The first Darkness game was released in 2007. With some original ideas for the genre and a setting that wasn't space or a war, it was a surprise hit, and people still say nice things about it today.
The second Darkness game was released in 2012. It's...well...yes.
While The Darkness was developed by Starbreeze, who are now putting the finishing touches on the new Syndicate, this game is the work of Digital Extremes, a studio normally responsible for platform-porting other 2K studios' titles. So there are changes. The game feels a bit less serious this time around, for example, the cel-shaded graphics giving things a more pulpy look.
There's also some other stuff that's changed. Let's see how much for the better.
WHAT I LIKED
Slice & Dice. Four-armed combat is still as fun as ever. The Darkness II will give you, at least initially, that same giddy rush you get from shooters like Halo and Crysis, that feeling that combat is as much about experimentation and expression as it is mere progression. The fact you can carry guns, dual-wield guns, throw objects, use objects and lash out in a variety of ways with your evil tentacles means every encounter is a chance to try something new, meaning the actual act of killing somebody in this game is always a blast.
Funky, Cold. There's a point early on where you walk into a bar and Tone-Loc is playing. Tone-Loc. That was pretty great.
Light our Darkest Hour - I can't remember if the first Darkness game had this, but the second one definitely has a Dead Space-style pathfinding system. Press a button and a purple vapour runs through the corridors ahead of you, showing you where to go next. Not that you get lost that often in such a linear game, but when you do, it's a welcome touch, one I wish a lot more games went to the trouble of implementing.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
2012?. The Darkness II tries to get closer to its comic book origins with a cel-shaded effect, but it's not as fully-implemented as you've seen in games like XIII, or Okami. This gives the graphics a half-assed look to them; sometimes the cel-shading works, most times it just leaves you with muddy textures that make the game look like it came out in, say, 2007.
Sleep Chamber. It's a damn shame that, for all the tools you're given to experiment with, the game doesn't ever give you much of a chance to really put them to the test. Enemies simply appear and run at you, and the cramped level design and scripting means there's little avenue for flanking or surprise. You are little but a four-armed meat grinder, clocking on for an evening's repetitive work.
Short. The campaign is short. Like, you could finish it in 3-4 hours. And that's including the awful "story" sequences I'm about to get to. If this game had a large and robust multiplayer component that'd be fine, but it doesn't. There's multiplayer, yeah, and story-based co-op at that, but it's not much fun. It plays like a slippery, more chaotic game of Left 4 Dead, and will only be of interest to those with an interest in the game's story.
On Rails. The Darkness II tries to flesh out its tale of dismemberment with frequent first-person story sequences. If you liked the Desmond sections from the first Assassin's Creed, you're going to love these. They consist of walking along corridors able to do nothing but hit X when you're standing in the right spot or facing the right person.
PRESS X TO SIT WITH LADY FRIEND
PRESS X TO LIGHT CANDLE
PRESS X TO FEEL REMORSE
Maybe the developers thought giving you this control would make you feel more, well, in control. Maybe it was a way to save time and money on cutscenes. Whatever the reason, it ends up being incredibly dull, as there's no real interactivity to them. Many of them, for example, are set in Jackie's mansion, of which you've got full access. Only...there's nothing to do. You walk up to a man, press X to initiate a conversation, then he tells you to go see someone else. You go over there and...press X.
The game is obviously trying to give you a feeling of choice and control, of being part of the plot, but ironically all it does is rub your face in the fact that you're being dragged at a snail's pace through a story that I didn't find surprising, didn't find engaging and was populated with cardboard characters I couldn't have cared less about.
It's fitting that one of the last sequences in the game has you riding through a haunted house, literally on rails, while enemies pop out predictably to meet an instant and unsatisfying end. So much of the rest of the game had felt just like that, only less obviously put, that it almost feels like an apologetic nod and wink from the developers.
So, it's a "NO" from me. For a game that you may have noticed did OK elsewhere. Since this is the first "NO" any of us have handed out, I may as well explain what's going on with this new review system of ours. A "YES" and "NO" don't correspond to "GOOD" and "BAD" games. They correspond to whether the individual writer thinks the game is worth checking out. I'll recommend you play what I think is an awesome game, sure, but there are also plenty of terrible games I'd recommend playing (not buying, playing!) as well. Maybe they're funny. Maybe they're just interesting.
I'm most unkind to games like this. The grey ones. The middle of the road. The ones that do nothing to excite or interest you either way.