January 18, 2012

Demo Report – The Darkness II

Demo Report The Darkness II 2
If you recall my lengthy diatribe on the matter of The Darkness, and the urgency with which it demands to be played, you might guess that The Darkness II is a subject in which I am greatly invested. I very much need for this title to deliver, and for that reason the question of whether Digital Extremes is equipped to succeed Starbreeze is a puzzle I have been pondering since the day of this title’s announcement.

The demo sets up the premise of the sequel and offers little else in the way of narrative—it provides a capable teaser, and then moves directly along to the matter of vicious tentacle murder.

Demo Report The Darkness II 2
As expected, the quick, punchy shooting is several steps above the strange, floaty aiming of Starbreeze’s original, and the addition of a couple of more modern FPS features (such as sprinting and aiming down the sights) makes the proceedings a little more comfortable and combat more flexible.

The real question, though, was always with regards to the Darkness powers and their implementation—and I can say that what’s found here works.

Though quad-wielding, in theory, originates with The Darkness, “quad” didn’t really factor into it. There were four arms, but they weren’t particularly controllable; two were merely an expression for one of four selectable powers at a time, and though Jackie could carry two guns at once, it was always two of a kind.

Demo Report The Darkness II 2
The Darkness II takes a more evolved approach; though the powers available in the demo are limited, Jackie possesses his mainstay abilities—a demon arm for grabbing, a demon arm for slashing, and the option to mix and match dual wielded firearms for a total of four core killing options that are available at the touch of a button. The control scheme is surprisingly intuitive and the four powers are easy to coordinate, such that within moments I was already slashing enemies into the air and impaling them with hurled metal piping before they hit the ground.

Needless to say, between using car doors as shields and snatching enemies directly out of the air to toss at other enemies, the demo alone already provides more involved, engaging murder methods than the original title—and that’s before even touching the elaborate skill tree.

Meanwhile, the shift in visual style has resulted in a bright, colourful world that manages the comic book aesthetic with greater success than some of its contemporaries, though I immediately missed the blackened environments that would illuminate with the pulsing gold of the Darkness’ night vision, and the permeating noir that characterized the original game.

Demo Report The Darkness II 2
The light and dark mechanic loses some of its appeal as punching out lights no longer truly darkens the environment, subtracting notably from the atmosphere. It was always grimly satisfying to move through a hall, smashing lights, making the world ominously darker along the way, and I wonder about the loss of such fine touches in the final product.

I need no longer fear that The Darkness II will fail on the merits of its gameplay; indeed, it may be on track to succeed the original in that regard. With respect to what truly made The Darkness special, though, I cannot say. I don’t know if that sense of humanity, of dark intimacy and hopelessness is something that Digital Extremes has captured—though I am now fully primed to rip, tear, and slash my way toward finally answering that question.

*The Darkness 2 demo is currently available for Xbox LIVE Gold members. Xbox LIVE Silver members, PlayStation Network users and Steam enthusiasts will have access to the demo on January 24th.

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