Jon’s Blog: The Darkness II demo (PC) impressions

Published on January 24, 2012 

By Jon Turner

Violence is a funny thing, sometimes. In real life, it’s usually unconscionable, the manifestation of utter, savage dominance in physical form. Personally, I can’t even make toast without sobbing profusely over the harm I’ve inflicted on the whole grain. So why is does it feel so satisfying, so very, very right-yet-wrong-at-the-same-time-but-mostly-right to briefly inhabit the body of a morally conflicted gangster whose twin sorcery arms have a curious predilection for raw, beating hearts? I don’t even like hearts!

If you’re not familiar with the first, the premise is basically this: An ancient, bloodthirsty force called the Darkness has decided to live in your body, where it mostly chills out. If it senses danger, it attacks. However, you also have a limited amount of control over it, being able to use its arms to throw things/get past obstacles/kill people, etc. Oh yeah — some bad guys think they, not you, should have its power. But enough backstory.

As for the demo, there’s plenty of variety; for example, you start off in a desperately dramatic on-rails shooting sequence, which is made palatable by the fact that you are actually being dragged through the level (your leg having been inconveniently mangled by a passing car accident), which in turn familiarizes you with the basic gunplay. Later, you gain the full use of the Darkness itself, (which, incidentally, isn’t all that dark; the game’s comic-book visuals owe more to 2003′s XIII than GTAIV) and you get a third weapon in addition to the standard duel-wielding mechanics. It was at this point that I learned picking up car doors and using them briefly as shields before hurling them inconsiderately at convicted felons produced a warm, giggling sensation within my soul. Sigh.

The game entertains a decent RPG leveling system too; bluntly, killing people impressively gets you more Essence, which could translate into more damage, the ability to regenerate by the consumption of the aforementioned hearts, or any number of interesting effects. It’s fun, and the little Essence stations are scattered around in the world, not as part of the menu interface, which seems like a good move: players won’t have to constantly remind themselves to upgrade.

At its heart (note to self: more references to eating hearts!), the game has distilled a lot of what’s fun about video game shooters: picking up things, throwing things at other things, mutilating still other things, and of course, shooting things. The controls are integrated well enough that you can do all these things basically at the same time, which, I’ll admit, briefly confused me (using the middle mouse button as a weapon?), but I learned to appreciate the extra, ahem, helping hand. By the end, I was murderizing with the best of ‘em, throwing guys, ripping spines, eating hearts, and just generally having a big grin on my face. Who knows, maybe I’ll even play the first one.

The Darkness II will be released on February 7th for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

Jon Turner writes about games for the Polyphonic Pixel. He likes to bang his appendages on input devices to create words and articles, and also appendage bruises. Cats cause his crinkled, cynical brow to momentarily uncrinkle.