2007’s The Darkness was a commercial success for developer Starbreeze and publisher 2K Games, going on to sell over one million copies, which was a pretty good figure for a game based around an IP that wasn’t that well-known. Given that level of success, it was surprising that it would be close to four years before any type of sequel would be announced and almost five before it was eventually released. With a new development team in the form of Digital Extremes, best known at the time for their cover based shooter, Dark Sector, the sequel to The Darkness, appropriately titled The Darkness II, leans much farther into the comic book roots of the franchise than Starbreeze did and builds upon the best parts of the original game while still managing to tell a story that you’ll care about, even if it does lack a little of the heart that made the first game stand out.
Taking place a few years after the first game, you once again play as Jackie Estacado who has managed to suppress The Darkness entity and take over as head of the Franchetti crime family. When Jackie is violently attacked in public by a cult seeking the power of The Darkness entity, Jackie must unleash the symbiote he had worked to control in order to combat these new attackers and eventually learn about more about the secrets of The Darkness and things it has managed to keep hidden from its host. The Darkness was a great crime revenge story that often felt like it was ashamed of the more supernatural, comic book aspects of the property, which is certainly not the case in The Darkness II. At any moment you almost expect Jackie to don his iconic armor from the original run of the comic and for Witchblade to show up as a boss.
Such things are not meant to be taken as an insult though, as Starbreeze’s original game struggled to really marry the comic book origins of their game with the more serious sections and it’s something that the sequel handles better. Because it’s lighter in tone, but still very dark and mature, it doesn’t quite hit the emotional high points that The Darkness does, but you still care a lot about Jackie and want him to overcome his struggles against those who are putting his life in turmoil. Mike Patton once again returns to voice The Darkness, about the only holdover from the last game, and still very much revels in the role. Actor Brian Bloom (Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes; Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus) replaces Kirk Acevedo as Jackie Estacado and it’s hard to pick a favorite among the two as both do a great job with the role. One of the best parts about The Darkness, the solo asides meant to hide load times but provide entertaining insight into Jackie’s character, make a return and Bloom’s performance in these sections show that he was an excellent choice to take over from Acevedo and these small, quiet segments are possibly much better utilized here as The Darkness II is far more action heavy than the first.
The Darkness has aged okay, but it feels like it’s trying too hard to mask its short playtime by forcing you to travel back and forth between a small play area. The Darkness II is similarly short, but it’s a game that feels far more focused. Instead of being open, events play out far more linear with only brief stops in your penthouse apartment to look at collectibles you can find within levels that reveal details about the history of The Darkness. Thankfully gone are the overlong trench levels from the first game, replaced by tiny sections where Jackie is trapped in a mental institution that aren’t that long and provide necessary character development for the protagonist and his motivations in the story. Visually The Darkness II is a radical departure from the first game, taking a cel-shaded approach more rooted in the comics and it will age far more gracefully than that of the original game’s realistic approach. It can be argued that the visuals can borderline on being too bright and colorful for the mature tone of the game and series, but it just makes The Darkness II more stylized than anything. As The Darkness II is not stuck to the few city blocks of the first game, it allowed Digital Extremes to get a lot more creative with the levels, and though you will still spend your time in areas that still feel like urban New York, you also get stand outs like a grave yard stage and a creepy abandoned amusement park.
The big hook of The Darkness was the ability to use your Darkness abilities, but even though you had multiple powers at your disposal and various types of Darklings you could bring to life, the levels never really forced you to get that creative and your mobster opposition didn’t provide much in the way of challenge for you at full power as well. The Darkness II builds upon the ideas present in the original game in a great way with a mechanic dubbed “quad wielding”. You have the ability to dual wield guns on both triggers and use your Darkness abilities on the two bumpers, allowing you to do such things as whip at enemies vertically and horizontally, grab car doors and other objects as make shift shields and pick up ammo and guns from a distance. Managing all four triggers at once sounds like it can be cumbersome, but it’s really intuitive and it’s not long until you get the hang of things and know what each button does so you’re never slashing with your Darkness tentacle when you meant to grab a shield, for example.
When enemies are weakened enough, you can grab them and perform finishing moves like the glory kills found in Doom (2016) which recreates that feeling of using the creeping darkness from the first game, only more up close and personal. A skill tree incentives you to do this often and get creative with how you play, as diversifying your play style racks up combos that then become currency which you can use to unlock perks for your Darkness powers and weapons. There’s a lot of diversity in how you choose to spend your points and you’ll never unlock everything in one play through, encouraging you to play the campaign more than once.
To accommodate your new abilities, enemies too have been given an upgrade and their power to challenge you escalates accordingly throughout The Darkness II. You’ll fight low-level grunts equipped with regular fire arms before having to contend with foes powered by a weakened portion of The Darkness who will carry Darkness infused shields and will wield whips that can take your gun away from you. Guns play a far larger role than they did in the original game, and while they’re still used to shoot out a plethora of light sources, they’re far more valuable, as well as diverse, and depending on how you choose to upgrade Jackie, bullets can even be infused with the power of The Darkness for an extra damage boost for a short period of time. You lose the ability to summon multiple types of Darklines in The Darkness II, but the trade off is much better. You have one who is with you at all times and you care much more about him than the fodder you summoned in The Darkness, even if you can pick him up and throw him at enemies. A few points you even get to take control of your Darkling where you have to sneak around and it’s a welcome change of pace from the shooting that takes up most of the game.
The Darkness II will hold up far better than the first game from a pure game standpoint, but it can also be repetitive as well. The quad-wiedling lets you get creative with how you approach all combat situations, but you’re still doing a lot of the same thing over and over; Even the up-close kills where you pull enemies apart with the tentacles of The Darkness get old after a while. Clocking in at around six-seven hours, The Darkness II understands what it is and concludes before things get too tedious. There’s a cooperative mode that you can also play called Vendettas seperate from the main campaign, however as you’re playing as just some random enforcers who work for Jackie with only a fraction of the abilities from the main campaign, it’s not something that will really hold your interest for that long.
The Darkness II has a lot more going for it gameplay wise than the first and the story does a better job of explaining The Darkness than Starbreeze’s first game, but at the same time the story isn’t as emotional impactful as The Darkness. One game isn’t better than the other, but rather they complement themselves superbly: The Darkness’s story holds more weight while The Darkness II is a far better designed video game. If you liked the original game, you’ll enjoy The Darkness II in spite of its differences, and if you skipped the first or didn’t care for it, The Darkness II is very friendly to new comers. Both The Darkness and its sequel would make for a great collection, and though it will probably never happen, it would be great to get The Darkness III some day.