The legend around the 2007 game The Darkness grew from a single, powerful scene. Cast in the role of demonically possessed mobster Jackie Estacado, players wound up immersed in an honest-to-God human moment: sitting on a couch with love interest Jenny, watching To Kill A Mockingbird.
Meandering, overlong, and too married to its own mythos, The Darkness wound up being a better first-person relationship simulator than it was a game. The Darkness II feels like an attempt to stick to what worked and cut the fat. The game still plays like a shooter staring Doctor Octopus. In addition to two gun-wielding mortal mitts, Jackie also sports a pair of horrific tentacles. At first, playing with the two writhing, demonic serpents in your periphery feels like one of those old Ray Harryhausen scenes where it’s painfully obvious that the actors are performing their sword fight in front of a rear-projected scene.
But soon, the tentacles’ influence over the game world begins to feel more tactile. They can pick up detritus and hurl it at enemies, impaling them with pipes or cutting them in half with fan blades. It’s also extremely satisfying to swipe, slam, and grab bad guys with the extra arms—especially when literally tearing the jerks limb from limb.
The Darkness II further helps players appreciate these evil gifts by taking them away. Estacado’s talents only work in the dark. At first, this means you need to shoot out streetlights to create new areas where you’re safe to do your dirty work. But later, your enemies, wise to the ways of demonic possession, turn up with flares and portable spotlights. This forces players to think quick, find shelter in the dancing shadows, and take out the light-bearers.
There’s a bit of a sting in the game’s co-operative online mode, which only allows players a couple of these wicked abilities. There’s fiction to back up the mechanical change, though: In a kind of half-baked take on Left 4 Dead, players play four new characters gifted, but not totally empowered, by the same demon that inhabits Jackie. These multiplayer side-stories are a fine distraction, but they aren’t half as slick or as smartly executed as the single-player plot.
The Darkness II’s salvation, again, is Jenny. The game has Jackie spending much more time with his lost love. These visions of past dates and formative moments aren’t cheap; they’re actual character-building, leveraging the power of proximity and intimacy to create emotional ties. This transforms Jenny from the clichéd princess-in-peril to something closer to an actual person. The Darkness II’s poignant moments are surprisingly touching. It’s no mistake that, after hours of tearing flesh and bone, magic is found in a gentle kiss.