When it comes to video games, the moniker “cult title” gets thrown around a lot these days. Heck, I’m usually one of those people so I should know… PS, don’t judge me! Generally though, cult titles are often games that are often overlooked by the vast majority of critics and consumers alike, and usually grip those that play them with unique gameplay and some kind of a hook. Starbreeze and 2K’s The Darkness is one of those titles – incidentally, we didn’t overlook it in our review *wink wink* *nudge nudge* Here we are though, nearly four years later and the sequel is finally heading our way, but this time, Dark Sector developer, Digital Extremes is on board and they’re looking to take The Darkness to the next level.
Using Digital Extreme’s proprietary tech, the developer is looking to deliver a much more action-intensive Darkness experience in the sequel, picking up on everything that was loved in the original, and building upon its foundations. That includes bringing back the Demon Arm-heavy gameplay, but making the combat more up close and personal, with the intention to see the whites of your foe’s eyes as you rip them limb from limb.
We pick up the hands-off eyes-on presentation right at the beginning of the game, which takes place 2 years after the original with Jackie Estacado having rose through the ranks to become The Don of his particular family. First things first, yes, Mike Patton returns to duty on the sequel, as does Paul Jenkins, so if you thought that the switch in developer would tear up the original’s playbook, then think again. The most apparent changes are in the game’s visual style, which comes in the form of a sort of quasi-noir comic book style. While the original’s art style was dark and almost monochrome at times, the sequel seems much more vibrant and full of life. Now I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing at the moment, but time will tell there.
Jackie kicks off this particular demo quite literally nailed to a cross with huge stakes through either hand and a syphon sat in front of him with an oozing and glowing essence leading from Jackie to it in the middle of the dark, dank room. In front of our main man stood what Jackie referred to as a “crippled fuck” whose main intention is to coerce Jackie to try to extract The Darkness from him. Cue blackout and story setting flashback.
The life of a Don is a tough one and Jackie wanders through a packed out restaurant that’s heavy with life and is pasted in more red décor than the waiting room of the Gates of Hell. Passing various couples sat down eating their favourite dishes no doubt and clumsy waiters, Jackie continues through the restaurant with a sense of entitlement and power, all the way through to what is more than likely the best seats in the house. That’s not because it has two busty blondes sat there waiting for the main man, but because it’s slightly raised up and more secluded than any other table in the house.
The scene goes from zero to one hundred in a matter of seconds and as Jackie takes up a seat, the blonde on his right takes a bullet to the skull right before a van careens straight through the wall facing Jackie, squishing her friend and breaking Jackie’s leg in the process. What then proceeds is a full on action scene, as Jackie’s pulled through the club by his associate and he’s left with a pistol packing slugs into any orange suit wearing thug that comes into his sight. Carefully picking off the thugs, Jackie continues to fire leaving devastation in his path behind him, watching all kinds of mayhem ensue – a chandelier squashing some heavy is always a lovely way to watch someone leave this world.
Stopping halfway at a bar so your associate can get his breath, a white van screeches up, unleashing more heavys on the pair. Jackie then continues to dual wield pistols like he’s in some 80s cop movie until the pair descend upon relative safety and take refuge in the kitchen. Unfortunately for the duo, as they reach what seems like relative safety, the combination of a noxious gas and a Molotov cocktail has devastating effects for them.
“The host may only give up the Darkness by choice,” says the elderly decrepit thug who has Estacado held in captive as Jackie returns to the real world, before noting that the syphon is performing much better, meaning that Jackie is slowly lacking the will to give over the dark power inside of him.
In an instant Jackie is back in the vicinity of the restaurant, this time just outside, and thanks to the dark powers of the Darkness, Jackie’s leg is able to heal and the Don rises to his feet. Still haunted by visions and memories of Jenny, his girlfriend who was rather prominent in the original – no spoilers! – he makes his way down a set of alleyways, ripping guards apart, limb from limb with little to no ease at all.
Using the left arm to grab and the right arm to slash – eating the hearts of the fallen on the way – Digital Extremes note that The Darkness II sees the return of the much loved executions from the original. Throughout the presentation alone we saw a few of these in action; especially the Anaconda and Wish Bone which are brutal and every bit like the names that have been crafted for them.
The sequence from the street to the subway that proceeded continued to demonstrate Digital Extreme’s desire to create much more involved combat. Whether Jackie’s using the Demon Arm to grab guns from other side of a room and using car doors as shields, or using that Demon Arm to rip a parking meter out of the ground and using it as a spear; the combat seems like they took The Darkness’ original combat and jabbed it in the arm with 1,000,000 cc’s of adrenaline.
Further into the subway, not only do we bump heads with The Darkness II’s solitary Darkling, who according to Digital Extremes will be less of a mindless servant this time and will have a little more personality – demonstrated by him urinating over a one of Jackie’s downed foes – but the dynamic lighting is nothing short of incredible. And yes, you can use the guns/Demon Arms to take down the lights again, as we all know that the Demon Arms are useless in the light. The scene finishes as Jackie rolls through the subway dual-wielding an uzi and a pistol to devastating effect and snaps his final foe in two using the aptly named Wishbone execution.
“Give me the Darkness or your dear old nan is worm food,” threatens the obviously irate capturer. Uh oh. Jackie’s pissed now! Using sheer strength to pull his hands away from the stakes, the scene ends as the recently freed Jackie Estacado takes one of those stakes and drives it through the skull of one of his capturers. Boom!
Quite whether The Darkness II will reach the high levels set by Starbreeze in 2007 remains to be seen, but based on the intense combat and small bits of narrative that we caught, Digital Extremes are plotting a course to a more action heavy sequel. Of course, what made the original a great success was its thrilling narrative and emotional engagement with the player, so as long as Digital Extremes can weave those threads into the final game, we should be looking at a winner.
The Darkness II is scheduled for a fall 2011 release.