Ever want to play a demon tentacle simulation game? Well then The Darkness II is for you — if you add good storytelling, tight combat, and tearing apart bodies. Digital Extremes and 2K Games did an awesome job improving on the first game's combat, and while many fans were worried that the storytelling would suffer, that's just not the case.
The story picks up with Jackie Estacado as the Don of the Franchetti crime family. He's subdued the Darkness within him, but after an attempted hit on him, he needs to unleash it to save his life and get revenge. He has visions of his dead girlfriend Jenny and can't get over her death. As he dives further into the mystery of who was behind the hit, he finds that a secret society, The Brotherhood, wants the Darkness for themselves.
The story hits on all of the right notes. It's emotional and tender when it needs to be, and then it will be sharply contrasted with incredible violence. The best part about it is the whole Shutter Island feel to it. When you play it, you'll know what I'm talking about. Little details from a certain cell you're in bleeds into the entire game.
Story is great, but if you have demon powers, you're gonna want to know how awesome they are. On the combat front, The Darkness II does not disappoint. The ability to dual wield firearms and the two Darkness arms kicks combat into a level that's pretty hard to not enjoy. I played on the Xbox 360, and the shooting of firearms were assigns to the left and right triggers (with one gun equipped, the left trigger would aim down the sights), the left bumper would have your left tentacle grab enemies and weapons, and the right bumper would be for slashing with your right tentacle. You have more control over your Darkness melee attacks with the right analog stick; in conjunction with the right bumper, you can control whether your Darkness attack knocks the enemy up into the air or slashes them in two.
The nicest part about killing people — and I can't believe that I said that — is when you grab them and do one of multiple executions that rip of their head or split them in two from the crotch up in a move titled “Wishbone.” These executions restore health or ammo, and can reduce cooldowns on your abilities. It adds a nice layer of strategy to fights, because you have to think about how you want to kill people. Also, be mindful of every light in the area. Shoot those out or you won't be able to use your Darkness powers.
The talent system lets you customize your gameplay to suit your style. Every kill and mission completed gives you dark essence, which you then use to get you abilities. Find yourself using mostly shotguns? Get a talent that gives you larger clips in the dark, or allow you to control the spread of the shotgun blast. Want more health from your enemies hearts? Spec for that. Want to get abilities to unleash a swarm on your enemies to stun them, or give your guns Darkness powers to increase damage? We got that b-roll.
Enemies aren't very varied, with the most of the bosses just having the ability to teleport, thus making it annoying. Things can get very chaotic, though. As one trick pony as the enemies were, the strategy with light switched things up, and I never found myself getting bored.
The voice acting in the game is impeccable and really brings the story to life. Your mob is full of loveable thugs with hearts of gold underneath all the curse words and gun fights. Oh yea, there's lots of curse words. In particular, the voice actors for Jackie, Darkling, and Jimmy the Grape were great. However, the best was Johnny Powell. He's a stuttering, mentally unstable occultist who knows all about the Darkness and kind of helps Jackie throughout the game. You'll find yourself looking forward to every time you need to talk with Johnny. Also, he describes the relics you collect in the game in your relic trophy room. Listen to these, because they're f**king hilarious. Foreskin or Jesus? Not really Jesus' foreskin — don't ask how he knows.
As good as the voice acting is, the music is hit or miss. In Jackie's residence, the music is perfect and sets a mob/soap opera setting. The music whenever Jackie is present is equally fitting, but then the music just cuts out if you leave a room. It's very off-putting. Also, over all of the combat, you won't even notice the music; there's nothing memorable here.
The game also isn't as long as I thought it would be. I played on Normal and completed the campaign in about six hours. In no way did I feel gypped, because the story did have a climax and conclusion, but I kind of wasn't ready for it to be over.
That brings me to my biggest gripe with the main campaign — the ending. While it's awesome, it includes a choice for the player to make. One choice gives you another level to play, prolonging the game. The other… doesn't. It kinda just ends. Luckily, you can go back and play through that level again in New Game + mode, which you get when you beat the game. This allows you to keep your current dark essence and abilities in another play-through of the campaign or just replaying certain levels. So make sure you try both endings out at that pivotal point.
Replay value? The Darkness II offers a co-op, online campaign that coincides with the main story. You can also play standalone missions, called Vendettas. In the multiplayer, you play as one of four hilariously creative characters, each with a special Darkness weapon and customized talent tree. That's right — you level up these characters too. While some of these talents are in the main campaign and available to Jackie, some are special to each characters. The talents are tied to the character's specialty — one has swarm, one has gun abilities, etc.
I fell in love with the visuals. Darkness II makes excellent use of Cel-shading. It looks like a mix of Borderlands and the movie A Scanner Darkly. The art style goes perfectly with the theme of the game.
Ultimately, The Darkness II will captivate you with the combat, but it'll keep you playing due to the story. Even the multiplayer campaign features lines that you're going to want to hear. Even with a lack of truly memorable enemies, the game doesn't take no for an answer and will demand that you keep playing it. So pick up a controller, embrace the Darkness, and devour a few hearts. Just promise me you'll stop if light begins to bother you. I'm just kidding; break the light and keep playing.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]
You can follow Lance Liebl on Twitter @Lance_GZ