The Darkness II demo impressions

The Darkness II, sequel to 2K Game’s 2007 shooter The Darkness, is due out in just a few days on Dec 7th. In anticipation for the game, we decided to check out the game demo on Steam (and also available on XBLA and PSN).

Now, our experiences with the game here are only based off the demo, which does go out of its way to make sure the player understands this is an unfinished version of the game, and that content in the demo may not even be in the retail release at all.

The demo opens with your character, Jackie, being nailed to a cross by some very cartoony looking badguys, and an ornate artifact in the middle of the room siphoning some sort of purple essence from you. It’s revealed, through rather goofy dialogue between Jackie and some burned-chipmunk looking evil mad man, that they are trying to remove the darkness from you so they can use its power for, well, evil.

Then, after succumbing to the pain of his crucifixion, Jackie passes out, and you enter a flash back sequence. You walk through a swanky Italian resturant (Jackie seems to be mobster of sorts, or at least that’s the picture they paint). You’re escorted by a waiter to a table with two  blonde women simply reffered to as “the twins.” After a breif moment or two of dialogue, one of the twin’s heads explode after a gunshot rips through her skull and out her eye. Then, a car crashes through the window and crushes Jackie. When he comes to, his friends have pulled him out of the wreckage only to find his leg has been shredded by the vehicle.

Sure, it sounds graphic, and it’s a bit startling when it happens so suddenly, but not only did I not feel any sort of emotional resonance seeing this vastly unecessary character’s head pop, but the comic-book art style of the graphics made the entire moment feel silly and odd. To be fair, the art-design is probably the closest a game has ever come to looking like a comic book, and seeing that the games are based off of a comic series it makes sense. My gripe here is that the game seems to be aimed at creating a dark and gruesome atmosphere, but the saturated colors of the near-cel shaded graphics and rather eccentric nature of the characters and story lessen that atmosphere’s integrity.

Anyway, back to the game play. So Jackie’s leg is shot and now the bad guys who want to suck your purple stuff out are flooding through the giant hole left by the car. Your buddies rally up to defend you, while that waiter from earlier hands you a pistol, then proceeds to drag you through the firefight to safety. Let me reiterate this point: there are only 3 flashbacks in the demo, meaning you spend a third of it being dragged with little mobility through a building. I realize this is just a demo, but c’mon, if this stuff isn’t even going to be in the main game or you are trying to pull players in, spending the first 10 minutes with your character unable to walk on his own isn’t the smartest choice.

Fortunately, that’s the worst part. In fact, the demo gets much better from here. After some more story, you gain control of The Darkness. This takes the game from generic, colorful first person shooter, to interesting and fun action game. Basically, you have four tentacles to command; two for attacking, and two for performing actions like grabbing weapons, ripping the hearts out of enemies to regain health, or using car doors as shields. The attacks are performed by pressing the attack key for either the left or right tendril, then swiping the camera in the direction you wish to swing your attack. This offers several ways to attack enemies and destroy objects in a specific way, often times in conjunction with puzzles.

You can also use the tentacles for finishing moves, which can regain health after you’ve leveled up certain skill trees enough. You earn points to level up by killing enemies and executing certain actions. You come across nodes that allow you to access your skills trees and level up your Darkness abilities, such as increased health from execution/eating hearts, new finishing moves, and higher damage.

All in all, the combat and gameplay on the player end of things is great, and the mechanics of using the Darkness feels intuitive and fun. Despite this, the enemy AI is a little dull, and from what I saw in the demo there’s not much finesse required to survive heavy shootouts. You just aim and click in enough ways until everything is dead. The only real challenge comes in the form of light — the Darkness do not like light (naturally) and their powers are unusable unless you shoot out the light source. It’s an interesting touch, and in some places it adds tension but otherwise it never affected me.

I really want to like this game and be excited about it, but the demo wasn’t all that fun. The story has potential, and the graphics are really slick, but they clash with each other pretty heavily at times, including a little henchman who guides you through the levels, and has a penchant for pissing on things when he’s bored. The Darkness are a lot of fun to play around with, though, and the skills trees and combat are interesting, but the AI and level design somewhat limit you to just mashing the strongest attacks until everything’s been eviscerated. It’s an interesting premise, and I’m sure it will be a good game, but I say wait and see on this one.

You can try the game for yourself by downloading the demo here.

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