The Darkness II Exclusive Preview - First Look
We shed some light on The Darkness II and catch up on the life and times of Jackie Estacado.
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Jackie Estacado has it rough. As the protagonist of 2007's The Darkness--a first-person shooter based on the comic series of the same name--Jackie led a content life with his girlfriend, Jenny. However, on his 21st birthday, a malevolent force awoke within him and drew our unfortunate hero down a path of violence, hardship, and sacrifice. It was the darkness--a primal force of creation and chaos passed down through the Estacado family for generations. It has been roughly four years since we parted ways with The Darkness, and since then, it has changed hands from developer Starbreeze to Digital Extremes. We recently met up with publisher 2K Games to watch a demonstration of The Darkness II in motion and see what changes the new developer has in store.
Our first look at the game started off, appropriately enough, in the dark. We could hear the steady beat of a hammer not far in the distance. As our character opened his eyes, we could see that a hand--Jackie's hand--was having a large, metal spike nailed through it. He was being crucified in the dim confines of what appeared to be a filthy torture chamber. Our captor was apparently a mysterious crippled man who appeared to be gloating at our distress while surrounded by jackbooted thugs. As he spoke, Jackie's gaze dropped from his punctured hand down to his midsection. A steady stream of wispy, black essence was flowing freely from his gut and into an ornate canister. We were obviously bearing witness to some dark ritual, but how did we get here?
Right on cue, a flashback transported us back to the prior events. Jackie Estacado, now the don of the Franchetti crime family, had just arrived at an opulent Italian restaurant and was being led to his specially prepared table. As he walked through the establishment, we got our first good look at The Darkness II's new art style. Forgoing the strict realism of the previous game, the sequel draws inspiration from its comic-book origins. Soft, black outlines framed the objects and people, while the in-game textures had a beautiful, hand-painted look to go with the soft glow of the eatery. The entire scene was very noir. Beyond its looks, the restaurant was alive with chatter as patrons paid their respects to the new don or, in the case of one heavyset woman, complained about the lack of spice in the ravioli.
There were two lovely ladies awaiting Jackie when he arrived at his table. After a bit of flirtatious small talk, our hero managed to tear his eyes away from their cleavage just long enough to spot a nondescript white van right before it crashed through the window facing him. Jackie was instantly blown back. When he came to, it was to the sounds of gunfire and hysterical shouting. He couldn't move because one of his legs had been mangled into a bloody stump. Fortunately, the new don's trusty bodyguard was at least ready to drag his boss to safety while Jackie opened fire on his attackers. Armed with only a pistol, Jackie dispatched one jumpsuit-wearing thug after another while being pulled back through the restaurant.
As our wounded hero reached the restaurant's exit, we flashed back to our present predicament. The misshapen man who had been looming around Jackie's punctured body once again reappeared, this time screaming in his face. His head was cocked to one side to emphasize his bulging eye and twisted, wrinkled features. He knew about the near-limitless power of the darkness that resided within Jackie, and he wanted it. The game then flashed back to the wreckage of the restaurant after the attack. Jackie's bodyguard was now dead, leaving him unarmed and helpless as one of the assailants squatted over him and slowly lined up the coup de grâce. Just as our foe was commenting on how weak Jackie looked lying on the floor, our hero's darkness powers sprang to life, and in an instant, Jackie tossed the man aside like a toy.
The darkness then drew Jackie up above the three remaining attackers, who could do little but gawk and curse at the horror unfolding before them. Our character's bloody stump of a leg was pulled into view and quickly rebuilt before our eyes. Unable to handle the scene any longer, the three thugs opened fire only to be swiftly annihilated by way of impalement with a black tendril. Our demonic tentacles were back; their broken, guttural voice once again provided by singer-songwriter Mike Patton. One was for biting; the other for slashing. And both bore a razor-toothed grin. What followed next was a long and bloody fight through the streets of Little Italy.
Whoever wanted us dead had spared no expense in hiring henchmen. They lined up in droves and one after the other had their hearts ripped out, limbs torn off, or (if they were lucky) were simply shot in the face. With the darkness active, Jackie could also interact with his environment. At one point, he ripped the door off of a car and used it as cover while shooting through the broken window. When he was finished with it, he tossed it away, crushing two foes at once in the process. And because this was New York, there were parking meters everywhere. On command, Jackie could send out a tendril to scoop one out of the ground and impale unfortunate targets.
In the midst of all this blood and carnage, we were once again pulled back to the present. As our character hung helplessly from the spikes in his hands, his captor revealed that he must choose to willingly give up the darkness for this ritual to work. Jackie was, understandably, reluctant. To give him a little encouragement, the old man set one of his goons on him to start loosening his teeth. One nasty crack to the skull sent us back to the past one last time. Jackie was now standing alone in a subway station under some blinding lights. Because his power comes from darkness, our hero finds anything bright very discomforting. The game represented this with numerous audio and visual cues. Our vision was heavily blurred, sounds were muffled, and our ears rang with a constant ping from the fluorescent lights above. The darkness tentacles had also retreated, leaving Jackie considerably more vulnerable than before. The lights were quickly shot out, darkness fell, and his power returned.
As Jackie worked his way though the subway station, we spied one of his darkling minions terrorizing a few civilians. Wrapped in a battered union jack, this demonic creature will play a much larger role in The Darkness II than his cohorts did in the previous entry. Rounding the next corner--alongside his foul-mouthed sidekick--Jackie was immediately ambushed by more jumpsuit commandos. Armed with a pistol, submachine gun, and two hungry tendrils, we finally got to see quad-wielding in action. Our demonstration used an Xbox 360 gamepad, with the two firearms mapped to the shoulder buttons and the demonic tentacles mapped to the bumpers. Walking and aiming were, of course, mapped to the analog sticks.
When all four attacks were used in concert, our character could dispatch foes with frightening efficiency. At any given moment, Jackie was doing at least two things at once--whether it was picking up an enemy with the tendrils before peppering him with bullets or throwing objects at one enemy while shooting at another. However, the most gruesome attacks were the finishing moves. One technique, dubbed the wishbone, snatched up an opponent by his ankles and, with a quick snap, bisected him into two halves. The Darkness II certainly spared no time for subtlety. Combat looked highly destructive, both for the environment, as well as the enemies, and at the center was Jackie--the living avatar of chaos. As long as he made sure to shoot out all the pesky lights, his power went unmatched on the battlefield. The carnage was cut short as we flashed back to the present, back to our own personal hell as the hulking brute finished working over Jackie's face. A sizable puddle of blood had pooled at our character's feet as the old man babbled on about how we don't deserve this power and how he was doing us a favor. Then we heard a voice--a whisper--in our hero's ear. It was the darkness, commanding Jackie to break free. Fed up with his bindings, he ripped his left hand free from its implement and pulled the metal spike free as well just in time to drive it through the temple of a nearby thug. Next, he dispatched the lone overhead light and allowed the darkness to dispatch those left in the room. Only the old man survived. But, before making his escape, he turned and told us never to regret missing the chance to be rid of the darkness. As door slammed behind him the scene melted away. Our demo was over.
"We have taken a fresh approach with up close and personal combat that delivers the core fantasy of being a powerful hitman with demonic powers," explained Tom Galt, lead designer on The Darkness II. "The powers we’re showing off in this demo--the Demon Arms and Darklings--culminate in violent and intense gameplay. The Demon Arms are the best example of our approach. In the original Darkness it had to be equipped with the D-pad to be used, but to support our gameplay direction we made them always available and created our gestural slash system that makes melee combat in a [first-person shooter] really fun and rewarding to use."
From what we saw, The Darkness II is looking to deliver the same intense, cinematic single-player experience as its predecessor. The graphical style was an interesting hybrid of the smooth, stylized look seen in games such as Team Fortress 2 with the gritty realism of the first game. Paul Jenkins, author of the first game and one of the writers on the original comic series, is also returning to pen this project. "It’s that relationship between the player and other characters that we’re focusing on in order to tell a very personal story about Jackie and his struggle with the Darkness," Galt said. "We treat every interaction with other characters as a chance to build their story and give the player a chance to develop an emotional attachment to Jackie and the people in his life." Check out The Darkness II this fall on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
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