the ability to shoot and see through walls. This is huge in any game and was done with colored outlines around characters. It was genuinely helpful and seemed like a fun addition.
Before I get to the mind-tripping ending of the demo, I want to talk about the art style of The Darkness II. We’ve all seen those games that try to accomplish a comic-book art style, and they often fall short. Not only does The Darkness II not fall short, but it does it beautifully. When asked, Galt explained that they didn’t want to have a stylized look; they wanted that comic style and didn’t want to make any concessions. The team realized that the only way to really accomplish this would be to handpaint the textures, which they did for every single texture in the game. That is crazy to me. Yet the thing is, it looks amazing and I feel that they pulled it off perfectly.
Now, let’s get to the ending of the demo. Throughout the demo, Jackie heard the voice of Jenny and was even seeing her at points. Which, *SPOILERS*, is totally crazy as if you played the first Darkness, you saw her get executed right in front of you. Jackie has always struggled gaining a grasp on reality, which I assume anyone with giant darkness tentacles coming out of them would, so this doesn’t really help him much. At the end of the demo, a black hole opens and Jackie wakes in a white room. The walls are covered in writing and drawings related to Jenny. A doctor then comes up and says “Jackie, you’ve had another episode.” It is then evident that Jackie’s inside an insane asylum. That’s where the demo ended.
The Darkness is regarded as one of the best examples of conveying raw emotion, which leaves us hoping that The Darkness II will stick to the same goal on top of being a solid shooter. We’ll have to wait for the final release of the game to find that out though.
The Darkness II arrived on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC on October 4th, 2011, you can pre-order here (PS3) and here (Xbox 360).