Last day of our horror games week, and if Siren: Blood Curse was too much stealth for you or you don’t own a PS3, then it’s time for some serious shooting on the Xbox 360 (or PC, PS3 if you prefer those platforms).
Digital Extremes’ The Darkness II is another prime example of a main character being plagued by nightmarish visions, but at least he has the weapons and demon abilities to put them to good or bad use against an unknown enemy who threatens la familia.
Double action with bucketloads of blood
In the first chapter aka intro, it becomes clear that this is quite a violent and bullet-heavy shooter, with Jackie being able to wield two guns at the same time and countless enemies dying in showers of blood. But in the course of the game, gunplay is accompanied by his demonic skills which help to grab enemies and literally tear them to pieces, or throw environmental objects at them to decapitate or do worse things to them. No wonder the game wasn’t well received in Germany, as the uncut version (available in Austria though) is on the Index, but thanks to UK import, who really cares ;)?
Abilities can further be upgraded by collecting Essence, a sort of currency/experience points awarded after brutally executing an enemy, finding artefacts or just progressing in the story. These light RPG elements can help the player to go against enemies his way, and it’s also possible to take back EXP and apply them to other abilities, so experimentation is recommended. Still, by being able to hold a gun and attack enemies with tentacles which can also rip out hearts for the player to devour and get a health or even attack boost, having all specials unlocked is not really necessary. Some are more useful than others, as is always the case with these RPG mechanics. It can also happen quite fast that the player becomes too powerful and can shoot and rip his way through enemy lines.
It’s time for FPS to mature
Although combat is, despite some difficulty spikes (too many and too powerful types of enemies at certain points), satisfying, it gets repetitive after a while, so it’s refreshing to see Digital Extremes learned from Starbreeze Studios’ predecessor which had some calm and also quite touching moments (just remembering a scene when Jackie holds Jennie in his arms while watching TV gives me shivers).
In the sequel, these scenes are still there, but usually to highlight the protagonist’s unstable mind. Visions of the past intermingle with the present, which is also not that easy to recognize anymore. Without spoiling too much, but after some chapters, Jackie’s mental health is questioned even more and the game gets really crazy, but also very hard to put down due to the progression in the story.
It’s also worth noting that, like Starbreeze Studios, the developer handles some controversial matters quite well, as mature themes like prostitution, depression or schizophrenia are touched upon with care, something a few games or genres (especially classic adventure games) could learn from. There are not a lot of interesting characters and the story isn’t the most original, but dialogue and dramatic scenes are well executed nonetheless.
Same killing procedure as last time
Level design also becomes more interesting despite the fact that killing the same bad guys all over again is what makes up most of the playtime. There are quite some unique set pieces, brutal fights and also very violent scenes which makes even the most hardened player cringe. This is mainly because of the first-person perspective which is even more experimented with than the first game, and the presentation as well.
Puzzles are also present, but usually don’t require much thinking. By giving his demonic goblin-like sidekick instructions to go through small spaces (at one point the player can even control him directly in stealth sections) it’s nothing more than pull a lever or cut some wires. Playtime is just short of 6 or 7 hours, but this doesn’t really matter as it’s quite an enjoyable and sometimes scary ride in a high production values game.
Looks and sounds like a comic
The cel shading look may be a bit out of fashion these days (although I’d love to see it in more games; just think of Ubisoft’s XIII), but it simply adds more to the experience. Violence, blood and guts have always been a controversial part of comic books, but without it, they wouldn’t be the same, so it’s nice to see a developer embrace the art and put it in a game. Character models and environment textures can’t compete with the latest high-end realistic graphics, but they don’t need to. As long as they fit the mood and contribute to the storytelling, there’s no need to complain, especially since the locations are varied enough and unlike some shooters it’s not the same corridor the player has to run through (something the first game had problems with).
Voice acting is just as strong as in the original, and even with some abundant use of the f-word and some exaggerated delivery of lines, the characters all play their roles, and what would a game set in a mafia world be like without the swearing and abusing? Talking about abuse: Jackie’s little demonic helper speaks in Cockney, which is nice for a change, but it can also be quite grating on the ears.
The soundtrack is also a nice addition to the action or quiet scenes, so are the satisfying sound effects of weapons and other combat-related stuff.
A successful comic book adaptation
The Darkness II is another strong entry in the FPS genre as it fuses lots of action with psychological horror to make the bond between player and protagonist more than just a brainless killing spree. There is a real connection between them and the game holds quite a few surprises and touching scenes in story and presentation that it sometimes even surpasses its predecessor. One of the best comic adaptions come alive on the gaming screen, even if the shooting gameplay with rather superflous RPG elements can become a bit samey.