There is an unwholesome satisfaction to be experienced when playing The Darkness 2. It isn’t setting out to revolutionise gaming, or impart humble life lessons, or make its players better people. All it does is give you a pair of demonic arms and the ability to dual-wield weapons, and throw mobsters and cultists at you while wrapping a cheesy plot around the whole thing.
The end product is a guilty pleasure.
The Darkness 2 follows on from the bizarre events of the first game, and throws you into an explosion from the start. You, as Jackie Estacado, have risen to be the Don of your mafia family and subsequently become the target of a hit by a rival mob family. From that point on, it becomes an eyebrow-raising journey of revenge, violence, and mystery as to why no one gets freaked the fuck out by the heart-eating eel demons coursing out from your back. The historical references embellished with a healthy dose of the occult got a chuckle out of me as well (all presented in the form of hidden in-game collectibles of course).
Of course, it’s not fair to hold a game like The Darkness 2 up to certain story-telling standards: the game is based on a comic book, after all. It’s meant to be fantastical. We want the anti-hero Jackie (a cold-blooded hitman cursed with terrible luck and lost love) to succeed and triumph over his perceived evils. Of course, one thing that’s more evil than a demon of darkness is an evil cult attempting to keep and control it for their malevolent purposes. They should have called this game The Darkness: Justified.
It’s clear from the opening cut scene that the game is going to be a violent one – you get prolonged views of Jackie’s foot, burnt down to bare bone and raw sinew. As you play through the game and get access to your demonic anacondas, you’ll be treated to animations of people getting their bodies dismembered and ripped in half; their hearts eaten out of their chests; or their bodies crushed under the pressure of mini black-holes that you can cast into existence. The violence is gratuitous, and may invoke the disgust of passers-by (sorry, girlfriend, but I really do have to eat barely beating hearts from these corpses to regain health).
Presentation is otherwise quite good. The series has moved away from the slick, shiny rendering of the first game and instead added a touch of cel-shading, giving the game that added comic book look. Character voices are well dramatised and delivered. Enemy death animations can feel a bit familiar after you see a gangster torn in half for the 20th time, but at least it’s consistent. There’s a welcome absence of bugs, quirks and glitches in my experiences so far, and it definitely helps the immersion. It also feels like the game’s FOV is tweaked for TV, so desk gamers might want to back up a bit. PC gamers may also want to use their gamepad to take advantage of the control mapping.
Regardless, I can’t recommend dropping full price on this title. The game’s longevity suffers from a lack of multiplayer, and the campaign itself is modestly paced. The weak plot also spaces out the action too often for my tastes. I found myself not caring about Jackie Estacado’s predicament and the other NPCs; instead, I wanted to get back to throwing corpses at people with The Darkness.
It’s fun – mindless, uncaring, and gratuitously violent fun. Not the greatest value, though, so save your pennies and keep an eye out for a sale.