THE DARKNESS II

a review of The Darkness II
a videogame developed by Digital Extremes
and published by 2K Games
for personal computers, the macintosh operating system x, the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony ps3
text by ben hornsby

1 star

Bottom line: The Darkness II is “stale cracker jack”

The Darkness II is gross! Really. Blood splatters everywhere, limbs fly through air, heads get popped. There are pistols and shotguns and whatever, sure, but The Darkness II also gives you a more direct option: slap a dude in the face from across the room, and you can press X to commit super-murder.

When you initiate a super-murder, one of three things will happen. In the first, one of your two demon-tentacles (they come out of your shoulders or something) coils around your opponent and lifts him up, holding his body horizontally while your other tentacle rips through him from bottom to top and bursts out of his chest. This is called ANACONDA, and it gets you 30 points. The second option has your tentacles lifting your enemy up by the ankles, dangling him there for a moment, and then ripping him into two pieces. This is called WISHBONE, and it gives you 30 points. The final option is the most straightforward: one tentacle holds the guy still while the other whips his head clean off. I can’t remember what that one’s called; it’s worth 30 points.

To activate a super-murder: Once your enemy is stunned, you can press the left bumper to grab him with your left tentacle. Then a prompt appears on the bottom of your screen: “X – Super-Murder.” Press the button and one of the three animations is chosen at random. While it’s happening, you’re invincible. All the other dudes in the area – there are usually at least a dozen dudes in an area – will keep shooting at you and running around, but nothing they do will affect you until you’re done wrecking the guy you decided to wreck. The skill tree (yes) offers a perk early on that heals you every time you commit super-murder, and if you have that you can pretty much chain super-murder to super-murder and rip apart four or five guys fairly comfortably.

Anyway: Stunning your enemies, that’s the trick. For about half the game you can either slap a dude with your tentacle or shoot him approximately one time to make him vulnerable to your murder-grab, but eventually dudes start bringing armor and weird shield things and tentacle-evaporating flashlights and stuff. These can be dealt with easily enough in small numbers, though once the number of dudes becomes greater than the combined sum of your limbs and your evil limbs you need to at least start being awake.

I picked the burp perk pretty early, which launches some kind of weird hornet blob (The Darkness II: number four on the upcoming ABDN Top Five Games with Hornet Blobs) that totally debilitates a group of enemies. Once you burp hornets you can just sprint in and systematically super-murder people until the hornet-cloud evaporates.

And finally we’ve dug down to the game’s central mechanic: The burp only lasts for so long. It would be plenty of time if you were just shotgunning everybody, but once you commit to full-time super-murdering (Protip: super-murders are worth 30 points) it gets tricky, and it is tricky for one specific reason.

The problem is that gosh-darned ANACONDA super-murder. It takes like six seconds! It’s literally twice as long as WISHBONE or the head-lopping thing. At first you don’t think it matters, since you’re invincible anyway, but then you start to realize you’re using up entire hornet-burps to eviscerate only two human beings just because you were unlucky enough to get back-to-back ANACONDAs.

It becomes a surreal sort of gamble; if your box-back “choose your own play style” “play style” is burp-and-murder, this whole videogame quickly becomes about charging forward and crossing your fingers. And what’s the point? I guess the animations are memorable. I can picture all three super-murders clearly right now, anyway, right down to the gore splats and thucking sounds. That ANACONDA animation, though – it’s longer, more violent, appears randomly, and then, yeah: 30 points. There’s a psychology at work here; someone’s assuming that, deep down, we’d all like to be that guy who hangs out near women’s restrooms for fun.

You don’t have to kill stuff this way, though the spleen-rupturing kicker is that if you super-murder you’re getting like twice as many points as you would otherwise. And we’re not talking scoreboard-points: these are experience points, man. It’s 2012, and we have Skills to Unlock.

But okay, if you’re in this for the aesthetic or something – maybe you read the comic, I don’t know – you can ignore this stuff. The Darkness II is a goofily-made little game, and its mechanics are never stretched far enough that you have to actually worry about leveling up (or collecting ammo (or getting hit)) if you don’t want to. It’s mostly satisfied to keep pushing you through more of its story – which is of the blockbuster antihero revenge-grit-redemption flavor, complete with multiple overwrought dream sequences and a grating sense of humor.

For the first couple hours it feels like an epilogue to the first game; for the second couple hours it feels like a thing you kind of want to just get over with; and then, hey: it’s done, you got to look at some pretty nice clouds, and you’re only out the used price of a months-old first-person shooter from Gamestop (so like $50 lol). There’s a co-op arcade mode that puts you through tougher stages against waves of enemies and bosses and stuff, and I guess it probably explores the magical bullet and tentacle slap mechanics more thoroughly – though, really, who cares? Couldn’t you just play Horde mode, or something?

In all fairness, The Darkness let you shoot a dozen mafia thugs in the street outside your girlfriend’s apartment and then go upstairs to watch To Kill a Mockingbird with her within its first hour; I don’t exactly know how I’d follow that up, either.

ben hornsby

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