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Xbox 360 Review: The Darkness II

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Darkness II is the sequel to the 2007 videogame adaptation of the late nineties Marc Silvestri comic book hit, The Darkness.  The first game starts you off as Jackie Estacado, a mob hitman who receives a powerful gift on his 21st birthday.  The tortured but evilly enhanced Jackie is the Don of the Fanchetti crime family and retired his darkness powers.  To help tell the story, developer Digital Extremes enlisted Paul Jenkins, one of the writers from the original comic book series.

Darkness II does a much better job of capturing the comic book style than the original game and artistically resembles another upcoming 2K title, Bioshock Infinite.  Not enough can be said about the successful use of the cell shaded look, particularly in the interludes between dealing out brutality.  To those who pay attention to that sort of thing, yes, Digital Extremes did work on both the original Bioshock and Bioshock 2.

Jackie’s darkness power, once unleashed, is manifested in demonic snakes protruding from his shoulders and leaves him looking like a cross between The Crow and Doc Ock.  Besides being an evil entity, the Darkness is so named because it can only exist in the dark.  With that in mind, as you come upon each new area, you will have to figure out how to darken the area to protect yourself and your powerful parasite.  Not all of the lights can just be shot out; some will require you to eliminate their power source.

Considering you effectively have four arms for a good portion of the game, the controls are surprisingly easy to adapt to.  For the most part, the controls are like most dual analog shooters with the triggers assigned to discharging your firearms, including those dual-wielded.  The differences from the standard shooter fare starts with the bumpers which are assigned to the darkness snake heads.  The left head can grab and throw and the right mostly just slashes away.  Once an enemy is grabbed, a variety of executions can be performed for different bonuses.

The face buttons, in addition to jump, control your darkness powers that are unlocked and purchased with your experience points.  These ability stores are fairly common throughout and allow powers to be bought along four separate skill trees.  It’s not very difficult to make Jackie a more efficient killer, at least in the dark, and overall, most players should be able to get it all down quickly.  Don’t worry though, if that’s not enough, once the game is completed a new game mode is available where you can choose individual chapters to replay.

Once down with the story, if you have a couple of online friends, you can flesh out the plot a little better through the “Vendetta.”  You can also play through this mode as a solo player.  Vendetta gives you the chance to play through some of the background stories as one of a few darkness-enhanced mercenaries.  Each of them has their own story to play through and weapon and default darkness power to use.  The mode comes off feeling like a cross between Left for Dead and Resident Evil: Mercenaries but when the action really gets going there is a bit of frame rate slowdown.

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There is a lot to like about Darkness II.  The graphics and voice work are all well executed and with only small adjustments to the comic books, Darkness II is easily described as a successful adaptation.  Darkness II also features a couple of possible endings to the story, though neither could be described as a satisfying wrap-up.  Unfortunately, with so many comparisons to Bioshock, Darkness II falls a little short.  Part of this complaint is inevitable with the source material.  Jackie and company come off a little one-dimensional and when the game tries pulling at your heartstrings, you may find yourself not really caring.  As he is a violent, cold-blooded killer it may be a bit of stretch to ever consider Jackie a sympathetic character.

The Darkness II is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content. This game can also be found on: PS3 and PC.

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About Lance Roth

Lance Roth has over 10 years experience in the video game industry. He has worked in a number of capacities within the industry and currently provides development and strategy consulting. He participated in all of the major console launches since the Dreamcast. This videogame resume goes all of the way back to when they were written in DOS. You can contact Lance at RPGameX.com or rpgamex@gmail.com.