The Darkness II: Hands-On Preview
We dine on hearts and shoot out the lights in our first hands-on play with Jackie's new adventure.
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The Darkness, from 2007, was loved for plenty of different reasons. Some thought that Mike Patton's portrayal as the demonic invader was enough to justify the price of entry alone (and we're inclined to agree), while others were enamoured with the game's gory action, filmic mobster depictions, and marriage of the real and Otherworld. We recently had the chance to pick up the controller for ourselves and take Jackie for a spin, and with a passenger like The Darkness riding shotgun, expect a wild ride.
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The game picks up a few years after the events of the first game, with Jackie at the helm of the Franchetti crime family. Our first look showed his rise to power and the clash against new faction The Brotherhood, a secret group originally charged with protecting the world from darkness, but changing their tune and now attempting to control it.
Following on directly from the restaurant shoot-out scene in our last look, this demo focused on infiltration of a brothel to make contact with Venus, an informant with valuable information about The Brotherhood. As we sauntered into the warehouse conversion, we were met by a pair of thick-necked bouncers working the door. One thought he recognised us from somewhere, but he let us proceed after a quick metal detector swipe.
The place was littered with women in various states of undress. Some sat solo on couches attempting to look inviting, while others were flirtatiously chatting with men in doorways and up against walls. With conversations going on around us, we stopped to listen, and homed in on one particular discussion where a strung-out women begged her employer for a drug hit. After a brief exchange about her falling asleep during work hours, he smacked her across the face, forcing her back onto the couch. It was nasty and confronting, and the theme continued throughout the building as we located and followed Venus to her room. With no cameras inside the elevators, she dropped her act, telling us that the Brotherhood was located on the top floor of the building.
As we stalked the hallways at a forced walking pace following Venus, we noticed that the grungy interior of the place--previously a mannequin factory--was littered with garbage bins filled with plastic arms, legs, and torsos. It drew a horrible parallel with the women trapped in sexual servitude. The plush reception area, with its glitz and glamour, juxtaposed with the cement floors and makeshift rooms upstairs, where doors were left ajar as girls serviced their clientele; armed guards idly kept watch. As we reached Venus' room, she passed us a handgun, and the real action began.
This is the Darkness game that you'll remember, and as we hunted our first victim, angry sentient tendrils framed our vision, ready to viciously strike on command. Naturally, light still isn't your best friend, and should you find yourself exposed, your vision burns and blurs, while your symbiotic life form recoils in terror. Red lights illuminate the scene, but are gentle on the skin and eyes, so you won't be bumping around in complete pitch black. Because of Jackie's photosensitivity, shooting and lashing out globes and generators was essential to our survival. Not all light sources can be destroyed, however, and faced with a locked doorway and a fluorescent tube inside a steel cage, we hoisted our Darkling minion to carry on where we couldn't go on our own. Like with the toothy, slithery darkness blobs used previously to get into inaccessible areas, playing as the Darkling, we took over its first-person perspective and shimmied up a pipe and into the air vents overhead. Dropping down silently into a darkened room, a conveniently placed and absentminded bad guy was facing away from us, perfectly positioned for us to try out a bit of throat slashing. Tapping the left bumper dug our claw into his neck, effortlessly flaying the flesh with plenty of blood spray. After a few more kills and some successful patrol and spotlight dodging, we disabled the light blocking Jackie's path. Like the demonic equivalent of a retractable vacuum cleaner cord, once our objective was completed, we zipped back to our host in rewind--a nice touch, rather than forcing us to backtrack.
The Brotherhood may be a group focused on the dark arts, but that doesn't mean that they're disorganised. On the contrary, while many came at us with guns blazing, some lobbed flashbangs or hid behind shields, impairing our vision and keeping them safe from our gunfire. Power generators running floodlights needed to be destroyed to allow us to proceed forwards, and the blood flowed freely as we cycled between pistols, shotguns, and submachine guns and used slashes of our darkness powers to tear attackers apart, throwing their bodies around like rag dolls and piercing their bodies to get at their still-beating hearts.
Each kill you make rewards you for the action taken. Basic shoot-'em-in-the-face slayings banked us 10 points, while more elaborate and gruesome executions awarded 25 points. All of these go into the soul pool that drives the game's new RPG-style skill trees, used to improve Jackie's gun-totin' proficiencies and amplify darkness powers. Shrines scattered around the world let you spend energy accrued to buy new abilities, like swarm, which sends out an angry pack of glowing, green insects to devour your victims, and gun channelling, which replaces conventional lead bullets with darkness powers for a short time, removing the need to reload or count rounds. As you continue to spend up a tree, you will reduce the cooldowns required to use your new skills and add extra perks, such as stun effects or replenishing ammunition stocks by performing executions. While we had enough points to buy only a couple of low-tier unlockables, the system gives you the flexibility to tailor what is an otherwise corridor shooter experience to better match your preferred style of play.
The battle seemed to be turning in our favour as we thinned their ranks, but all was not as it appeared. Only moments later, we found ourselves snared in an ambush, with bright lights causing the screen to fade to white. We woke up to the sound of steel being driven through flesh. Turning our head slightly we watched as giant nails, glinting under the overhead lamps, further secured us to an ornate crucifix with every strike of the hammer. Victor, a haggard old man whom we met previously during our restaurant demo, explained the Brotherhood's desire to strip us of our powers. Of course, they couldn't just go in there and grab them, instead requiring our protagonist to give up his power of his own will. A television set was wheeled in as Victor explained that our crime ring had been taken over by force. Two of Jackie's gang members were shown on camera kneeling and begging for their lives but, in true criminal style, defiant to the end. We were given the option to choose which of the pair would be executed. Once our decision was conveyed, the first shot rang out, and we watched as the man slumped forward, smoke wafting from the barrel of the weapon. Only moments passed before the pistol turned and the second member of our crew was gunned down with a point-blank-range shot to the skull against our wishes. These guys weren't there to kid around.
Something stirred as a result of the act, and without warning, the darkness leapt into action, thrashing wildly, knocking out the lights, and Brotherhood bodies began to fall. The scene changed into a more dreamlike sequence, and without shackles we wandered through an underground cavern with an indeterminate light shining through gaps in the walls. Coming to a dead end, loose brickwork gave us an anchor point for our darkness abilities, and we latched on, knocking it down and revealing our slain girlfriend, Jenny, in an angelic pose. Jenny's eyes widened, and The Darkness let us know in its usual guttural tone that if we gave up, Jenny would die, and our demo came to a close.
Starbreeze Studios, the developer behind the first game, has passed the torch to Digital Extremes, but from our first hands-on play, while the studio may be different, the themes and gameplay that made the franchise so popular have well and truly been retained in the sequel. The Darkness II is shaping up to be as bloody and action-packed as ever. Look for more on this supernatural action game as it approaches its early 2012 release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and, for the first time, the PC.
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