So a while back I asked to review a game for OnLive and they generously said “sure, have a couple” so I picked a second game called The Darkness II simply because I loved the trailer with a twitchy guy standing in the dark babbling about the game. Don’t get me wrong I had heard of The Darkness and it’s acclaim for both being an extremely solid video game and its rich storyline which it had mostly borrowed from the comic book whose staff included my favorite comic writer, Garth Ennis, so it was on my to play/read list. The trailer just sold me on playing the sequel first while I had a chance.
This is a hard part to describe without giving away too much of the game and the first volume of the comic book. In The Darkness II you play Jackie Estacado two years after the events of the first game. You have become the Don of a crime family and after what happened to you in the first game you have decided to keep The Darkness locked up for everyone’s sake and safety. The problem is an organization called The Brotherhood has targeted you to try and claim your powers and has no problem taking down both your family and the familia to get it. This awakens The Darkness within you that talks you into unleashing it to help solve all your problems. This all happens in the beginning of the game which offers a deeper story of hard choices and questionable reality. There is a big twist in the story which, while not necessarily my favorite, did lend even more depth to the game, ties to the franchise more and created an alternate ending.
Graphics And Sound:
The gameplay graphics are done using cel-shading which is very reminiscent of the Borderlands franchise but also creates a comic book art style which fits nicely into the comics it is based on. This graphic style even kind of ties into the subplot of the game making it not just look good but surprisingly fitting. The cutscenes are done in a style more like standard animated cutscenes for video games which normally might seem mismatched with the artwork of the rest of the game but when taken into consideration with the subplot makes sense too. The sound and graphics are put to great use in the game because when Jackie is subjected to brighter lights he loses his supernatural Darkness abilities and this is represented by a brightening, whiting out of the screen with a high pitch annoying ringing which makes you want to get out of or destroy that light source as soon as possible. Because light plays such an important part of the game the graphics for lighting do too, giving you an idea of what areas of lighting source will give you problems. It isn’t very often that the graphics and their representations play such a heavy role in a game. The sound work is excellent and helps aid the atmosphere as well as give cues of danger and the soundtrack is excellent giving a terrific selection of KROQ standards from Jane’s Addiction to Offspring.
I played a bit of The Darkness so I would be able to properly compare the two games, enough to know that point of view and gameplay are very similar with just a few slight improvements which works fine since the first game played so well, no need to fix what isn’t broke. In the first game you had your guns and your Darkness tendrils at the side of your vision and you could dual wield guns or dual wield tentacles where in this game you can do both at the same time. This allows for some fantastic and intense gameplay as you can be doing such things as dual wielding a pistol and machine gun while one Darkness tendril picks up a pipe and throws it impaling an enemy and the other Darkness tendril rips the heart out of a dead man’s chest and eats it. You can also shoot an enemy to the point of weakness then use the Darkness tendrils to rip their bodies apart earning such bonuses as “Wish Bone,” “Daisy Pop” and “Anaconda Kill.” The tendrils themselves look like snakes with piranha heads and are extremely satisfying and gory to put into action. In general the game has an over the top gore factor which helps keep the heaviness of the storyline from getting oppressive and while you get moments of to catch your breath and prepare for the next section the waves of onslaught can be pretty crazy.
Along with The Darkness yelling at you in your head you have a little companion darkling dressed only in a British flag t shirt and a cat skin cap that not only helps you get through rough fights but that you can possess to get around obstacles or freed from capture. The game chooses when you can use him but he can be handy in a fight or scouting capacity as well so whenever you get the opportunity to inhabit him be sure to look around and kill anything you can, it will make things easier for you when you get back to your own body. The darkling is also remarkably entertaining to interact with or even just watch as he urinates green piss on corpses, lets out huge green farts and behaves in other undignified imp-like fashion.
There is an extensive wheel of unlock-able abilities which branch into other abilities and power ups which can truly turn the battle. In the first game you get Darkness shooting weapons later in play whereas in this game you don’t get them at all unless you choose to unlock that section of the wheel and work up it’s tree. My first playthrough I went with a swarm attack instead that caused one of the Darkness tendrils to cough up a green cloud of bee like insects that attack enemies distracting, stunning and even damaging them giving a huge advantage in battle. I also unlocked and upgraded my Black Hole so that I could through a vortex out that would suck in and kill all enemies in the vicinity giving me an essence bonus. Essence is collected by killing enemies, finding relics and eating hearts, the last of which also replenishes health. The essence is collected and used to purchase unlocks on the ability wheel. Some pre-planning is involved if you want a particular ability higher up on the tree because you will need to save up essences and work up that particular ability tree instead of just picking up any ability you can afford at lower sections of the wheel.
Once you beat the game you have the opportunity to play it again with all the abilities you unlocked the first playthrough still unlocked and all the hidden treasure you found the first time around still found. This gives the player a chance to either tear through at the same difficulty destroying everything in sight or up the game difficulty and have an advantage to help survive it. All the levels are unlocked once you beat the game too allowing you to replay them again with or without your unlocks.
In most games’ multiplayer you wind up playing another version of the main character or you wind up playing side characters from the storyline. In The Darkness II you go on Vendetta missions where you have hired a squad of hitmen imbued with Darkness powers to attack the Brotherhood back. This is a great departure from the standard co-op play giving new storyline and makes sens since as The Don you really shouldn’t be running around doing all the dirty work. Each character has a strength, weapon style and personality which are unique to them and are different from Jackie. My personal favorite when it comes to style is the Creole voodoo doctor Dumond but when it came down to fighting I was a bit more of a fan of the Scotsman Jimmy Wilson with his axe and darkling (darklings are just so much fun!). There are four different characters for the four man hit squad and if you are having a hard time finding someone to play with who has a pleasant disposition (ie. not an asshat), you can play the Vendetta missions solo as well.
The OnLive Advantage:
It’s becoming harder and harder to find someone who hasn’t heard of OnLive but most of people are still in the dark about it (ok, slight pun intended). Onlive is pure cloud gaming, meaning you only have to have a small launcher on your computer and the entire game is played remotely by internet on servers in another part of the country, much like Netflix streaming. So you don’t need hard drive space for the games or a strong computer, all you need is a decent internet connection and you can play the games through your computer, micro-console or a couple newer devices on the market such as OUYA, VIZIO Plus, newer VIZIO blu-ray players and newer LG televisions. Many of the games also support touch screen play and are available for play on Android tablets. Just like with Netflix you can start playing a game on one device then continue it on another giving a lot of diversity and mobility of play. There is also an interesting feature called Arena that allows you to watch other players playing their games, cheer or jeer them and ask them to be your friends so that they can easily play titles they own, rent or are part of the subscription package with you. This is particularly handy with The Darkness II co-op mode where while I was playing the game spectators joined to check it out or if they owned the game they friended me so I wouldn’t have to search for another player to co-op with. With the free activation of an OnLive account you can even demo the game for a certain time limit so you aren’t playing a demo but the actual game for a period of time rather than a certain amount of a level.
It is really easy to recommend this game and suggest that it may be be your first OnLive purchase. The gameplay is great, has a decently long campaign mode, nice graphics, and excellent replayability. Add to that the diversity of the co-op play and the option to play alone or with the ever growing OnLive community and this game is worth the money. I wasn’t a huge fan of the game’s subplot, probably because of how long I have been in the gaming and entertainment community in general and seen how it is used but they did handle it better than most and I always love an alternate ending.