Almost five years ago, 2K Games and Starbreeze Studios released one of my favorite games of this console generation, "The Darkness." The game's gritty, gory world, mixed with just enough of the comic book source material's canon, led to a throughly enjoyable first-person shooter. After a long wait – too long, really – Jackie Estacado is back in "The Darkness II," available today.
If you're a member of the first game's cult following, there's a good chance you've followed the sequel's production. But just in case you somehow remained unaware of "Darkness II," or maybe you're new to the franchise, here's a quick rundown of what to expect.
First of all, the game only partially aligns itself with the original Top Cow comic book series. Obviously, Jackie Estacado, a self-doubting mob hitman with a penchant for sprouting heart-devouring demon tentacles, remains the central protagonist. Fans of the books will notice similarities in story and characters – as it was with the original "Darkness" – but the game isn't a direct adaptation. Oddly enough, the game actually inspired a separate version of the comic. Confused yet?
Don't be. "The Darkness II," much like its predecessor, doesn't really require a knowledge of Silvestri/Ennis' comics. That's not to say the story is any less exciting. Take every mob movie cliché, combine it with a heartbroken anti-hero, except give that anti-hero the ability to literally rip his enemies in half like a wishbone. Yes, you can do that in the game. Yes, it looks completely awesome.
So what's changed in seven years? Well, beyond the fact of development moving into the very capable hands of Digital Extremes, this go around brings some interesting changes to the franchise. Namely, a new art style and a unique control scheme.
Last year, I visited Digital Extremes' London, Ontario studio to check out the game's development. What actually stood out to me most was the developer's new approach to actually making "Darkness II" look like a comic book. One of those techniques involves "dynamic cross-hatching," which actually allows hand-drawn shading to react realistically to changing light. While games like "Borderlands" utilize a cel-shaded appearance, "Darkness II" looks more like a comic come to life than anything I've seen previously.
The enemies have changed, as well. Whereas the first game allowed you to shred mobsters with impunity, "Darkness II" adds a new foe, The Brotherhood. These guys are more than just thugs, as they're also wielding Darkness-infused weapons. Brotherhood opponents are smarter and more powerful; there's an added level of strategy to each firefight.
The last thing you'll have to get your brain around – and, in turn, your hands – is the concept of quad-wielding. While the first game required some adjustment to mixing demon-arm melee and old fashioned shooting, "Darkness II" definitely ratchets up the control complexity. You're essentially shooting two guns while using two melee arms at the same time. It takes some getting used to, but the overwhelming feeling of being a bad-ass is totally worth it.
If you want to "try before you buy," be sure to read all about the demo over at Multiplayer, and download the trial from your favorite console's marketplace. There's even a streaming demo you can play right from your browser.
Have you started playing "The Darkness II" yet? What do you think? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter!