All of us have a dark side. It can be as small as a kid harassing a colony of ants with a magnifying glass, to something a little more serious, like a John Wayne Gacy type. In 2007, The Darkness let us embrace our darker sides so we could avenge our girlfriend’s, err, Jackie’s girlfriend’s murder. Impaling goons and throwing their limp body into a nearby wall was justified, and it felt good. With The Darkness II, it’s a little more difficult to justify the things Jackie does, but one thing is certain: it still feels really good.
If video games make us violent then The Darkness II is certain to breed a new generation of serial killers. You’ll hack, slice, impale, shoot, and blast your way through hundreds of unsuspecting goons, and every second is going to feel insanely good. Now come with me so we can embrace the darkness together. Or come with me, into the darkness, where we can embrace each other. The Baby Factor: If The Darkness was infected by the T-Virus, which then mutated into some sort of super-powered weapon, then it took steroids, and went to Hell to pork Lucifer’s mom, then The Darkness 2 would be the result.
The original game was flawed. When I think back to my time with it, I like to remember the stellar storytelling, memorable characters, or the fact that you could watch the entire To Kill a Mockingbird movie in-game. What I try my best to forget is the tedious phone number collecting, mundane side quests, labyrinthine subway tunnels, and how long it took to find my destination while walking the bizarrely empty streets of New York City.
In case you missed out on the first game, really all you need to know are two names. The first is the character you control, Jackie Estacado, who now runs the New York mafia from his chic penthouse apartment (the game’s new hub world). The second is Jenny Romano, his girlfriend who was ruthlessly murdered in one of the most memorable scenes in a video game ever.
This act caused Jackie to really embrace the Darkness, a demonic being that grants him otherworldly powers. In The Darkness, Jackie was a badass, but in this time around, he’s a god, and it’s all thanks to Quad-Wielding.
I’ve said this a lot, but Quad-Wielding is my new favorite video game term. It’s right up there with Strategic Dismemberment, and the “Procedural Content Creation System” — otherwise known as the terribly not catchy term for Borderlands’ loot system. Essentially, what this means is you can impale and bisect enemies while you’re pumping their friends full of lead from your dual guns. Combining your abilities works in a number of ways; you can tear a door off a car and use it as a shield while you fire your weapons, or you can grab a nearby pipe and impale an enemy from afar while you suppress his friends with your guns.
I wish I could say the possibilities were endless, but unfortunately, they aren’t. Because the game rewards you for killing your enemies in brutal ways, like the executions, which range from the Daisy Pop (popping a goon’s head off) to the Assecution — an execution that has you dangling a guy upside down with one darkness arm while the other digs into his bum and tears out his spine, Mortal Kombat style. There’s a ton of different ways to kill your foes, but I feel this game could’ve taken it even further by taking a page out of Bulletstorm’s book, and really let us get creative.
Some light RPG elements have been woven into the mix with the skill wheel that grants you new abilities and upgrades when you invest in it the Dark Essence you collect from slain enemies. You can unlock abilities that let you channel your dark energy through your guns, temporarily boosting their power, summon a swarm to stun groups of enemies, and my personal favorite, steal black holes from corpses so you can throw them into a group of enemies and let it do all the work for you. There are other abilities and talents for you to unlock, but I don’t want to spoil everything.
The Darkling used to be an ability you could unlock, but this time around there’s only one and he’s a permanent companion. Before I couldn’t care less when my Darkling died for the umpteenth time, but now that he has a real personality and an important role in the story, the little guy’s a little more likable.
The Darkness II’s campaign is an example of quality over quantity — it can be completed over a weekend, but every minute of it is packed with memorable set pieces, gorgeous environments, and fun combat. Once you beat the main story (it took me around six hours) there’s still something to do, and that’s the cooperative multiplayer mode, Vendettas.
In Vendettas, you play as one of four mercenaries, which each bring with them a unique back story, abilities, and a Darkness weapon. The four playable characters include Inugami, who has to kill with his cursed katana or it will consume his soul, a Scotsman names Jimmy Wilson who has a (stereotypical) love for the drink, and a love of cracking skulls with his axe, a staff-wielding voodoo shaman named JP Dummond, and Shoshanna, who blasts enemies to bloody giblets with her double-barrel shotgun.
The Vendettas mode is painfully weak, adding only a few extra hours worth of action to the overall story, but it’s also incredibly fun and each of the characters play differently enough from each other to warrant multiple playthroughs. The mode might not have been fully fleshed out, but it sets the foundation for a fantastic multiplayer mode in a future Darkness game, assuming there is one. And I don’t know about you, but I’d choose 4-player co-op over a competitive multiplayer any day.
The Darkness II does what similar successful sequels like Assassin’s Creed II or Resident Evil 2 did, in that it takes everything the original did well and refine it, evolve it, and make it better in every way. If you enjoyed the first game, you will enjoy its sequel.
The Final Word: The Darkness 2 is a necessary addition to any gorehound or shooter fan’s collection; it’s unrelentingly violent, addicting, gorgeous, and unforgettable.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of The Darkness II.