Game Play: ‘The Darkness II’ is sadistic, gory fun

Starbreeze Studios introduced us to Jackie Estacado, the gruff, gun-blazing mobster protagonist of the 2007 video game “The Darkness.” Early on Jackie was possessed by “The Darkness” — a demonic, parasitic entity that imbues its host with supernatural powers — and then proceeded to tear through his adversaries leaving a bloody trail of heart-relieved corpses.

In “The Darkness II” Jackie reprises his role as a mobster in the Franchetti crime family two years after the events of “The Darkness,” only this time he’s calling the shots as head of the family.

After its temporary absence, the Darkness reemerges more deadly than ever and Jackie must once again rely on its power to exact revenge against a new foe.

“The Darkness II” has undergone both drastic and subtle changes.

The most noticeable change is the visuals, ditching the photorealist approach of the first game to adopt a vibrant, cell-shaded look. This is a significant adjustment, but whether or not the decision was better may differ from player to player.

Though the graphics in “The Darkness” had its fair share of problems (horrendous facial animations and stiff movements) it was still one of the year’s best-looking games, and the gritty,  intricately detailed environments complemented the dark themes perfectly.

While it is understood that the change works as an allusion to the game’s comic-book roots, some may feel that an updated version of the previous style could have been better served.

“The Darkness II” is more straightforward this time around with little else to do besides murder your way to the end credits.
Every once in a while you will encounter a brief break in the action to catch up with your cohorts or reminisce about the past, but gone are the occasional side quests, pay phone calls and beeper pages that went a long way to flesh out the world of the original.

Ambiance is replaced with gratuitous violence, but as you press on you will find it’s OK because the violence is satisfying.
The darkness, manifested primarily as a pair of serpentine appendages lurching over each shoulder, is absolutely vicious. Whether you’re ripping bodies apart like tin foil, impaling or decapitating them with environmental projectiles, devouring hearts or simply pumping them full of lead, combat is very macabre, fluid and fun.

Enemy selection is varied enough to require some strategy to effectively navigate, especially on the higher difficulty settings where enemies can easily take you out in a few shots.

Instead of acquiring new powers automatically, players will be able to choose from a healthy selection of upgrades with the essence they collect from their numerous victims. These powers and essence can be carried over to subsequent playthroughs via “new game+”.

Weapon selection is quite user-friendly allowing players to swap out duel weapons on the fly will little effort, though a battlefield littered with stray weapons can get in the way of interacting with other environmental objects.

Also, the high caliber voice acting is superb. Jackie’s raspy vocals and loaded soliloquies are back and just as great as last time.

Cell-shading controversy aside, the lip-syncing and facial expressions are terrific, resulting in some good-looking close-ups.

“The Darkness 2” is still a thrilling shoot-‘em-up with the added twist of sadistic gore-inducing demon arms, despite lacking the apt milieu and undertones of its predecessor.  If you’re a fan of mindless violence or first-person shooters in general, “The Darkness 2” is worth your while.

4 Joysticks out of 5