Review by LeQuack147

"Embrace the Darkness Jackie..."

The Darkness was a "good, but not great" kind of game. The story was excellent, but the gameplay wasn't always up to par. The sequel does a great job of addressing the flaws of the previous title, but does make a couple mistakes of its own. Overall, however, it is a massive improvement.

Storyline- You think they'd learn by now, don't mess with Jackie.

A couple years after the first game, things are going well for Jackie Estacado. He's learned to suppress the Darkness, he's head of the Franchetti crime family. Then this secret organization called the Brotherhood decides to ruin all that. Their goal is to convince Jackie to give up the Darkness, so they can use it to screw over the world even further. They don't seem very bright though. They threaten what little Jackie has left, which is what Jackie's Uncle Paulie tried in the first game. Seeing as we're on the sequel, you can guess how well that went. Funny thing being, Jackie doesn't even want the Darkness. If they'd asked nicely to begin with, in a way that didn't scream "We are an evil organization bent on ruining everyone's day, including yours," he probably would have handed it over. Meanwhile, the Darkness is back to using Jackie's girl-friend, Jenny, to manipulate him. This is pretty impressive considering she died, in the first game, because of the Darkness. All the same, Jackie's convinced that working with the monster inside will help her, and it's not like anyone will complain if this group is eliminated. Still, it's a good story, and watching Jackie and the Darkness clash is always fun.

There's a few characters, mostly Jackie's fellow gang members. Only two or three of them get any attention, but you can always walk around Jackie's base of operations to hear them chatting. They generally do more talking than Jackie does, explaining the next mission and what it entails. The conversation mechanics from the first game are still there, but as before, there's not all that much you can do with them. It's more an extra accessory than a main feature. It's also good to see more characters on the supernatural side of things, such as the expert on all things magical, Johnny Powell.

Along with the campaign, there's a side mode called Vendettas. It's a multi-player mode where you control part of a separate team going after the Brotherhood for their own reasons, but being directed by Vinnie, Jackie's right hand man. Considering it's even shorter than the main game, I was surprised that they put just as much work in here. The squad consists of stereotypical characters, like a Scottish brawler, and a Voodoo Priest. Still, their interactions feel genuine, such as when they're thanking whoever just helped them up, or they're celebrating a successful job back at the poker table that serves as the staging area. It also means more screen time for supporting characters like Johny Powell, which is good.

My only major complaint on the story is that it's a little short. I've heard "six hours" thrown around, I think it took me a little longer. Granted, this isn't all bad, it keeps the plot advancing. But considering how much work they put into this game's story mode, I wish it had lasted a little longer.

Sound- Bang, slash, gurgle.

First thing: Bad voice acting would have killed this game. You wouldn't be able to play with a straight face if, say, Jackie was voiced by Bozo the Clown. This game takes itself very seriously, and a bad performance from one of the VA's would have made it impossible for a player to do the same. But they did a great job, and that has added to the experience immensely.

Take Johnny Powell for example. He's knows everything about the Darkness, and the new faction pursuing Jackie, but he's just a little bit off. He's neurotic, and jumpy, and tends to get side-tracked when he's explaining something, especially with the pronunciation. Basically, he's what I imagine I'd sound like, if I was explaining supernatural beings to a jaded mafia hit-man. He even summarizes the last game for anyone who didn't play it. It was also a nice touch to have him explaining all the relics you pick up over the course of the game. It wasn't needed, but they did it anyway. Hell, they didn't even need to give us relics that actually had back-story. His narratives are informative while his personality keeps them entertaining.

Another example is Jackie's Darkling. The Darklings in the first game were voiced too, but they weren't nearly as memorable, as the dialogue was split between 4 of them, and thus whatever humor was brought with them was spread rather thin. This new Darkling has a concrete personality, not just random remarks as he assists your attack.

Now if only they'd put the same care into the weapons. The guns sound pretty much the same, which is frustrating. At least the execution attacks sound as good as they look.

Graphics- A new style for a new game.

An interesting new change is the graphical style. The first game had mostly realistic graphics, barring, of course, the manifestations of the Darkness. This new stuff is cell-shaded, which maybe be a problem if you preferred the style from the last game. I'd say it still looks good, new style or not. The executions are suitably gory and painful looking, and the guns are nicely detailed. The game is almost-exclusively urban environments, but this is no surprise. While they may not be all that varied, these areas are equally detailed.

One problem is telling where the what sections are lit and which bulbs are lighting them. As a darkness-fueled abomination, lights are very dangerous, and I couldn't always tell a light was there until my powers were already snuffed out. When this happened in the middle of a major gunfight, bad things resulted. Not just because I now lack the ability to heal or summon bladed tendrils, but also because it's akin to being repeatedly hit by flash-bangs. So, of course, there are enemies with giant flashlights later in the game, and they are annoying. They did help me get more in-character though, by the end of the game I wanted to disembowel every single one of them.

Another complaint I have is with the irons. Thanks to the new graphical style, iron-sights don't work that well because of the bloom. It's kind of funny, but the big blue dot from the last game would be preferable here. Not a big deal for close combat, but a few sections have guys ducking behind cover at a distance, and you need some precision.

Gameplay- Everything is going to die, the game.

The game is more linear than it's predecessor. I'm not sure what I think of this. The actual missions of the first game were linear too, but they were connected by a series of streets and subway stations. Between the NPC's and the side-quests, it felt like a real city, full of people taking care of their own business as you took care of yours. I miss that. They also took out the little payphones you could use to call the numbers you found while on missions. It was a small, humorous mechanic to toy with in-between murdering everyone who looked at you funny.

This game is centered around killing. You can be quick, you can be flashy, but the levels will always end up covered in gore. Killing nets you points to put towards improving Jackie's abilities and giving him new ones. The gameplay feels a little like Bulletstorm, in that the fastest kills aren't the most rewarding. While the combat doesn't always flow perfectly, it has been streamlined from the first game. Jackie now has the option to run, a major improvement from his lethargic pace in the last game. Instead of swapping between Darkness powers as necessary, they're all mapped to their own buttons. 1 for slashing, 1 for grabbing, 1 for super-charging your guns, you get the idea. Instead of cycling through your weapons, you can choose using the D-pad. This means less actual weapons on your person, but seeing as it allows you to smoothly transition from your shotgun to your pistol to having a pistol in each hand, I'd say it's worth it. Also, you don't have to waste time re-summoning dead Darklings anymore. Jackie's new Darkling will reincarnate himself shortly after each death, and he's much more active and than his predecessors. He rarely kills targets outright, but he does render them vulnerable to your own attacks. He also hovers around your current goal when the fighting stops, which, combined with the "remind me what I'm doing" button, made sure I was never wandering an area looking for how to proceed.

The big new feature in this game is the execution system. The first game had a similar thing, where attacking with a gun at punching range gave a cool kill animation. They basically expanded this concept, but now it only uses the Darkness for the attacks. Executions grant you the most points, as well as granting an extra bonus. There is a good number of execution attacks, but seeing as you'll be using them all the time, they'll lose their luster eventually. The execution attacks work well, surprisingly. Normally, having a long, drawn-out killing sequence is a death sentence when the room is full of enemies, but this game keeps you invincible while the animation is going. I'll admit, you may end up abusing it to avoid major attacks, like I did, but it's preferable to the alternative. Once you've got the full load of execution attacks, you can use your enemies to heal, replenish your ammo and powers, or give you a bullet-proof shield.

One of my favorite things about this game is that your abilities don't slow the pace down, the accelerate it further. The Gun Channeling and Swarm abilities let you plow through smaller groups of enemies which would otherwise force you to take cover. The ability to quickly grab a heart or a pistol or a shield stops you from losing momentum in a pitched fight. You even get an ability to speed up the loading of the next round on the pump action shotguns. You wouldn't get away with trying to clear a room in 1 continuous charge in, say, Call of Duty's single-player, but it works here, and better yet, it's fun.

The system isn't perfect though. The ammo supplies of the guns here are lacking, and I kept dropping my gun accidentally, because "Switch with gun on floor" and "Eat heart" are mapped to the same button. Dual-wielding isn't all that practical, partially because of the limited ammo, and can be a pain to do correctly when you've got a semi-auto gun in one hand and a fully automatic one in the other. Also, the Darkness shields tend to drop through the floor if you put them down for more than a couple seconds, which you'll end up doing to grab more hearts and ammo. I can't tell if it's a glitch, but it's certainly not helpful.

The boss fights were ok. Most of them were just bullet-sponges, but they were a lot more mobile than most bosses I've fought. Of course, they usually accomplished this through teleport spam, so that might get on your nerves. They're also nice enough to throw standard enemies at you. Combine this fact with what I said about the execution system, and you avoid those annoying "out of health, out of ammo" situations.

The combat in Vendettas is a little bit different. Each character gets only a small sub-section of Jackie's abilities, and executions are simplified to only give health. They each also get their own upgrade trees, though most of them are just ones from Jackie's tree applied to their power. One part of the upgrade tree works around auras, encouraging players to stick together in exchange for stat boosts.

Each of the four characters is built towards a certain style. Inugami can replicate the demon arm attacks with his sword, and is built for charging the enemy with it. Shoshanna is meant more for medium range with her gun channeling and darkness-powered shotgun. They're all fairly sturdy, and can pick each other up when their health runs out.

My biggest complaint with Vendettas is that it feels spread a bit too thin. Your characters only get 1 execution animation apiece (and as with Jackie, you'll be performing them all the time). There are less elite enemies than in single-player, which means most of your enemies are cannon fodder, and there's just not enough of them to be challenging when you're playing with a full team. That also means there isn't much essence to go around, so upgrading your character of choice is time-consuming unless you play some missions solo.

Replay value-

They do have new game plus, better yet, they let you start on any chapter when you use it, so you can jump right to your favorite part of the game with a full load of abilities after finishing. Or at least a decent number of them, seeing as I still had the top layer of all the upgrade trees to finish even after beating the game once. Vendettas is short but worth a couple play-throughs, especially if you've got someone you know to play it with.

Final Recommendation- It's a fun game with a fast pace and a good variety of attacks. The story may not be the longest, but it's certainly one of the most well-made I've seen in a while. Give it a try.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/16/12

Game Release: The Darkness II (US, 02/07/12)

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