by Justin Snyder, reviewed on
Heart of Darkness
It’s not often that, within the first few minutes of starting a game, you find your character hit by a van, mortally wounded, and killing enemies while making his way through a bar. All else aside, The Darkness II certainly doesn’t pull any punches in terms of action.
The Darkness II takes place two years after the original, with lead character Jackie Estacado as the Don of the Franchetti crime family that had been out to kill him in the first game. In that time, he’s managed to suppress the Darkness and keep it from manifesting with a little help from supernatural expert Johnny Powell. Unfortunately, Jackie let the Darkness out in order to save his own skin, and decides it might be best put to use going after the men who tried to kill him.
These men are part of The Brotherhood (no connection to Ezio or Altaïr), a group formed to combat the Darkness and prevent it from becoming too powerful. Victor, the current leader, becomes obsessed with taking the power of the Darkness for himself. Rather than running the other way as fast as you can, the majority of the game is spent trying to find him, with some of his cronies providing boss battles before you fight the big man himself toward the end. The story is fairly run-of-the-mill, except for particularly interesting interludes where Jackie wakes up in a mental institution. Suddenly, you’re playing a mental patient who just thinks he’s the Don of a crime family and possessed by the Darkness. All of the major players have some role in the institution, as fellow patients or doctors, similarly to the Scarecrow sequence in Arkham Asylum. These parts are both amusing and interesting, and I found myself wondering if Digital Extremes was setting this up to all be in Jackie’s head.
An Octopus’ Garden
Once through the introductory restaurant scene you get to see a way in which the game truly shines: its “quad-wielding” mechanic. At any given time, Jackie can dual wield smaller pistols and SMGs, while also controlling each of two darkness tendrils at his sides. The right tendril is used for basic directional melee attacks while the left can grab and throw objects or execute enemies.
There are a total of four different execution types, each with its own set of animations and perks, including health, shields or ammo. The executions are satisfying at the start, but after seeing them a dozen times (usually in the form of extra health), the animations become more annoying than shocking and gruesome.
New executions are unlocked through the game’s leveling system. At certain points in each level, you’ll find places where you can spend “dark essence” earned from killing enemies normally, with bonus points for style and variety, eating hearts, and gathering relics hidden throughout the game. It is a straightforward system with three different paths: one manages Jackie’s special Darkness abilities, like firing without ammo or an insect swarm, another improves his use of weapons and the last one grants executions and passive abilities.
Quad-wielding, weapon variation, interesting narrative elements.
Some frustrating design choices, uninspired levels, short campaign.