Tuesday, February 5

Darkness II Review (X360 - Single player): Eye of the Needle

It was the second time that I played through chapter 4 when it happened: opening double doors to reveal a pool hall, goons with eyes on the door and guns raised. My response was gloriously violent and cool. That's right I said it, "cool". I picked up a pool stick with my Darkness arms, waited for two of my opponents to cross paths and then released it. The action on screen slowed to a crawl as the improvised projectile pinned both men to the wall in an explosion of crimson. Once the impact of my violent act had sunken in, I could then hear Tone Loc's rendition of "Wild Thing" on a nearby radio.

Like I said, "cool."

The Darkness II is loaded with ridiculously violent sequences of varying length where the player character, the returning anti-hero, Jackie Estacado is the perpetrator. It should be difficult, if not impossible, to relate to a man capable of such actions - even if they are carried out at the behest of a supremely-evil weapon. By putting the protagonist in the hot seat (read: in front of the camera) in between acts, however, you're comfortable that there's a person underneath the deceptive, symbiotic beast. Sometimes you think he may even be a person worth saving. The Darkness itself, which is once again expertly voiced by Mike Patton, is the true star of the show, but Jackie and select members of the supporting cast also deliver convincing performances. It's a predictable tale, but it's also oddly moving.

The pace of Jackie's second adventure rarely lets up, but an expansive range of "talents" ensure that you're never overwhelmed. By the end of my "New Game +" run, I could summon a swarm of killer bugs, suspend goons in mid-air and see as well as shoot through walls... all at once. Even without a great deal of "essence", however, I could still impale and eviscerate enemies with pipes and fan blades, use my Darkness tendrils to hold a car door to shield myself from enemy attacks, and swipe anything that crept into close quarters. With the Darkness as your ally -- or master, as it were -- no challenge is too great. 

Seriously, even on the hardest difficulty, there's nothing that can't be overcome with the right selection of talents. I found myself following the same enjoyable routine, regardless of the difficulty level selected: shoot the lights, stun enemies with Darkness powers (if charged), then spray the area until clean. Checkpoints are doled out pretty generously (even popping up in boss fights) and the campaign runs pretty smoothly as a result. In my experience, a second playthrough is pretty much mandatory.

Boss fights are the weakest aspect of the campaign, with your opponents posing no match for a decent set of talents. Combining Swarm with Gun Channeling ends most encounters pretty quickly, and average goons are thrown in to allow you to regenerate health and stock up on ammo. Raising the difficulty level does change the dynamics of these battles somewhat, but a calm nerve and steady hand (and Swarm and Gun Channeling) should see you through.

I should also mention that there's quite a lot to distinguish this game from its predecessor. Yes, they both boil down to hyperviolent first person shooters, but the sequel features striking cel-shaded visuals, a (for the most part) different set of abilities, and it even provides a satisfying follow up to the events of the original. The Darkness II is a truly great sequel that's well worth the hard-earned cash and time of any fans of the first game.  It might only take about five hours to reach the conclusion, it's explicitly violent -- to the point where I don't know what right-thinking individual would afford it an MA15+ rating -- and you'll guess the ending well before it comes, but I thoroughly enjoyed my second stint enveloped in the Darkness. 

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