The Darkness II is a shallow, underbaked mess. And yet we love it. And we can't quite work out why.
It is despicably violent, and we're kind of alright with that
Firstly, The Darkness II is incredibly violent. Remarkably so, even in a world where most games involve you blowing out the back of a terrorist's head with a high-calibre sniper rifle as a matter of course – it's violent almost to the point where it feels like a cheap sales tool.
On the far right, our Darkling - a miniature devilish pixie Londoner that follows you around - is eating a man's leg. Also, he urinates on corpses
How violent is it, exactly? Let us explain; it is possible to rip out a man's stomach through his anus. If you do this – after grabbing the man with the giant black tentacles that sprout out of your back, mind, you're not just holding him down and breaking out the rubber gloves - the word “Assecutioner” pops up on screen, almost cheerfully, and you get a shield power-up.1
His stomach. Through his anus. Think about that for a second.
And yet we found ourselves getting into it after a while – after the first shocking spectacle, where the unfortunate mercenary is held up in front of the player's point of view and subjected to a violent amateur colonoscopy – and we'd hold the chap up, think “hey, I could do with a shield made out of darkness powered by anus violence,” and pop it out. Occasionally, we'd grin at the over-the-top slaughter, like a madman might.
It is short. Incredibly short. Like half a dwarf short
The single-player campaign will last you about seven hours. This isn't incredibly surprising, of course – we've almost come to expect FPS single-player games to be very short, and for them to focus on multiplayer instead (we'll come along to the glorious trainwreck that is The Darkness II's multiplayer in a bit). But, you know, it'd be nice to have a change, especially in a game as story-led as this one.
There's a whole sub-plot in which Jackie occasionally wakes up in a mental hospital, which is almost but not quite very well done
And we don't mind, which is the weird thing. Those seven hours are actually well-spent. The story, even though it's a short one, plays out fairly well. You start giving a shit about the characters, too – not a huge shit, you understand, more like the sort of shit your rabbit might leave on the carpet, but it's still a shit.
We got involved with the story, as hammy as the dialogue was – especially mad-eyed occult expert Johnny, who despite going for far too long, we really liked. We felt that the last chapter, and the ending sequence, were actually very well done (and reminded us a lot of Shadows of the Damned, actually, which is no bad thing) – although the actual ending, the proper ending ending, is straight set-us-up-for-a-sequel-please bullshit.
Trying to carry all the guns you need is like juggling cats
Jackie bucks the trend of modern FPS protagonists as he can carry three guns, rather than just two; one rifle, and two pistols or sub machine guns. Those pistols/SMGs can be dual-wielded (so rather than aiming one of them, you blaze away with both), which is nice. But god forbid you should try to pick up another weapon.
In this shot, Jackie is carrying a Desert Eagle, a UMP, and a lump of funerary architecture. Sometimes the screen can get a bit cluttered
First off, it's kinda hard to tell which guns are rifles and which guns are sub machine guns, just from the outline – so you end up accidentally throwing away your shotgun in exchange for a rifle that, to the uneducated eye, looks pretty similar to an sub machine gun. Which is less than fun.
But, you know, fuck it. You get to fire two of them at once (even if they're different types of gun) without spending hours racking up enough XP to earn the right to. That's gotta be a plus right there, no? Far too many games have been ripe for the inclusion of firing two guns at once – we're looking at you, Army of Two – so it's nice to find one that's pandering to our desires.
The multiplayer's poor but charming, like a kitten that's baked you a sub-par cake
We fell in love with the idea of the multiplayer mode the second we heard about it – but we are too trusting by far, it seems. Alongside the main campaign, Jackie hires a squad of four international badasses with magical darkness weapons (like an axe, a shotgun, a katana etc) then sends them on Co-op missions he's too busy, or too important, to do.
This is Shoshanna, one of the multiplayer characters. She has the dead eyes of a mannequin
It's a nice idea. We loved Spec Ops in MW3, and we're basically all over any multiplayer experience that tries to wedge narrative into play like pickle in an already-delicious cheese sandwich. It's just, well... it doesn't really work.
It's hard to pin down why, precisely – the combat's not much fun, if we're honest, once you take out the grabby arms and the horrendous variety of executions that yer boy Jackie gets. The characters are unbalanced (one guy gets a staff that lets you levitate people, making them easier to shoot and stunning them, and also it twists people in half. Another guy gets an axe that works as, well, as an axe).
And, crucially, the accents on the international badasses are so awful that they make our teeth hurt a bit just remembering them. But – and this is a big but – they tried. They recorded special cut-scenes, and made the plot tie in with the main game, and... well, that's what we like to see. It didn't necessarily end up being a great experience, but there you go.
Something of a verdict, then
Oh, at one point, there's a funeral in the game. It devolves into a gunfight of course
We love The Darkness II. We're not quite sure why. It is, perhaps, because it's a very earnest game. It wears its heart on its sleeve, along with bits of other people's hearts that ended up there after it wiped its mouth. For all its flaws, it's a genuinely charming game, and ripping through a roomful of unsuspecting goons with twin MP7s and your oversized dark tentacles is a joy to behold. That's enough, right? Right?
1 A shield, we should note, that you can throw at people so hard it literally slices them in half