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Review

The Darkness II Review

  • First Released
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

The Darkness II is not the revelation its predecessor was, but ripping up occultists with your demon arms is a blast anyway.

The Darkness II is a shooter.

OK, so that seems a pretty odd statement to make: Of course The Darkness II is a shooter! But in this sequel's case, it's an important point to consider. The Darkness (the original game on consoles) had the feel of an adventure. Sure, you shot guns, but the action, the story, and the peripheral details merged to make a single, creative whole that didn't really resemble other first-person shooters. The Darkness II is a lot of fun, but it doesn't have that spark of uniqueness. Levels are remarkably linear, and the game is remarkably short. Skilled marksmen should finish the campaign in less than five hours.

So The Darkness II isn't special, but it has one particular element that keeps it exciting: the two creepy demonic arms that sprout from your body, each with its own gnashing mouth, and each with an insatiable appetite for human hearts. The right arm is for smashing; you can whip it around with abandon, using the right stick to slash vertically or horizontally, bashing enemies, street lamps, and electrical wires. The left arm is for grabbing; you can grab car doors to use as shields and fling them at mobsters like murderous Frisbees. You can throw metal poles at your foes and impale them as if preparing a human-sized shish kebob. You can also reel in a staggered enemy, grab each leg, and tear him in half like a wishbone. A wishbone that screams.

If that sounds gross, well, it is, in a wonderful way. Take the anaconda move. With this particular left-arm maneuver, you roll your foe up like a pig in a blanket and thrust the demonic head through his chest. The demon then growls in satisfaction before unrolling and allowing the limp body to drop to the ground. As you move toward The Darkness II's conclusion, you see this move and other similarly disgusting ones rather often, and they remain shocking for a little while. The sound effects are fantastically squishy; you can practically hear the cartilage tear and the vital organs rupture. To replenish health, you hold a button and your arms feed on nearby human hearts, snatching them up with a thwack and noisily chomping on them.

Admit it: you've always wanted to do this to dudes wearing sunglasses at night.

The game's upgrade system might have you unlocking new animations, but even then, the gross-out factor can wear thin. This is in part because you can string together the same basic moves in succession, over and over, without feeling challenged, particularly on the PC. You're invulnerable during these kills, which is just as well because it would be pretty frustrating to get shot to death while waiting for your demon arms to finish some horrific dismemberment. In time, The Darkness II tries to amp up the challenge, throwing enemies at you with tough shields and introducing combatants that shine spotlights on you. All that light causes your demon arms to regress while filling your screen with so much blinding whiteness that you can barely see what's going on. But generally speaking, you can charge forward, shooting, flinging, and grabbing without worrying often about dying. As long as you shoot out any errant light sources, you won't feel much pressure on anything but the hardest difficulty.

The Darkness II does its best to provide variety. Depending on how you upgrade as you progress, you might unleash a swarm of insects at your enemies, which makes them vulnerable to a nauseating fatality. Or you might summon a mini black hole, which sucks in any nearby enemies into its swirling vortex. There's also your darkling, a miniature gremlin that calls you "monkey" and skitters around, leaping on bad guys and urinating on helpless corpses. Well, with the right upgrade, you can pick up your darkling and throw it on anyone that gives you trouble. Combining these moves with standard pistols and rifles can be absolutely riotous, with arms flying everywhere and enemies screaming in agony as you tear them in half.

Just wait till you meet Jimmy's older brother, Tommy the Raisin.

Nevertheless, the demon arm mechanic is expected to bear most of the burden, and central aspects of the game's action are mundane. The shooting is better than that of the first game, but then again, the original was paced and built very differently. The Darkness II typically funnels you down paths like any random shooter. Levels occasionally open up a bit, but this sequel is as linear as games come, sending out unintelligent enemies in predictable patterns. Heck, even the levels themselves are right out of the book of shooter and horror game cliches: a subway, a warehouse, a creepy carnival, and the like. If The Darkness was an ambient action adventure, then The Darkness II is an arcade shooter. If you have any doubt about that, consider this: When you kill enemies, a pop-up appears, announcing the name of the move, along with the amount of dark essence (that is, experience) you earned. It's done sort of like Bulletstorm's skill shot system.

You should turn off those notifications at the first opportunity if you want to get the most out of The Darkness II. (Be sure to also turn off the annoying tutorial reminders that frequently appear, reminding you how to play the game even when you've almost finished it.) That's because there's an effective story here worth paying attention to, but the pop-ups only serve to take you out of the experience and remind you that you're just playing a game. Once again, you play as Jackie Estacado, who is now the leader of the Franchetti crime family. The story gets off to an explosive start, with an intense on-rails restaurant shoot-out that ultimately leads to the eye-opening emergence of The Darkness; that is, the hellish presence that grants Jackie his incredible powers.

The differences between The Darkness II and its predecessor extend to the visual design. Whereas the first game's visuals were grim and ominous, the sequel is heavily cel-shaded. There's a vibrant grittiness to the art design. For instance, in an early subway level, cracks crisscross the tiled walls and graffiti is scrawled on the subway cars. These grimy touches contrast with the purple glow of your demonic arms, the vivid orange pants of your enemies, and the crimson puddles of blood these goons gush as you have your way with them. The intense visuals are a nice complement to a game that traffics in intense and sudden shocks, not in pervasive dread.

The story matches the tone of the visuals and the gameplay, putting Jackie in some horrific situations that might have you squirming in your seat. Yet, as squeamish as some of these moments are, they don't feel like cheap ploys meant to make your stomach churn. The story earns the right to shock you because The Darkness II takes time to breathe and develop its characters. A scene in a gloomy cemetery allows you the chance to grieve, which makes the surprising sight that kicks off the ensuing shoot-out all the more harrowing. Between missions, you chat with family members, both the mafia kind of family, as well as the kind related to you. As in the first game, Jackie delivers thoughtful monologues while levels load. Even your little darkling gets to take center stage in an oddly emotional moment near the end of the game. The game's excellent ensemble cast sells each and every line and situation. You believe Jackie's desperation as he navigates the sterile white hallways of a mental institution. You believe in Johnny's hypercaffeinated, unhinged levels of anxiety. When The Darkness whines, groans, and pleads to Jackie, it's like hearing the voice of chaos itself, just barely constrained by its human host.

And then there's Jenny, the girlfriend Jackie watched get murdered in the first game. Yet here she is, her ghostly image constantly urging him forward. On the occasions Jackie catches up to her, they share brief but tender moments that effectively illustrate his dedication. But is she real? And if not, how is it that Jackie sees her and interacts with her? Some of The Darkness II's best moments come when it plays with your expectations and has you wondering: What is real and what is imagined? And ultimately, does it really matter? The story gathers up all the assumptions you made from the beginning and turns them inside out.

Dual-wielding? Try quad-wielding!

The biggest shock you might get from The Darkness II is its incredibly short length. Fortunately, the experience doesn't have to be over once you've finished the story. You can always go back and play a new-game-plus, carrying over all the upgrades you purchased and further progressing through the surprisingly extensive skill tree. But the remaining value comes mainly from Vendetta mode, where you can tackle missions alone or with up to three others online. (However, the Vendetta campaign doesn't greatly lengthen the experience: you can finish it in 90 minutes or less.) Here, you control one of four different characters with different traits and skill trees of their own. You don't eat hearts to regain health in this mode: you destroy them.

The Vendetta campaign's story runs in parallel with the single-player mystery, but the focus isn't on narrative: it's on gunplay. You don't get a pair of demonic tentacles lolling to your sides, but you might have a powerful supernatural weapon that you charge up and then fire at your foes. Or you might have a sword for slicing, dicing, and plunging into the chests of the fallen dead. Or you might even have an arcane staff that raises mobsters into the air and twists them in half--another horrific bit of brutality that might shock you the first few times, even if you just spent hours tearing men apart with demon arms.

That mask is not likely to extend this guy's life expectancy.

In spite of these twists (as it were), the Vendetta missions aren't as satisfying as Jackie's adventure into the unknown. Whereas the single-player campaign plays with pace and player expectations, Vendetta mode is about shooting stuff with friends. This isn't a bad concept for a cooperative mode, of course, but you need to crank up the difficulty level to the highest setting if you wish to be remotely challenged by The Darkness II's blockheaded AI, even in the few boss fights. At least the final boss fight pits you against a ghastly foe--an over-the-top monstrosity in a game with an over-the-top attitude. It's an improvement over the mundane rivals that teleport around in the story campaign's boss encounters.

Faults notwithstanding, The Darkness II's menacing story and macabre action are accentuated by memorable moments worth experiencing. Unlike the original game, the sequel doesn't brood: it shrieks and snarls, the shrill voice of The Darkness echoing in your head as you flail your demonic appendages about as a man literally possessed. When you break the game down, however, you notice that The Darkness II isn't a lot different from other shooters. Levels are linear and predictable, focused on ushering you from one straightforward encounter to another so that you can go crazy with those deranged arms of yours. If you are a fan of the original game, bear this in mind: The Darkness II is a fun, very short FPS without the authentic atmosphere and subtle touches that made its predecessor so intriguing. Still, if you've got a lust for virtual blood, The Darkness II leaks enough of it to satiate you.

The Good
Demonic arms + solid gunplay = fun times
Unusual, creepy story that's more than just cheap shocks
Skill tree gives the action some diversity
Excellent voice acting and sound effects
The Bad
Incredibly short campaign
Linear levels and second-rate AI make for predictable encounters
Run-of-the-mill co-op missions lack challenge
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for The Darkness II

About the Author

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

Discussion

33 comments
manoogian
manoogian

everything about this game is cool except for the main character, his aunt, and his arbitrary mourning over his cliche girlfriend.

Falru
Falru

Game is easily worth it for $12.50 if you get it from the Steam Halloween sale. It's one of those few shooters I play because I'm into the story. Demon occult-ness + mafia guns + parasitic relationships is all good fun.

santinegrete
santinegrete

This game is short but sweet. Everything works in this ride: the story, the atmosphere, and the gameplay really let's you feel like a badass demon. Plus, in steam they slayed the price of the game in weeks! it's only 37 dollars... and I struck a 2k deal to purchase it for 28. Be sure of this: better deals are coming. If you're not going to shell 38 dollars for this masterpiece at least put it in the Steam wishlist and wait for a deal. You won't regret it. Digital Extremes sure knows about gameplay design (since Dark Sector).

Dyabolikus
Dyabolikus

Short yes, but one great game it is... Got way more to it in its 5h than all those latest soulless warfare shooters combined. The story is simple, but the honesty of the characters makes you care about them. I was rooting for Estacado by the end! I'm definitely going to get the next one.

nimd4
nimd4

"Excellent voice acting and sound effects." & a gr8 Lone Ranger joke (towards the beginning), lmao. What looked like a Charlie Sheen inspired poster in the subway, with fire-breathing hands (too funny for me also, but I love the guy). Hopefully it won't turn out as short as I think it will. :)

Truf89
Truf89

I'm tired of developers thinking it's okay for games to be short nowadays. Yes, they look nice and all, but what's the point of it if it's only going to be played for a few hours..

BloodMist
BloodMist

@parrot_of_adun More like you can't keep them going with any sense of the true complexities of our reality.It's fine, don't worry about it.

bijuklich
bijuklich

well, i don't why you people (most of you at least) give this game 7.0 score...the game is way too better than this, so it's short, witch game is not, i enjoyed it, like most of you...only bad thing about this game in my opinion is that is short, so as codmw, codmw2, codmw3, battlefield 3, pop the forgotten sands, blood rayne, blood rayne 2, god of war, god of war 2, devil may cry 1, 2, 3, 4, doom 3, ressurection of evil and so on, and so on...i don't have x-box and i didn't see The Darkness...but this is pretty awsome game...and i'd pay 60$, but only if the game is like i have it now, no dvd needed to play, full gore, vendettas online working...then it's worth it...

VintAge68
VintAge68

@Gelugon_baat Apparently not...

VintAge68
VintAge68

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

pagb
pagb

You mentioned a "stick" in a PC review... FAIL!

Royial20
Royial20

I loved Darkness I and it seemed to be a decent amount of time. However my only thing is 5 hrs of main game for the Darkness II is not worth $60. I personally believe that you can do quality and quantity together and a short game to me is unacceptable if they are asking for full price. Now $20 maybe but not $60.

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

@BloodMist taste... *sigh* I guess I can leave it at that, but not because it makes any sense, more that it seems arguments on Gamespot never work.

BloodMist
BloodMist

@parrot_of_adun Well hehe, the simple fact is there is a massive lack of proper taste in a large chunk of the modern human population, much like there's a gigantic lack of proper comprehension skills.They would be the ones that allow crap like day one DLC to even exist.Let's just leave it at that, shall we?

BloodMist
BloodMist

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

sidh9u5
sidh9u5

just as expected when they said digital extremes is gonna darkness 2............

mulder_000
mulder_000

Another SP campaign of 5-6 hours..go figure?! I think I'll run out and spend $60 + tax for this mediocre offering.

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

@BloodMist Wow, no need for the antagonism, geez. So you're saying that you have the rather uncommon opinion that this game is amazing (despite being rather generic where it doesn't directly copy it's predecessor)? Okay, that's irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that Gamespot disagrees with you, not that they shun creativity or something. There is no truth to things like this, people are going to disagree with you sometimes. They're allowed that, you know.

BloodMist
BloodMist

@parrot_of_adun The game is a hell of a lot better than "good", but thanks for your useless response.A unique FPS that's loaded with style and character in a time where pretty much every FPS that comes out is a shallow, hollow, lifeless military themed shooter on rails deserves a better score than that, all there is to it.

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

@BloodMist Or perhaps GS doesn't use the same 7.5-10 system IGN and others do? 7 is a good game.

marcelinof
marcelinof

all hype and no balls...as expected

nyran125
nyran125

i think the popups destroy my experience in ALL GAMES. Arrow pointers, markers. .All ruin the experience, in every game. im not paying $89US for this $10-$20 MAX.

cheamo
cheamo

5 hours, and companies still wonder why people pirate and buy used 8-)

BloodMist
BloodMist

Hey look everybody, it's your typical underrated GS score.Nothing to see here, move along.

Jbul
Jbul

Someone's grumpy and overworked.... hint: It's Kevin VanOrd!

edinko
edinko

PLs Kevin . Could you please ALWAY write something about version differences? for example how much consolitis do i have to suffer if i buy this? laggy controls, crappy port, no graphics options, just poor console graphics without anything added for the PCs as is common etc etc. I just finished Battlefield 3 on ULTRA on my new computer without 1 frame rate drop so i think i will judge now pc versions quality from the BF3 on ULTRA point of view. Actaully it was a prety lame shooter. got it just for the singleplayer to see how my new rig performs on this gfx quality level.

Voice_of_Wisdom
Voice_of_Wisdom

6.0 and 7.0 seem to be the order of the day for van Ord

DrMatta
DrMatta

Seems legit. I'll wait till it's not 50 euro.

TKH258
TKH258

Cool! A must play then!

DethSkematik
DethSkematik

Linear campaign? Now that's a shame...part of why I loved the first game was the sidequests and collecting phone numbers to unlock stuff (which were awesome things like digital comics). I'm still kind of bummed Steam doesn't have the original for sale.

VintAge68
VintAge68

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

The Darkness II More Info

Follow
  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    The Darkness II is set two years after Jackie Estacado used the Darkness to kill the men responsible for his girlfriend's murder.
    7.7
    Average User RatingOut of 1303 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate The Darkness II
    Developed by:
    Digital Extremes
    Published by:
    2K Games, Mastertronic
    Genres:
    First-Person, 3D, Shooter, Action, Team-Based
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content