'The Darkness II' falls far short of great expectations
I hate it when I have to put down games with good ideas but weak execution. I also hate it when I have to put down disappointing sequels to games that I love. Even worse, I now have to put down a disappointing sequel to a game that I love, that had great ideas but ultimately fails to live up to its potential. "The Darkness II," although competently made, leaves much to be desired by the time that it ends.
Based on the "Top Cow" comic book series, "The Darkness II" picks itself up two years after the events of the first game. Mafia hitman Jackie Estacado has somehow managed to contain the titular demon inside of him after using its power to climb to the top of the Franchetti crime family. After surviving an attempt on his life however, he has been forced to release the Darkness once more to save his life. With a new enemy in the form of the mystical cult known as the Brotherhood out to seize the Darkness for themselves, Jackie must now use his restored powers to survive and defeat his new enemies as well as find another way to contain the Darkness within him before it breaks out.
Unfortunately, despite the potential of the plot, it ultimately reveals itself to be rather thin. The cutscenes set in between stretches of gameplay unfold almost entirely from the first person perspective, creating an illusion of interactivity that is sadly never realized. Whenever something story oriented is happening, the game takes control from the player and forces them to wait out the entire experience through Jackie's eyes, without cinematic flair.
This can be both good and bad. There are scenes in which the player plays through Jackie's hallucinations of better times in his life that carry a pretty impressive emotional punch. Unfortunately the game is loaded with too much non-interactive back and forth dialogue that gets pretty boring after a while.
Graphically, "The Darkness II" is surprisingly gorgeous. I was skeptical about the shift from noir-like photorealism to the cel-shaded comic book-esque look that the game takes on at first but after the first hour, I was sold on the vivid imagery of the game. I feel that they may have gone overboard with the blood effects but the game otherwise has one of the most unique looks that I have seen in quite some time.
By the time I reached the ending however, which was not only depressing but disappointing, I honestly felt that the story that I watched unfold was made up as the creators went along.
The storytelling of the original game was one of its absolute highlights so to see such limp writing and direction here is rather saddening. I wouldn't be entirely let down however if the gameplay justified such flat writing. Sadly, it doesn't write cover up these flaws.
The game is far more action oriented than its predecessor. Where "The Darkness" seemed to be more about using the Darkness' numerous abilities in order to strategically overcome overwhelming odds, "The Darkness II" takes a cue from "Bulletstorm," focusing on using Jackie's abilities to kill as many people in the most creative ways possible. Jackie has access to a plethora of powers that can maim, impale, and generally brutalize his enemies in addition to the standard firearm and I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't some kind of base enjoyment to ripping a man in half from the legs like a wishbone.
Unfortunately, even on the higher difficulty settings, the missions tend to drag on significantly longer than I'd have cared for. Despite the variety within the game, repetition began to sink in fast. Combined with the weak plot, each stage has a hit or miss chance of simply leaving you felling hollow.
The Online four player co-op missions, which have players fighting for the Franchetti family in a campaign paralleling Jackie's own journey, don't fare much better. The missions, once again, aren't bad and can be pretty fun but drag long beyond the point of being memorable. It doesn't help that the lack of Darkness abilities limits the variety.
I wanted to love "The Darkness II," I truly did. The original is one of my favorite games of this generation and this game showed a lot of promise. Sadly, every time the game shows even an ounce of its former glory, it falls flat. I don't know whether to blame laziness or miscalculation but "The Darkness II" has sadly left me feeling cold.
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