Gosh I love The Darkness II. Jackie Estacado, Jackie boy, you just keep getting goddamned cooler every time I see you. Let’s start this thing off by covering the “already-goods” of The Darkness series. First off, the characterization. Due to the conniving and psychological nature of the Darkness, strong characters are more than necessary, and more than provided. The two super-focused characters are Jackie Estacado, the protagonist, and his dearest girlfriend, Jenny Romano. The plot itself is an enormous source of characterization, as one would assume, but the main way the player becomes familiar with Jackie and Jenny is by watching the loading cinematics. In these, Jackie Estacado speaks openly about his thoughts on his family business, his love life, his perspectives on the Darkness, and so on.
I’d like to point out here that to my knowledge, The Darkness I and II are the ONLY games that have made me look forward to long loading screens, because in them, Jackie talks about his life. It makes you think about all the squandered potential in other games with high characterization requisite. Even if they don’t have a character in soliloquy, they could at least have a few paragraphs of information regarding recent/relevant events. All I’m saying is, what a brilliant and practical idea on behalf of The Darkness team. Top notch job. Loving it.
Second reason why The Darkness is so fricken amazing: the Darkness itself. In the first game, not a lot is known about it, but it comes off as a malevolent, selfish force that thrives off of violence and suffering. It’s simple, strong, knows what it wants (control over its host, for one), and Jackie fights it all the way to the end of the second game. I swear, you shouldn’t even whisper the word “allegory” around this fricken game, because the second you do, you open a real Pandora’s Box of possibilities. I’m not gonna get into that, though, because this is a game review, not a spirit guide.
Gameplay mechanics are very simple in the first game. Your shoulder demons can rip and tear enemies, eat the black seething hearts of the dead, slither through tunnels to grab keys, and are overall very practical. Also in the first game, the four types of Darklings, accessed at Darkling portals. You use guns, seeing as the games are FPS all the way, but nearing the end of the halfway mark you get the infinite ammo Darkness guns. OVERPOWERED, to say the least. Point being, The Darkness II changes nearly everything about the mechanics, and not a single bit of quality is lost.
The shoulder demons have more specific roles this time around. Lefty likes to eat hearts and throw stunned enemies around, or just leave them suspended until they bleed out from their punctured jugulars. Righty only likes to slash things apart. Hold the right trigger and swing the right stick in whatever direction you want this guy to swing, and hoo… You’ll have such a mess. If that’s not enough for you, you can release a stunning-damaging swarm of void insects to harass enemies, or you can channel the Darkness into your guns to provide super damage and infinite ammo for a limited time period.
Another strong variance from the first game is nonlinear ability augmentation. Killing, eating hearts, and performing executions give you Dark Essence, which you use to upgrade your murderous skills at your own pace. When you beat the game, new game + opens up in which you can replay any level you want in order to collect the obligatory 29 artifacts (all of which have ample and relevant backstory attached to them and are thus worth collecting, seriously).
Spontaneous cutoff followed by conclusive overview! No plot description at all this time around, and I’ll tell you why: The story is too beautiful to spoil. I’m serious. It’s a video game novel. The campaign is short but super-saturated with greatness, the secondary game mode is simpler but still fun, and the game has a solid four playthroughs before it starts to feel redundant. In short, get the game. Unless you’re squeamish about disembowelment and dismemberment, in which case… Grow a pair and get the game.