It’s been a while since I did one of our ‘One Hour Play-test’ features – mostly as a result of the horrific experience I had when I last attempted one on ‘Call of Juarez: The Cartel’. Now that I have been able to exorcise those demons of game design – and now that I’ve stopped stomping around Skyrim with a bloody-great-big axe in my hands looking for dragons and bandits to slay – I feel ready to brush off the keyboard and sit down to let you know what I think of the sequel to one of the most under-rated 360/PS3 titles around (The Darkness, do try to keep up at the back). We present the Lolocaust One Hour Play-test on The Darkness II.
So if you have never played The Darkness I’ll quickly summarise the concept for you before we head into the main bulk of the feature – it is essential that I do this, else you may think that I’ve gone all wibble-wibble and call the authorities to have me incarcerated.
The Darkness tells the story of Jackie Estacado, who after surviving an assassination attempt on the eve of his 21st birthday sees himself become the host of an entity known as the Darkness (voiced by Mike Patton). The Darkness embues Jackie with a range of powers, including: Tentacle arms that can be used alongside standard firearms, the ability to command Darklings, the uncanny ability to throw mini-black holes around and to be able to power up his firearms with Darkness powers. Running around with heart-eating tentacles is appealing to Jackie, but there’s a light in his life in the form of Jenny, and it is upon her that the game hinges. I won’t say more but I will say that the game features one of the most authentically realised relationships in the history of gaming.
Anyway, the game ends with a bang and Jackie ends up sitting at the top of the crime ladder and when we meet up with him again in the sequel he has managed to control the Darkness inside. Or at least he had done until the restaurant he was set to dine in is attacked by some people who seem very interested in Mr Estacado and his powers. Commencing with an all out assault on the senses, and not holding the player by the hand too much we go from lunch to being blown up in a gaseous explosion in a matter of minutes and *then* the crazy stuff happens. The Darkness comes out of Jackie once more, leading him down a path of revenge, loss and redemption.
My first hour with the game was exceptional. As a fan of the first I knew what I needed from a sequel and to say that the Darkness II hit that on the head is an understatement. The original game had a grimy realism to it that the sequel wisely moved away from in favour of a graphic novel style that I refuse to call ‘cel-shaded’. The in-game visuals are brilliant, gaudy colours and extreme violence combining into a rather pleasing palette. With a more realistic visual style, a lot of the Darkness powered attacks would perhaps have seen the game edited, but with a cartoony world, it’s easier to distinguish between what is real/fake (at least in the eyes of the classification fellas who have to be concerned in case another nut job cites a game as an inspiration). Within an hour I had ripped people in half by grabbing an ankle in each tentacle and splitting them down the centre, wrapped a tentacle around a foe to constrict them before having the head of the tentacle rip through their chest and I had slashed more heads off than a French executioner. It was gloriously over the top, but in keeping with the style and tone of the source material, entirely justified. Visions of Jenny and possible delusional experiences inside a hospital all start to paint a picture of a game that is telling a story, and telling it well.
The gun play in the game was sound, never feeling redundant, but never quite making the leap to fully-fledged shooter. The fact that you use the D-Pad to switch between load outs feels a little clumsy, but is actually fine once you get the measure of it. It’s all about balance. Shooting a foe with a pistol would stun them enough to instigate a grab with a tentacle, similarly a slash upwards from a tentacle would enable a few easy shots to finish off the enemy that is defying gravity in front of you. Serves them right for going against science!
So the visuals are great, the combat is great and the story is thus far great. What else can I throw in?
Well, how about entirely optional plot exploration? Certain areas of the game are inhabited by NPCs that can be interacted with, and should be interacted with if you want the most story from your game. (I specifically recommend talking to the guy with the sock puppets in the hospital, whenever possible. Brilliant stuff). Some conversations give detailed information on events and characters, while others simply help the characters have more personality. Nothing goes on for too long, and all works at your pace. There’s also some mini-games hidden in the game, which just shows the love and attention that Digital Extremes put into the game, and we shouldn’t be surprised, they put out the PS3 edition of BioShock as well as the multi-player aspect of BioShock 2 (which was the closest thing to Timesplitters we may see this generation). I’m confident in their handling of the new Star Trek movie tie-in game, and let’s be honest how often do gamers say that?
I finished the game in two days flat, the story kept me on the straight and narrow and the Thu’ums eminating from my copy of Skyrim couldn’t beat The Darkness into submission. I loved the game, and while some may argue that it’s a little on the short side I’ll say only this. A great story can only last for so long before it starts to feel padded out. The Darkness II has no padding whatsoever. There are extra modes that can be ran through co-operatively online (or, importantly, alone as well) as well as featuring a New Game+ mode in which you can keep your upgrades and located relics (it seems that the Estacado family has been collecting and studying artefacts relating to the Darkness for years and now you can opt to find them all again.)
The Darkness II is not just a great game, but it’s also a perfect example of how to make a sequel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It may be too violent for some, but that’s a personal taste and not a fault of the game, just as I wouldn’t expect the gaming adaptation of Bleak House to feature a shoot out between warring sides suspended from the bottom of inflatable sex-doll airships. All I can say is this, if you haven’t played the first game go out now, like RIGHT NOW and buy it. Play it, and love it. Then get the sequel and appreciate it all the more. It features a fight against a wrecking ball, a Darkling Londoner and sock puppets, what more could you ask for?
Animal Comparison Score: If The Darkness II was an animal it would be a Chilean Rose Tarantula, beautiful in places, creepy in others and more limbs than you think you can handle.