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The Darkness II E3 2011 In-Depth Preview

The Darkness II was something of a shock when it was announced after a 4 year gap since its moderately well-received predecessor. Promising to address the gameplay issues found with the 2007 original, this sequel looks shaping up to be a different beast both visually and practically.

The Darkness was adapted from the successful comic of the same name and saw hitman Jackie Estacado receive the demonic powers of The Darkness, an evil force that possessed him and thrived in poorly lit areas. The Darkness’ main powers were the use of two tentacles that could maim and kill in innovative new ways and the ability to control small creatures, known as “Darklings”. During the course of the game, Jackie was forced to face up to these new powers and lost the person who was dearest to him, his partner Jenny.

Set two years after the brutal conclusion of The Darkness this follow-up finds protagonist Jackie the head of the criminal Franchetti organisation after his violent usurpation. His losses from the previous game still weigh heavily upon him but he has managed to suppress the corrupting influence of his powers since his partner Jenny’s untimely demise. However, his peaceful time in control of The Darkness comes to an end when he is attacked by a sinister organisation known only as “The Brotherhood”. This mysterious sect is determined to wrestle control of the supernatural entity from Jackie and give it to their sadistic leader, Victor.

The Darkness II

The context of the demonstration we were treated to, saw Jackie tracking Victor down to an abandoned carnival, with both himself and The Darkness seeking revenge. The first thing to notice is the change in art style, with The Darkness II appearing more stylised in the manner of a graphic novel. This different direction looks less accomplished than the dark and gritty visuals of the first title, but this is still early days and no doubt the graphics will undergo a polish before release.

Many of the core gameplay mechanics return in this instalment such as The Darkness not being able to function when in bright light, prompting Jackie to either have to avoid or destroy any sources. Pleasingly the voice of The Darkness is still Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton who sounds set to deliver another memorable and chilling performance. The creepy rasping of “Jackie...” still raises a dark smile and helped to set the scene perfectly for the coming carnage. Jackie and The Darkness’ relationship is still best described as temperamental with the two frequently bickering like a demonic married couple: albeit one with more domestic cannibalism and heart ripping.

The Darkness II

After creeping through a tunnel to gain entrance into the deserted theme park, the action began with Jackie encountering several of The Brotherhood’s troops. One of the biggest limitations in The Darkness was the enemy types that you faced. Most were merely suited thugs that could be easily defeated once you had learned to use your powers effectively. This meant that the final stages of the game were made challenging by just throwing hundreds of opponents against you at the same time. While this did lead to a suitably epic conclusion during the title’s climax, it’s nice to hear from Digital Extremes that they are striving for greater and more challenging enemy variety.

As Jackie entered into a clearing, the Brotherhood minions attacked but were soon brutally dispatched with the work of The Darkness’ tentacles. One unfortunate individual was torn in two, another had his spine ripped from his body and the last was finished off with the classical heart devouring favoured by the demonic power. The game is certainly gory, but much less serious and gritty than its successor, which is possibly a slightly misguided move. The really black humour of the original seems to have been eschewed in favour of something more simple and obvious, presumably to appeal to a wider, less mature audience.

The Darkness II

The emphasis on “quad wielding” was also especially prominent throughout the playthrough, with Jackie always using a combination of firearms (including sub-machine guns and pistols) and the two Darkness tentacles. One tentacle is designed for grabbing and throwing while the other is more about attacking and maiming, creating a diverse system for players to use. As more of the harder enemies appeared Jackie was forced to using more advanced techniques to repel and defeat them.

First came opponents that would utilise flash bangs to not only temporarily blind our hero, but also to remove his Darkness powers. Shortly afterward another new enemy type arrived, wielding supernatural whips that seem to use a similar malevolent power to The Darkness itself. These whips were capable of ripping any weapons from Jackie’s hands, leaving him with just his demonic abilities. Clearly, getting caught between both groups of The Brotherhood would leave you with no options to attack, something which you must be careful to avoid.

The Darkness II

In the fight against these forces, Jackie demonstrated a range of different techniques including using one tentacle to grab poles and throw them at nearby foes, impaling them to nearby objects. However, alongside this more offensive technique, the grabbing tentacle could be utilised to grab objects to use as cover such as tables and even a car door. The latter proved especially effective, allowing Jackie to shoot through the window slot and create a mobile shield. A Darkling was also spotted during the demo, although it was not made clear whether this permanently accompanies you or acts in a manner similar to The Darkness. The Darkling seemed to try and get stuck into combat, although its effectiveness appeared questionable at best. Although the developers took great delight in showing it urinating on the corpse of a fallen enemy, something that further removes any of the dark subtlety that the original had.

The Darkness II

One interesting feature in The Darkness II is the introduction of upgrades that can be purchased from a skill tree at certain stages throughout the levels. Each kill earns you Dark Essence (read: experience points), which can be cashed in and used to enhance certain aspects such as Darkness powers and gun skills among others. Increasing variety through the combat will net you more points, so Jackie is encouraged to be as creative as possible when dispatching enemies.

In the playthrough several of these skills were shown, mainly “Gun Channelling”, a power that, when activated, provides you with unlimited ammunition and dramatically increased firepower. While in the dark with this ability active, Jackie was able to literally shoot his enemies into pieces, creating a very gruesome bloodbath. Later, the skill was further enhanced enabling Jackie to see and shoot enemies through walls, making short work of some approaching reinforcements before they could reach him.

The Darkness II

As Jackie and The Darkness fought their way through a final wave of foes they reached a heavy steel door that was sealed shut. Commanding the Darkling to drive a nearby petrol tanker into the entrance, the way forward was opened up. However, all was not was it seemed and it transpired that your nemesis Victor has lulled you into a trap. Before you had time to react, huge searchlights were turned on, blinding Jackie and rendering his powers useless. After fading to white a distant voiced was vaguely heard before his vision returned. Here the demonstration ended on a significant cliff-hanger, with Jackie stood opposite a doctor in what appeared to be either a hospital or an asylum. “Don’t worry Jackie, you’ve had an episode...” the physician calmly asserted, before the game faded to black...

The Darkness II certainly has potential and the rich, dark fiction of the universe is certainly enticing. The gameplay changes look set to bring more variety to the experience but the alterations to the visual style and a reduction in the bleakness and “darkness” of the plot may prove to be a misfire. If the humour can avoid being limited to childish pissing jokes and genuinely retain the creeping fear elicited by Mike Patton’s stellar vocal work, then it may be a surprise. In the meantime, hopefully Digital Extremes will continue to design some cunning and intelligent gameplay challenges for the player, while working to make the story both involving and unusual. Until then, stick to the shadows until more news emerges ready to be devoured.

The Darkness II

evilgiraffeman | 11th June, 2011

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