Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Terminal Reviews: Darkness 2

Yes, we all probably thought it. This game is a lot like this (with more disemboweling):

At its core, Darkness 2 is actually quite gripping. Tales of love and loss are always best narrated from the heart, bearing tones of vengeance and grief simultaneously. While at times literally wreathing with power, Jackie is keenly grounded with emotional weakness and doubt in himself. If a game can convince me to empathize with a mafia boss, some success is merited.

The Darkness 2 is a noted improvement over the original title in many respects, particularly in the artistic department. This is yet another game that illustrates how cel-shading can be used effectively without making the overall experience appear kiddy or childish. Most of the game takes place at night, yet the constant darker color palettes are accentuated ever so slightly by cel-shading, pronouncing subtle levels of difference between the different blacks, grays and twilights. The visuals match the plot and story almost perfectly and give the campaign an appreciated boost.

Unfortunately, that campaign does not last nearly as long as it deserves, clocking out right around six hours. While I am in favor of stories that don’t dawdle and fill hours of time with collection missions or side quests without story or purpose, Darkness 2 appears to have the opposite problem in that it ends to soon. Without needing to comply to the regular standards required in an origin story, sequels are allowed to explore new avenues and help the characters achieve new personal plateaus–something this story almost achieves. As Jackie grieves for his lost love Jennie, he must also question his sanity and even his own reality. As he seeks to confront his inner demons (figuratively and literally), this new chapter of life is briefly touched upon near the end of the story, yet the implications would lead to hours of fascinating turns on the evolving plot. Perhaps this was a deliberate choice to hold on for a future title, or it is simply a missed opportunity.

Accompanying the single-player story is a co-op Vendetta mode centering on the simpler, more visceral shoot-em-up set pieces. Available for up to 4 players, each person is granted a weapon attuned to the same Darkness malevolence, but without the tentacles. In its place are weapons that are an interesting amalgamation of violence, ranging from an arcane staff that can literally snap people in half, to a demonic sword or a a rifle that can be charged up and released at your foes. While the creative violence is a change of pace from the story, the missions themselves are lacking in story and any type of emotional impact. This shouldn’t be viewed as a detriment, however, as the central purpose of these missions are less about the narrative elements and more about the collaborative death that can be accomplished by 4 hungry mobsters with guns.

I remember playing the original Darkness game and feeling rather underwhelmed by the whole experience. While the idea of a demonic presence infusing a low level mobster with unending levels of destruction is no doubt unique, it didn’t feel compelling enough to warrant a sequel. Fortunately, I am happy to see the incredible improvement in this second foray with the Darkness brooding inside Jackie. Darkness 2 is another perfect example of developers listening to criticism and responding in accordance. As a result, a third Darkness game is almost a sure thing, provided the developers see enough financial return from this title. I for one will be rooting for it. There is darkness within us all, but it cannot exist without giving rise to hope.

See you in the next level,

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