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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Darkness 2.

Transcript Edit

Ah, doesn't this take you back? Around mid-2007 I was living in a drainpipe licking the backs of Cornetto lids for sustenance, and one night I'd scraped together enough pennies to afford to spend the the night at the YMCA. After agreeing to be viciously buggered in return for being allowed a go on the communal PS3, I played a demo for a game called The Darkness with a silly opening sequence and a slightly obtuse puzzle that I couldn't get past. So after Big Steve chased me off so he could play the new Ratchet & Clank, I scrounged up some yellow craft paper, made some figurines from stolen Burger King napkins and produced a short Internet video explaining how I'm really clever and therefore the game must be dumb.

Who would've thought that that event would lead me to where I am today. Now I have Cornetto lids beyond the dreams of avarice, and I'm the one paying to viciously bugger Big Steve. And I'm now professional enough to play a game for more than ten minutes before I attempt to sabotage its developer's retirement plans. Unless it's Final Fantasy. Or Monster Hunter. Or I'm bored, or in a bad mood, or it's Thursday.

Anyway, after all that, The Darkness turned out to be not a bad game, apparently. I didn't play it myself, 'cause it was Thursday. Not that it matters, because the original developers Starbreeze have mysteriously vanished from the credits of Darkness 2 in favor of the chaps who made Dark Sector, which you can't say doesn't make at least some kind of sense. But it means despite being a direct sequel, Darkness 2 has a significantly different feel to the first, like when a soap opera character disappears for a few weeks and comes back played by a different, slightly older actor who doesn't get so uppity about minimum wage. Jackie Estacado now looks less like Benicio del Toro doing shampoo adverts and more like a generic fashion model who has a complicated relationship with his hairdresser.

In the years since the first game, Jackie has become the head of his crime family, living a life of wealth, power, and glamor. Until he's hit by an assassination attempt, which he only survives by doing what I think we'd all do in the same situation: awaken the ancient demonic power that dwells within him and mince up his attackers with the tentacles. Then Jackie continues living a life of wealth, power, and glamor, but now with angry black snakes growing out of his shoulders. Fucking 1%!

Darkness 2 is again a first-person shooter but eschews Darkness 1 's gritty, realistic look in favor of that colorful, semi cel-shaded comic book style as previously seen in such games as Borderlands and Cuh-seeee (XIII), which I find I don't like very much. Especially in games like Darkness 2 where the characters have realistic proportions, so everyone looks like some kind of papercraft model and they drew their facial features on with wax crayon.

What's also different from Darkness 1 is that what was once a big clump of Play-doh has now been vigorously rolled between some palms into a big, linear sausage. No more sidequests or hub travel, just a linear sequence of missions. And while in the first you summoned several imps with different abilities, only one of the little fucks showed up for this party. But while comparing it to the original is perfectly valid and clever and handsome, it's also slightly unfair, because they're trying to do different things. Darkness 2 goes less for exploration but may have a somewhat tighter focus. Why you gotta be so down on a new developer leaving their mark on a property, you asshole?

The combat takes a somewhat spectacle fightery approach, since you get more points for creative kills and there's never a shortage of real go-getting mooks whose dreams of promotion utterly blind them to the fact that you've already bitten off enough limbs to start a horrible furniture shop. So you can smack enemies about with horizontal and vertical swipes, stun them by hurling objects, furniture, and their mates at them, grab them and pull their heads off, or just shoot them with guns if you're some kind of boring motherfucker who always asks for plain cheese when we're sending out for pizza.

To the game's credit, all of this controls quite intuitively and there weren't any abilities or Darkness powers I found I never used it all, which reflects good design. I even kind of prefer having only one imp, because I've never been big on tactically ordering NPC support characters in the heat of battle. I think I'd get much more into a Rainbow Six game if the option was there to pick up one of your squad mates and throw them at an enemy in order to instigate a forced piggyback ride. On top of that, there's a strong character-based story focus and it's competently put together, golf clap, golf clap.

But. . .if there's nothing particularly wrong with Darkness 2, then why is my outstretched palm still indifferently horizontal. We need to go deeper, fellow surgeons of the cultural operating table, and back-engineer this gut feeling.

It could be that it's just too short, presumably to make room for a singularly out out place co-op campaign in which you play a hilarious international stereotype so stupidly overpowered that gameplay turns into "who can reach the baddies first." It happens in parallel to the main plot, but the main plot is about an angsty murderer being slowly reduced to half a pound of mince by a psychotic torture cult while an evil dark power conspires to keep him in a state of constant emotional torment, so excuse me if I feel the fat drunken Scotsman with an axe is undermining the established tone a wee bit. In never leaving Jackie's perspective, the single player campaign feels like a very personal journey. And there are even moments when the Darkness induces hallucinations to make him question reality. And the co-op undermines that, too. "Oh, I guess this is reality, after all, 'cause there's a Voodoo priest and a samurai summoning black holes and actually let's double check that."

It could also be that Wacky Jackie's just hard to sympathize with. He's the head of a crime family, lives in a palace, and can eviscerate people with his back hair, so it's hard to believe he can feel threatened by anything. There is a bit where he loses his Darkness powers and has to pull himself out of a fuckin' iron maiden to go get them back, which could have been a great opportunity to play as a severely weakened Jackie, clawing his way to get his shoulder-mounted liquid Twizzlers before he bleeds to death. But no, he's back on his feet and toting guns again within seconds, and the bottom falls out of any sense of danger with an audible thud.

So to reiterate, there are plenty worse games. But while Darkness 1 felt like an adaptation of the comics into gritty, Gothic realism, Darkness 2 is more like an attempt to recreate the comics as-is. And I've never liked that sort of comic, because I'm not a teenage boy with problems at school, a string of annoying stepfathers, and a constant, unfulfilled hard-on. The crime family as some kind of romantic ideal rather than a pack of amoral thugs, the glorification of violent revenge, and masses of homoerotic sadomasochism. Mercifully, though, not so many women proportioned like ice lollies balanced on two chicken drumsticks standing around like God gave them a vicious Chinese burn around their waists.

AddendaEdit

Opening into darkness awakening into nightmare: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

I like to imagine Jackie in his spare time knitting little woolly bobble caps for his back tentacles

I wish they'd make a game where you play as Dr Octopus


ScreenshotsEdit

Darkness 2 1

Everyone looks like some kind of papercraft model

Darkness 2 2

You've already bitten off enough limbs to start a horrible furniture shop

Darkness 2 3

Grab them and pull their heads off

External LinksEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5

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