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The Darkness II Hands On Preview

Dual-wielding is SO 2007...

The Darkness II has some big shoes to fill. Not only is it a sequel to a beloved first person shooter from the early days of the Xbox 360 and PS3, but it’s being developed by a studio tasked with taking over for Starbreeze Studios. Starbreeze, of course, is the studio behind the highly regarded Xbox game The Chronicles of Riddick, which is currently working on the Syndicate reboot for EA. Yes, The Darkness II has some big shoes to fill, but so far the game looks to do just that.

Developed by Digital Extremes— known this generation for Dark Sector and some work on BioShock 2—The Darkness II sports a much different look than its predecessor. While the original had some of the most realistic graphics seen by 2007 and a washed out aesthetic, the sequel is a brightly colored and stylized affair. There is a decidedly comic book quality to the graphics, which the development team dubs “graphic noir”. Everything in the game looks as if it was drawn and inked, with cross hatching visible in certain details. It makes for a striking game, and looks unlike anything on the market right now, with Borderlands the closest possible comparison.

When The Darkness came out, dual-wielding in a first person shooter was still a newer concept. Times have changed, and it’s all about “quad-wielding” this time. You can of course pack a pistol or uzi in each hand, but Jackie Estacado wields The Darkness as well. This manifests as snake-like demon heads that emanate from Jackie’s body. The LB/L1 and RB/R1 buttons attack with these devilish appendages, with the left head allowing for grab and throw attacks and the right one acting as a lethal whip.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. The Darkness II is a game designed around coming up with creative ways to murder your foes, not unlike last year’s Bulletstorm. Sure, you can pull off a headshot, but isn’t it much more satisfying to lift a mobster into the air, slash at him, and then shoot him in the head? Or maybe you want to improvise with your environment by, say, grabbing a car door off the hinges, using it as a shield, and then hurling it Captain America-style for an easy decapitation. Whatever your methods, you’re going to want to maximize every kill and harness Dark Essence.

Dark Essence is a new element to The Darkness II. You’ll come to points where you can spend this evil currency on new abilities. There’s a tech tree with four main branches, and by utilizing these branches you can tailor the game to your play style. If you’re big on gunplay, you can increase ammo capacity, learn a skill that lets you have unlimited ammo for a short time, and even see through walls. Maybe you really like the demon arms, and want to make them more powerful with new moves. There’s an option for that, as well. You’ll probably want to invest at least a few points into upgraded demon arm executions. These bloody and brutal attacks are not for the faint of heart, and one of the game’s producers mentioned that the team went beyond the realm of good taste on numerous occasions.

The Darkness II is a story-focused game like its predecessor, thanks to its comic book roots. The game is very cinematic, and anyone who played the demo and felt that the action seemed disjointed should take heart—the actual game flows in a much more logical and smooth manner. Taking cues from other story-focused FPS games like BioShock and Half-Life, The Darkness II has more layers to the story for players that want to seek it out. The levels shoot off from a massive hub in the form of Jackie’s palatial mansion. Here you can talk to supporting characters and check out any mystic relics you find along the way. The first Darkness game was praised for its dramatic use of first person storytelling, and the sequel looks to take that to the next level.

The Darkness II features a 4 player co-op mode that focuses on a group within Jackie’s organization. Before you complain about these being simple gun-wielding grunts, take heart; these characters all have supernatural powers that put them on par with Jackie. Co-op tells a story that runs parallel to the single player campaign, but much of the dialogue is done within each mission. It’s an interesting idea that could prove to be very satisfying, though I can’t help but wonder if it will resonate with players, or if they will still clamor for traditional multiplayer.

It’s common for a developer to announce DLC before a game is complete, but Digital Extremes bucks this trend. They aren’t commenting on any post-release content until the game is on shelves. However, a producer stated in a special livestream that The Darkness II is a complete game with a beginning, middle, and end. They want players to walk away satisfied with a well-told narrative and fun game mechanics. Based on what I’ve seen and played so far, they look to be on the right track.

Be sure to check out our video preview, and keep an eye out for the game when it releases on February 7. It’s on track to be the first big surprise of 2012.


 

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