I was the only girl in my press preview of The Darkness II.
I have never felt more out of place.
The developers were very nice. They were super informative, and their presentation was the cleanest Iâve ever seen, but still: they focused on the 4 other guys in the room. They got all the game deets â the art style designed to make the player feel like they were playing through a graphic novel, the âin your faceâ first-person action, the depth and versatility of the blood and gore. I got the occasional âokay, the girlâs still in the cornerâ look. It made me uncomfortable.
And then the game started.
I saw an Alpha version of the game that nicely informed me at the beginning that the final version of the game might look nothing like what I was about to see. The game opens when Jackie Estacado â now head of the Estacado crime family â comes to from black. His handâs being pounded into a plank, crucifixion style (blood spatters across the screen as the nail crunches through flesh and bone; if you didnât know this game was visceral, Hello!), and some creepy-looking ugly dude with a cane attempts to persuade him to give up The Darkness. Creepy guy does this by triggering memories in Jackie â and those memories form the game.
(Note: this opening sequence, while talky, is a hell of a lot shorter than the one in the first game. Thank God.)
The first sequence is an ambush in a mob restaurant. Itâs violent, bloody and visceral â all strong choices for an FPS. The Darkness II goes an extra step further by showing off strong lighting contrasts and hand-drawn backgrounds to make the player feel like theyâre playing through a graphic novel. I applaud the game for trying to hew closer to the comic source material, but Iâm more used to wipes, storyboarding and other kinds of transitions to simulate reading a graphic novel. This game did not translate in any way, shape or form to visual graphic novel for me.
I liked the camera, though: it was veritĂ© style, shaky and roving in a way that was almost disorienting. I give it points for (literally) shaking up the standard mid-level FPS camera.
The level continues with The Darkness coming out to save Jackie. The demon arms are controlled with the triggers and are nastier and meaner looking this time around (they heal his half exploded leg. Graphically. Just to show you â the player â that they can heal you). They also do all kinds of special executions, everything from ripping a guy down the middle by his legs (the âwishbone,â according to the developers) to an Alien style chest-burster. The Darkness can only be activated in the dark (duh), but when you step into the light in that mode the screen changes: itâs overwhelmingly bright, sound is muted and echoed, and youâre pretty much flying blind. It was all the developers could do to encourage you to get back in the dark and use your powers.
The Darklingâs back, too, in this one. He helps you out as before, saving your butt or giving you weapons. Heâs also apparently an important part of the story later onâŠ which youâll find out when you play âcause the demo didnât get that far.
The blood itself didnât turn me off; I was actually happy to see it was more blue-red, like real blood, than bright cartoon red. The soundtrack, jacked up super loud in that tiny booth, amplified every crunch, shot and scream, and those sounds â combined with the first-person shaky camera â made me feel like I was being assaulted. And I wasnât even playing.
The Darkness II comes out for the Xbox 360 in the fall. For those of you who loved the shooting/demon arm action of the first and the verite style camera, thereâs more to love here.