The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
In the comic book business, it’s common for high-profile writers and
artists to leave a series before completing a story arc. The change in
talent often produces a jarring shift for readers. The plot can head in a
direction the previous creative team may not have intended. Alterations
to character appearances and dialogue can give them entirely new
personalities. Even if this comic is technically picking up where it
left off, its tonal and cosmetic changes can make it feel like an
alternate reality continuation.
The Darkness, a video game series
based on the Top Cow comic, is afflicted by a similar creative malady.
Developer Starbreeze tapped this license to create a powerful shooter
that played out like a slow-moving stealth game with protagonist Jackie
Estacado lurking in the shadows, summoning his darkling minions to
systematically take down his foes. For the sequel, newly appointed
developer Digital Extremes keeps Jackie’s story alive, but the framework
for the experience is aimed more toward the fast-paced shooter crowd
than people looking for a creepy supernatural thriller. That’s not to
say Digital Extremes didn’t create a decent game full of mindless
action, but the soul that Starbreeze nurtured and made Jackie’s driving
force is nowhere to be found.
This time around Jackie comes across
as a lovesick broken record, going on and on about his dead girlfriend
Jenny. Two years have passed since her tragic death, and he hasn’t found
peace. He’s obsessed with her memory to the unhealthy degree that he
sees hallucinations of her and is continually reminded of the great
moments they had together. One of the best moments from the original was
Jackie’s quiet night on the couch with Jenny. Digital Extremes tries to
evoke this same feeling from players on numerous occasions, but they
all feel forced and disingenuous. No offense, Jenny, but I feel like
Digital Extremes is beating a dead horse.
A new antagonist and
reason for Jackie to seek vengeance are introduced early on in this
tale, but as you’ve probably gathered by now, loverboy’s head isn’t
exactly where it should be. As he becomes unhinged, Jackie’s mind lapses
into a reality without the Darkness where Jenny still lives. These
sequences have Jackie talking to his mob buddies and Jenny, adding humor
to the grim tale, but the gimmick is revisited too often. The
resolution to the entire plot hangs on Jenny, and sadly doesn’t reach
closure until after the credits, where another ridiculous Jenny revelation awaits.
gameplay struggles to find its pulse just as much. Combat relies on
reflexes more than strategy this time around; Jackie can rarely get the
jump on an enemy, and the Darkness is just a weapon rather than a tool.
Most encounters begin when Jackie passes an invisible trigger point in
the environment. Foes crawl out of the woodwork, descend from rooftops,
and almost always rush his location, resulting in more close-range
encounters and challenging battles.
Jackie can quad-wield weapons
(two guns and two Darkness serpents), allowing for a variety of grisly
kills. Placing two bullets into an opponent’s leg makes him reel, giving
Jackie enough time to lift him off of the ground with a serpent. As the
foe dangles in agony, the second serpent can rip off his head or
puncture his chest. The gunplay and serpent mechanics are beautifully
implemented, and once mastered, empower the player with the sensation of
superiority on the battlefield.
Feeling powerful is fun, but
combat encounters lack the necessary variety in design and enemy types
to remain fresh. Even with an extensive upgrade system in place, the
action doesn’t evolve from its initial form. I must have summoned my
serpents to perform the grotesque wishbone kill (ripping a foe in two
from the crotch to the face) at least 100 times in the seven or eight
hours it took to complete the game.
The only diversion from the
repetition is the rare instance where control switches to a darkling.
This foul critter occasionally sticks his fingernails into human eye
sockets, but mostly performs boring actions like scurrying through vents
and disabling fuse boxes. His most memorable accomplishment is peeing
on dead enemies, which isn’t a good sign. I should also point out that
this darkling is always onscreen playing the “follow” role seen in the
Call of Duty games, motioning you in the right direction. The odd thing
about this handholding technique is that the game already offers a
light-up breadcrumb trail waypoint system. If you use it when he’s on
screen, the trail goes right below his feet. I have to ask: At what
point did we become so bad at navigating linear environments that we
need two redundant “Help me! I’m stuck!” systems?
The Darkness II
is more of a rebirth for the series than the sequel it’s trying to be.
The action is mindless and fevered, and Jackie has transformed from a
vengeful protagonist into someone who probably listens to “Dream Weaver”
as he cries himself to sleep. I found it to be an interesting journey,
mostly just to see how different it is from the original, and also to
see how a demonic superhero can be whipped by a dead woman.
Email the author Andrew Reiner, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.