PAX East 2011: The Darkness II Hands-on
2007’s The Darkness was a textbook example of an overlooked gem. With a dark, violent story, slick graphics, tight shooting controls, and a inky-black personification of evil (voiced by Mike Patton of ’90s band, Faith No More), the first Darkness just didn’t seem to breakthrough. Now, with a new graphic novel-inspired art style and new developer, Digital Extremes, The Darkness 2 seems poised and ready to finally make its mark on the video game world.
Set two years after the happenings of the first game, we find the protagonist Jackie Estacado, mob don and wielder of The Darkness, in a pretty bad position. Crucified-to-a-wall bad. Waking up during the middle of his own torture, a crippled man demands that Jackie give him the Darkness. Jackie, of course, refuses. From there, we’re brought into a flashback of Jackie being lead into a rather upscale Italian restaurant, part of the special treatment he gets as the new Don of the Franzchetti Crime Family. Here the new art style is shown in full force. The game has been given a total graphical face lift, moving from the dark, realistic style of the first game, to a high-contrast, graphic novel look, fitting more in line with the game’s comic book roots. And even in this early stage, the game looks great. Everything has an almost hand-painted look.
Jackie is lead through the aisles by his man, Vinny. He makes small talk at the other restaurant guests while leading Jackie to his table where he’s greeted by two rather attractive ladies. This rather calm scene is rudely interrupted with a combination of a gunshot through the eye of one of the ladies at his table, and a van crashing through the window onto Jackie. It’s at this point that the demo really started.
With his legs crippled and burned from the van explosion, Jackie is given a pistol and pulled along by Vinny through the now burning war zone of the restaurant. In rail-shooter fashion, Jackie is pulled through the wreckage of the once-posh restaurant dispatching foes, is eventually given a second pistol, and is dragged to the kitchen. Fortune decides once again not to smile on Jackie Estacado as a gas leak is ignited, and he is once again engulfed in flames. He awakes to an all too familiar voice.
The Darkness once again beckons to Jackie. The growls and otherworldly performance of Mike Patton gives chills as two of the Darkness’ arms sprout from Jackie’s shoulders and dispatch some of the armed goons that are quickly closing in on Jackie. Back on his feet once again, Jackie and the Darkness make their way through alley ways on out onto the city streets.
Along the way, I was introduced to the concept of “Quad Wielding” using both of my guns and both of my Demon Arms, I was able to slash at my attackers with my right arm, pick-up and toss saw blades and using car doors as shields with my left, and blast away with both my guns. It’s a great concept and, despite being a little hard to pickup at first, I found myself maiming bad guys and eating hearts in no time flat.
One combat move in particular really caught my eye. The developers called it “The Wishbone.” I used my slashing arm combined with the right analog stick to split a gun wielding thug completely in half. Lengthwise. He fell apart like a piece of string-cheese. It was grotesque, satisfying, and completely hilarious.
After another explosion I found myself once again helpless as one particularly cocky thug started to get read to execute me. It was then that a Darkling (a small gremlin creature returning from the first game) with a lovely cockney accent, a union-jack shirt and a coonskin cap came to my rescue by snapping the thug’s neck. After leading me to a subway and amidst a small crowd of fleeing civilians, I found more goons who I quickly took care of. Flashing back to the interrogation room, the crippled man once again asked me for the Darkness. If I didn’t give him what he wanted, he threatened to kill my Aunt Sarah. I responded to this by ripping my hands off the stakes and killing one of his guards.
The demo seemed over all too quickly and while a bad thing at the time, it made me realize how much I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product. The new art style has to been seen in motion to be appreciated and the combat has never felt better. I can’t wait to give it a full play-through when it comes out for the PS3, PC, and 360 this fall.