It’s a comprehensive toolkit for bloodshed and mayhem, and one of the great pleasures of The Darkness II is finding out how different objects can be hurled at (and frequently through) your enemies, and trying on different combinations of weapons and abilities. Fans of the original will note a drop in the number of abilities, but in practice it feels like a refinement: a deliberate focus on the parts of the first game that proved the most fun. What’s more, it’s worth experimenting. In the early stages cannon-fodder gangsters give you ample opportunity to give things a spin, and this experience pays off later on when you confront the tougher forces of The Brotherhood.
Why? Because The Darkness has a weakness – step into the light and all your special powers fade. While the early gangster enemies make limited use of this, The Brotherhood plays smart, using high-powered torches, protected, generator-powered lamps and even car headlights to even the odds in their favour. In later stages, therefore, the game takes on a more tactical bent, as you look at ways of dealing with the lights and dealing with the harder-hitting members of The Brotherhood before mopping up the weaker foes.
In many ways, it’s wonderful to see a single-player FPS like this. The cel-shaded graphics echo the comic-book origins of the story, with bold effects and a rich colour palette that is a million miles away from the gamut of today’s big military shooters. The story is told with the same big strokes, and while some of the subtlety and gritty drama of the first Darkness has gone – along with its dark-fantasy, otherworld levels – there’s still a depth to the storytelling that’s missing from so many big FPS games. The Darkness II has characters you can care about, a gripping script and some exceptional moments that knock you off balance. The level design is excellent, with a good selection of suitably creepy or sordid environments to explore, and the pacing doesn’t ever really falter.
Gripes come down to two areas. Firstly, the occasional boss battles feel unbalanced. Even with a checkpoint halfway through they seem far more difficult than the levels surrounding them. More seriously, The Darkness II is not an epic. Completing it once opens up an option to repeat the campaign with a powered-up Jackie, but otherwise you’re left with a game you could polish off within a weekend.
A critical fault? Actually, no. For one thing, we’d rather have a game that delivers a great experience the whole way through rather than one that pads things out and loses its grip on you, and for another the game has a secondary mode called Vendetta. Played with up to three allies, it’s a side story that fills in details in the main campaign, featuring an international cast of ne’er do wells running missions for Jackie with the aid of some sorcerous relics. Some of the missions are too short, while at times there just aren’t enough enemies to go around, but Vendetta makes a great complement to the single-player game, and is so much more welcome than just another tacked-on, pointless Deathmatch option.
An intense, ultra-violent story-led shooter, The Darkness II is furiously entertaining. What it lacks in length it makes up for in style and quality, and the fun co-op mode will help extend its lifespan. It’s neither subtle nor one for the squeamish, but if you like a dash of dark fantasy with your blasting, this sequel delivers with a bang.