During the furor of GDC 2011, GameXplain managed to find a way to sneak into 2K’s behind-closed-doors presentation of The Darkness II. Now, my experience with the first game in the series is limited to an hour or so of playtime, and (more importantly) interviewing vocalist Mike Patton about his role in the game as the titular Darkness. Still, through that limited exposure, I was still able to muster a significant amount of excitement to see what new developer Digital Extremes was prepared to do with Starbreeze’s original comic adaptation.
It is that comic book connection that is the most immediately noticeable thing about The Darkness II. For this game, the team at Digital Extremes has seen fit to tweak the visuals of the game to be more in line with the comic book source material. The devs have striven for what they call a “Graphic Noir” art style. What this means is that there is a very subtle brand of cel-shading being employed that gives the characters added contrast with the environments and helps to exaggerate the lighting to great effect. I was actually stricken by how well this seems to work in the game. Things are never exaggerated to the point where anyone could accuse them of being “cartoony” (plus the amount of gore in the game should put to rest those fears from the get-go). Rather, characters really do “pop” from the environments, and the textures are imbued with a pleasant, hand-drawn quality to them.
The demo we were escorted through dove right into the thick of things. It’s two years after the events of the second game and Jackie Estacado has risen to the top of the mob heap. Unfortunately, this seems to have garnered him more negative attention than the position might be worth. Jackie awakens to find himself being nailed to some kind of apparatus that we are told will extract the Darkness from him. During this sequence, the game would frequently flashback to the events that presumably led up to this capture. The flashback sequences seemed pulled straight from Mafia II, as Jackie sauntered through a classy restaurant and everyone scrambled to kiss his ass. This reverie was rudely interrupted by a band of ruffians blowing a hole in a poor sycophant’s head and then trying to detonate some massive explosives right next to your head.
Of course, you’re the main character, so you escape with the help of your lacky and eventually find yourself imbued with the powers of The Darkness once again. If you’re worried, I can assuage your fears right now. The Darkness is once again voice by the inestimable Mike Patton who is sure to dazzle us with some guttural feats of strength once again. What is most likely the coolest thing about this new stab at The Darkness universe is the added control over the Darkness itself. all of the shoulder buttons perform different actions, with the left and right triggers firing your two guns. The bumpers are used to control your Darkness tendrils, and it is this control that seemed to elevate this game over its predecessor. The Darkness on the left side can perform grabs, while the right side one performs slashing attacks. The grab seemed particularly interesting, as you could use it snatch up baddies, hurl various environmental objects, and even create some moving cover. It seemed to add a whole lot to the combat of a game that could have felt a little too much like a standard run n’ gun FPS.
In talking to the guys at Digital Extremes, it sees like they are dedicated to not only do justice to the first game, but surpass it in every way. The original comic book author was brought on board yet again to drum up a story worthy of The Darkness name, and we’re told that it will have twists and turns aplenty. Additionally, things that might have annoyed players about the first game (like being forced to essentially stop and shoot out every light in every room) are happily absent from the sequel. Instead, lights are supposedly arranged in such a way as to force players to strategize around them rather than be completely at their mercy. Pools of light will sometimes put a kink in your plans. Though rather than flooding the whole room in cursed light, they will just fall in specific spots forcing you to plan your course of attack. I liked this dynamic, though I’m still worried that it will stray too far in the direction of the first game’s light-shooting shenanigans. Let’s hope not.
Regardless, there seems to be a ton of action packed into this title, and I’m excited to get my hands on it at some point (I was promised this would be “soon”). I really like the idea behind the combat, and the plethora of gruesome kills seems like just the thing to sate my blood lust. At this point, it seems like the series is in capable new hands with the gang at Digital Extremes, but we will have to wait and see how the rest of the product turns out. The small glimpse that we were given was enough of whet my appetite though, so be sure to check back for hands-on impressions as soon as we can coerce 2K into giving us access.
Developer: Digital Extremes
Genre: Action, First-Person Shooter
Available On: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
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