Just when I thought I was out...
More often than not, video games provide us with opportunities to see and do things that we wouldn't normally have the ability to do. Tearing hundreds of paranormally gifted enemies in half, eating their hearts, and opening demonic black holes would fit the bill, right?
The Darkness II, based on the Top Cow comics, represents an alternative to every other first-person shooter out there. Digital Extremes has taken a more literary approach to the first-person shooter campaign, opening up a portal between two worlds: the criminal underworld and the inside of Jackie Estacado's madness.
Players take on the role of Estacado, a mobster imbued with The Darkness at a young age and a penchant for blood to go along with it. If you didn't play the first Darkness game, don't worry about it. The developers were counting on introducing a lot of new players to the pulp storyline and quad-wielding mechanics (two guns plus two tentacles).
Somewhere in the fourth hour of the game's single-player campaign, I realized exactly why I was having such a good time. The Darkness is fun to control and wield against enemies—snapping up objects to throw, slashing baddies into the air only to bring them back down in a violent spray and burst of blood and dark energy, and ripping off the bottom half of full-grown men. Even the guns are tightly responsive and pleasing to wield, but there was something more.
Unlike Call of Duty, which insists you "Follow", or Battlefield 3's campaign which isn't even worth discussing, The Darkness II trusts players to blaze the path at their own speed. There aren't any branching pathways and more often than not there's only one direction to go, but enemy encounters don't suffer from the same tunnel vision we've become accustomed to.
Instead, you'll be thrust into arenas with enemies taking up multiple points of cover. Later fights equip your opponents with light weapons so you'll have to prioritize targets to regain control of your Darkness powers. This is a game that doesn't talk down to the player, and the experience is all the better for it.
I could reveal the plot here, but that would be like the Darkness ripping away your legs to reveal the entrails dangling behind. [Fatality? ~Ed.] There's plenty of gore and sex, like any good pulp novel, but there's also a helping of ingenuity, mystery, and depth to the proceeding, making all that yucky business feel like seasoning, rather than a derisive main course that demeans the player with its perversion.
All that said, the game is damn short. I finished the single-player campaign in one sitting over about 6-7 hours. That might be unacceptable to some, and rightfully so, but it did leave me wanting more, and for that The Darkness II receives high marks. The best games never bleed their victims dry.
To back up the experience, there's a New Game+ option that lets you continue to enhance your talent trees, providing new special powers as you progress through the game. Once you've wishboned enough enemies in the campaign, you can take on Vendettas mode with three other Darkness wielders.
In co-op, players take on the role of voodoo-enthusiast Dumond, Mossad agent Shoshanna, ninja-influenced Inugami, and the Scottish Jimmy Wilson. Each has different powers and abilities and the real entertainment value in co-op is seeing how they can be combined to make ribbons out of your enemies. Don't be fooled—the co-op campaign is short too, but playing as each character will lengthen the game.
In the end, it can feel like we're left with half a game, sort of like that bad guy we ripped the legs off of earlier. The Darkness II features a tight experience with exemplary voice-acting and wonderfully gory graphics. As a piece of storytelling it is one of the better games this generation.
But it can be hard to suggest players who haven't already been caught by one of the Darkness tentacles to drop a hefty amount of money on a game this short. If you can, wait until you've got some extra credit lying around or until the game goes on sale. Like, maybe, half off.