E3 Coverage 2011 : The Darkness II

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The Darkness, based on the Top Cow comics, was an underappreciated game that oozed style and atmosphere – and had a narrative with some some genuinely shocking, touching moments. I thoroughly enjoyed the first game – so it was with a sort of rabid enthusiasm that entered the closed door and demo session for the sequel.

The game’s gotten a new development studio in Digital Extremes, developers of Dark Sector and the PC version of Kaos’ Homefront, who take the reigns from Starbreeze. The first apparent change for the sequel is the overhaul in graphics, moving over from a realistic look to a cel-shaded one, that brings it more in line with the visuals from the comics. It has a very graphic noir look, that curiously blends a dark and shadowy aesthetic with a rather vibrant and colourful palette. Odd, but it works well for the game.

It resumes the story of Jackie Estacado – current wielder of the now dormant Darkness, an ancient chaotic symbiotic power, who is now head of the Franchetti mob he once served. An attempt on his life reawakens the Darkness, as he calls on its power to survive. Unhappy with being repressed for two years, the Darkness within Jackie is more antagonistic this time around, even hampering his progress. That’s as much as we know of the story right now, but were were treated to a look at how the combat works in the sequel. New is the concept of quad wielding; you can equip two guns, and use the each of the demonic tendril arms of The Darkness – all at the same time.

Your enemy, in the demo at least, is the Brotherhood; a quasi religious cult originally created to destroy the Darkness, but now corrupted by its influence. As they’re familiar with how the Darkness works, they make for a formidable enemy; Jackie, you see, can only use the powers granted by The Darkness in well, the darkness. Light of any sort, even artificial, renders the Darkness’ Mephistophelian agency useless, so you can expect The Brotherhood to be armed with flares, flashbang grenades and other light-emitting weaponry, giving a greater urgency to the first game’s light and shadows gimmick.

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As in The Darkness, there’s a progression and upgrade system but it seems that the sequel’s powers and upgrades are eminently more robust and useful. It makes bloodily dispatching of enemies pleasantly less awkward and unwieldy; and boy is the game violent, probably the most gratuitously violent game on show at E3. One such upgrade is the gun channelling ability, which as its name suggests, allows you to channel The Darkness through your weapons, giving you a temporary unlimited ammo and a damage boost. A further upgrade in gun channelling, Heart of Darkness, allows Jackie to see and shoot enemies through walls.

The darkling abilities have also changed significantly. Instead of being able to summon certain darklings at will, there seems to be just one; a companion darkling who interacts with Jackie and seems to be pivotal to the narrative. I played through the demo section, and it feels faster and more fluid, and the first-person aspects of the game are certainly a world ahead of the first game, but it feels like it may have lost a bit of its personality with its increased focus on action. We’ve seen nothing of the atmospheric open world or the narrative-driven loading screens of The Darkness II’s predecessor , and it would be a shame if the atmosphere got swept away for the sake of action.

I also can’t help but feel that the casting of the very talented but drastically overused Nolan North over the first game’s Kirk Acevedo (Yes, Charlie from Fringe) as Jackie Estacado is a huge mistake; it ends up making him sound like a terribly grumpy Nathan Drake. We’ll have to see if my fears are allayed when the game releases in October this year.

Last Updated: June 13, 2011

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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