I thought the first Darkness underrated (not that it was rated poorly).
The hub-based exploration and mission discovery, the accessibility of the game’s combat, the RPG style development, depth of dialogue, and urban desolate environments all combined to make a brilliant game.
The first Darkness game was by a different studio to The Darkness 2. As such, I wasn’t expecting much, especially when I’d heard that they’d discarded all of the hub-based stuff. To my astonishment, whilst I didn’t think the second game was better, it is actually very good, whilst being very different. Gone is the hub-based stuff, replaced by the large intermission location – your mansion, but only visited infrequently, and there isn’t much you can do there other than talk to people. More of a briefing room than a real hub. It’s a touch more linear once you actually get to the mission areas, generally having less paths through than The Darkness, at many times being guilty of the modern gameplay stereotype of ‘corridor then cutscene’. I thought the combat in The Darkness 2 which makes up such a large proportion of your game time was simply competent, being less fun, and more of a chore than The Darkness. On the other hand, there are less lights to smash all the time, so it’s a bit less of a chore in that respect.
What it does have is depth, but going in a different direction to The Darkness. Where The Darkness gets its depth from talking to everyone in the subway stations, and picking up missions and learning the backstories of your family and the people of the city, The Darkness 2 unfortunately dispenses with these side-missions, but does keep the depth with regards to sheer amount of dialog. The characters in The Darkness 2 are very well fleshed out and talk so much more than the standard video-game two or three phrases, and this detail of characterisation applies even to low-importance members of your team. No character is stock, and each says things that only that character would say, considering the size of the cast whom you frequently talk to, this is quite an achievement.
It’s also more colourful and has this big sort of cartoony filter over the top of it. You’ll have seen it before, it has the same cel-shaded look of, for example, Prince of Persia. Personally, I’m not keen on it, it’s undoubtedly supposed to look comic-book, but instead looks cartoony. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it was done well, or isn’t pretty, it is very good looking, but as you play the game, you forget about it, and everytime you notice it, it looks a little out of place.
I’m going to share with you a suspicion. I suspect that the makers of The Darkness 2 didn’t want to make a Darkness game, I think they wanted to make a quite different game, but gained the license for The Darkness and made the most of it. I think they should be given the chance to make that game, it will perhaps be even better now that they’ve learned what they can from making The Darkness 2. Speaking of the development, I was surprised to learn that the game isn’t using / made with the Unreal engine, as a few of its glitchier moments are hallmarks of that engine, but is instead on a proprietary engine, but by the co-creater of the Unreal engine. Perhaps a shared ethos is responsible for the flashes of white at the edge of the screen as you turn. It would make sense since framerate and not pausing the process being such high priority are very Unreal-y ideas.
The other thing that still makes this a great game despite the, I thought, only competent combat, and the removal of some things I very much enjoyed in the first game, are the wonderful locations and set-pieces. I won’t spoil it, but the sequence when you’re on an Amusement Park’s Ghost Train is amazing, as are all the hospital scenes where the outside world and facility itself look absolutely beautiful.
One irritating thing that the game kept doing, however.
You know when you talk? You don’t vibrate when you talk, right? Well, every single time that your character talks in this game, the pad vibrates. Every time. I’m assuming this is a device to let you know that Jackie himself is talking. Honestly, I would have simply preferred sticking his name on the screen with the subtitles.
The Darkness 2 was surprisingly good, if a little short, even to someone who really liked the first game. Well worth playing.