The Darkness II – E3 Preview
In The Darkness II you play as Jackie Estacado, a member of a New York crime family, who is partly possessed by a being known as “the Darkness”. I did start to type up a nice little intro for you all, running through the events of the first game, but to really get across why Jackie is the way he is, and understand the events which have led him to where he finds himself in The Darkness II, I’d have to riddle it with some pretty big spoilers. So, I’ll just say that if you haven’t played the first game and fancy taking on a really good, gritty and dark comic book story, go and pick up a copy.
Set two years after the events of the first game, Jackie is now the don of the Estacado family and immediately (well, if you played the first game) you’ll notice that the art style has taken a subtle change of direction. It has gone an almost cell shaded style, with all of the textures now being hand painted and leaning more towards a dark, graphic novel style – something which the game’s developers, Digital Extremes, are calling “graphic noire” – and it fits with everything that fans of both the first game and the comic will know well.
The section of The Darkness II that we were shown takes place at an abandoned, creepy fairground where Jackie is trying to track down a man called Victor Valente, the leader of an organisation known as the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood are an ancient organisation who know all about the Darkness which possess Jackie; originally formed by a saint, hundreds of years ago, their goal was to rid the world of the Darkness. After a long period of time, however, the Brotherhood – like all things the Darkness touches – has become corrupt and now wants to control it for their own gain.
A lot of the first game’s mechanics have stayed in place, but with a few changes and some new additions. As you would expect from a game called “The Darkness” the light really isn’t your best friend; when in the light Jackie will take a lot more damage from gunfire and, most importantly, loses the ability of those two extra limbs. The Brotherhood know this weakness and will use light to their advantage with high powered torches taped to the front of their guns, or more powerful spotlights that will illuminate huge areas and which will need to be taken out. The Darklings are also back, well, actually just the one Darkling this time around who follows you about, playing a much more important part in the narrative. Sounds like the plucky sidekick that’ll quickly get annoying, I know, but from what I’ve seen he actually injected some humour into the game, and when watching him mess about in a bumper-car or take a piss on a dead guy it’s hard not to smile.
A new addition to The Darkness is something that’s being dubbed “quad-wielding”. This new found multi-tasking talent allows you to control what Jackie’s arms and the Darkness are all doing at the same time. I know… it sounds complicated, right? Well, it’s not actually that hard; your left and right triggers will control Jackie’s left and right guns, much the same as they would in any first person shooter, while the bumper buttons control the Darkness in the same way. All you need to worry about is where you are aiming and shooting as Jackie, while the Darkness will auto-target the enemy you happen to be aiming at or, if they are in close enough proximity, any surrounding enemies, allowing you (in theory, and maybe with a bit of practice) to take on up to three guys at the same time. The new quad-wielding system has picked up the pacing of the combat and changed it from the first game, which was mainly very much about stealth and being tactical, to now being more action packed in an almost ‘run and gun’ style of play. I didn’t see much in the way of that old stealth-like combat from the first game in the section we saw, but I’m hoping it still has those parts which added some real moments of tension in the first title when you decided best how to take out a room full of enemies.
Also making a return are the Darkness powers that you can customise yourself as you progress. Essence (the game’s version of XP) is the key to the upgrade system and eating the hearts of your fallen enemies is the most effective way to earn it, but it can also be earned in your normal day to day tasks. These include impaling an enemy with a parking meter, cutting them in half with a car door or, one of my new favourites, the spinal tap execution, where you grab a bad guy by the leg, hold him upside down, and separate his spine from the rest of his body before throwing them both to the floor. To spend your Essence you need to find one of the talent shrines which are dotted around the game. Just walk up to one any time and tap X to bring up the upgrade menu; here you can spend your Essence, with four different talent trees to explore, allowing you to customise the game to how you want to play. To the left is the weapon tree, which improves things like your ammo capacity and accuracy; at the bottom is the mystical tree, which grants you the ability to summon other-worldly beings such as a swam which stuns your enemies. To the right, we have the demonic tree, which seemed to include some of the nastier special moves in the game, like the ground pound, which whips an enemy into the air before slamming him back down, resulting in a bloody explosion of body parts and bones which will disorientate any nearby goons. Then, finishing it all off, is a new ability tree at the top called Channeling. Channeling lets you combine your weapons with the power of the Darkness, granting you temporary powers which will drastically increase any damage caused by your guns, while not using any ammo or having to reload – a real life saver when you start to get swamped by enemies.
All of these new combat and gameplay mechanics have been executed brilliantly and are well in keeping with that feeling that you got from the first title and everything that is “The Darkness”. Aside from all of that, The Darkness II will really need the dark, layered and involving story of its predecessor to separate itself from being just another shooter (albeit with two extra limbs). It’s hard to talk about that kind of thing without spoiling the first game, or even leading you down a path where you’ll guess the plot twists just before they happen. With a few returning characters (I don’t want to spoil it for you) and Mike Patton lending his voice once again to that of the Darkness, The Darkness II is shaping up to be a worthy sequel to one of my favourite games.
The Darkness II is due for release early October 2011
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