The Batman games are probably the best representatives of comics on PC or consoles; the first The Darkness (released only on consoles) also offered a pretty interesting mix of FPS and adventure, secondary quests and a quite nice dark story. The hero is still Jackie Estacado, mobster and “owner” of some weird demonic powers, inherited from his father. From an assassin for the organized crime, Jackie manages to become the boss of his own “famiglia”, but not without some dramatic events along the way involving his girlfriend.
The Darkness II continues Jackie’s adventures from a point where he had managed for a few years to control his powers and was doing fine without them. The game doesn’t really bother with an introduction and just throws you in the middle of big firefight in a restaurant owned by Jackie.
The unexpected attack would’ve ended with a funeral if Jackie hadn’t accepted once more the “impossible to refuse” offer from his personal demon: The Darkness won’t let him die, so it rebuilds his body and offers him the possibility to use the two demonic arms alongside the fire arms. Going back to using his “thing”, as his men call it, Jackie is now on a quest to find the mystery attackers; unfortunately, the story is very short and won’t last longer than 6 hours, even on the highest difficulty level.
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As expected, the two monster arms are the cherry on the cake. One crushes enemies and objects, the other grabs opponents and tears heads, legs, hands and, most important of all, hearts – the game’s way to keep you alive. You can throw pipes to impale enemies or grab them, swirl them and decide which way to tear them. Or rip their heart out.
The variety of the attacks grows as you delve deeper into the story (any kill grants dark essence) and they are bought from altars spread throughout the levels. The only good thing of the game’s short time frame is that you don’t get bored with these special moves, which are the only ones interesting; for the rest, The Darkness II gave up on the secondary quests and limits itself to small, short and limited levels in terms of gameplay.
The whole trick about these moves is that they work only in the dark. Any light, be it the sun or some neon, and the demonic arms disappear and everything turns black and white. It’s almost impossible to see your way like this and the introduction of enemies that carry lamps (or use car headlights) brings some desired variety to the mix. But even so, you can go in blindly and shoot around, you will still hit something; the game isn’t cheap when it comes to the enemies thrown in your way.
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A little more difficult to kill are the armored and shielded enemies that can’t be grabbed until you litter them with bullets. There are also boss fights, but besides a sizeable life bar and lots of acolytes, these fights aren’t too much of a challenge. Just make sure you get plenty of ammo and enough bodies around to chew some hearts.
Towards the end you’ll encounter soldiers with supernatural powers, plus some Hell monsters, but nothing very hard to beat. The end of the story also comes with a choice (good or bad, so to say) and also unlocks a Plus mode that grants you the ability to restart the campaign with all the powers already acquired.
Besides the varied moves and the bloody and gutty animations, you also have a darkling, a helping creature that hops around you and calls you monkey. His comments are very funny and never offend you and he’s also useful because you can throw him into the enemies or he’ll jump them and then pee on their bodies in an extreme manifestation of the joy of being alive. On two occasions you actually get to play as the darkling, The Darkness II trying some stealth moments: the creature will instantly die in the light and it is also vulnerable to bullets, so it’s way better to creep in the dark and execute your foes in a series of bloody moves: cut the carotid artery or remove the eyes.
The story mixes the bloody moves and guns, shotguns and other guns with the multiplayer part. Unfortunately, the AI won’t kill itself thinking, coming into the rain of bullets; the reactions are weak and many times you get to sneak close enough for some hand kills. The scripting is way too predictable and the waves of foes appear from the same places so it’s more like target practice than real challenges.
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The multiplayer is called Vendetta and it features co-op missions for up to four players, online or offline. The objective in the two hours or so of multiplayer campaign connects with the single-player ones, the gamer being one of the 4 paid assassins tasked to accomplish Jackie’s orders. Thus, in single-player you know that Jackie’s guys must find and bring in alive one Johnny Powell, in multiplayer you go recover him. The 4 assassins come with specific moves and different skill tree and you no longer eat hearts to stay alive, but destroy them with a Darkness gun (pistol, sword, staff).
There is also the quick play offer, but there aren’t many players there, most of them choosing the campaign part. If you don’t find human allies, you can also play offline, but you are alone and no one will revive you in case of need.
The visuals follow the graphical novel tone, everything being underlined with a fine black line. The characters are very well drawn and you can chat with them in between missions in Jackie’s house. On the same not, the voices and dialogues are great, just like the sound effects and the soundtrack. And the levels, even if small, are varied (the restaurant, warehouses, an abandoned amusement park etc.) and pretty colorful, with a number of Darkness imbued artifacts spread around for good measure.
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The Darkness II is indeed short, but it does achieve part of its goals: a few fun hours for a rainy spring afternoon, with some interesting characters, a dark story and, most of all, two demonic arms always hungry for beating hearts.
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