The Darkness 2 is strikingly individual [Preview]
The Darkness 2 is not a game lacking in personality. From the comic book ink that lines each object, to the demonic midget that takes pleasure from farting in the mouths of dead enemies, it’s clear that (even from a mere 30 minutes of hands-on demo) this is an experience that revels in the stylish and delights in the nasty.
Our gameplay is split into two parts. The first: the actual opening of the game, set briefly in a bar but mainly in a New York underground station. The second: a low quality, low budget brothel occupied by some less than clean looking ladies of the night.
The NY underground system level acts primarily as an introduction to both story and gameplay. Accompanied by onscreen button prompts and text-lead tutorials, you’re introduced to your demon arms, the light vs. dark mechanic and your less-than-desirable companion ‘The Darkling’.
Your demon arms are a pair of squabbling, worm-like beasts sporting a heavily-toothed mouth and piercing eyes. They’re as essential as your firearms (if not more so), so becoming comfortable with them is a requirement rather than an option. Each performs different primary tasks: the left is used for grabbing and throwing, the right for biting and whipping. Everything from car doors and metal rods to dead enemies and bits of dead enemies can be picked up with the leftie. The car doors make an effective shield, while the rods and corpses are useful projectiles.
Old rightie takes a more up front and personal approach, the biting and whipping good for… biting and whipping. Surprisingly. The result is usually more brutal, though. Bites erupt in a sea of blood, while whips can sever torso from legs – with the former dripping intestines, blood and whatever else in a messy pool beneath it.
Not that such visceral images are always easy to make out, however, as you’ll usually want to be playing in the dark. Basically, light is not your friend. As someone under the influence and in part control of the forces of evil, protagonist Jackie Estacado performs better when you avoid external street lights and destroy interior ceiling and wall lights. If you do wander into the light your screen will saturate into an off-putting white/grey colour, your health stops regenerating and the demon arms slink away and refuse manipulation.
Just like The Poltergeist (Hopper, 1982), you’ll do well to follow the ‘stay away from the light’ advice.
Then there’s the Darkling, a companion sure to become an instant cult hero among those with a taste for little grey demons with a thirst for blood and lack of hygiene. Initially he’s a bit freaky to look at with his ill-advised head wear, cheap Union Jack vest, large claws and hollow eyes, but the Darkling soon becomes easy to love.
The first time you meet him he dispatches an enemy and hands you the firearm that falls to the floor in the ruckus. He then proceeds to fart in the corpse’s mouth, a surprisingly endearing act for the puerile side of myself and one that makes me want to find out what other surprises he’s packing. Weapon provision and fart inhalation are only the tip of the iceberg, the second part of our demo highlighting his unique talents much more starkly (or darkly).
Set in the Unlucky Mannequin brothel, this second segment is set a few hours after the NY underground scene. While making our way to the top floor to fire a cap into the owner’s head (we’re forbidden from giving away more plot info than that) we come across a fuse box underneath a light. We’ve got no gun and the light is too far away to extinguish with our demon arms. The Darkling holds the solution.
Jackie can take telepathic control of the little guy, letting you access areas otherwise locked off. In this instance you need to guide Darkling through an air vent, use stealth to rip the throat out of a few docile guards and destroy the floor’s lighting system. This sequence lasted only about three minutes, but it was enough to provide a glimpse of what the full game will offer beyond shooting lights and dismembering bodies.
We also got a brief taste of the talent tree. With our limited resources we upgraded our projectile attack to have objects explode on contact (how a metal pole explodes is beyond me, but better not argue with the forces of darkness) had our health upgrade faster and added blades to our demon whips. In half an hour it’s impossible to realistically judge the impact the upgrade system has on gameplay, but there’s enough there to be able to say that it is actually worth exploring.
Still, what was most striking about the demo was the comic book art style and amount of causal violence. Rather than subdue the gore, the messy ink outlines actually exaggerate it, making it seem more sinister than it perhaps otherwise might. The result is an intensity that you don’t get from the hordes of modern combat shooters and futuristic sci-fi epics currently in vogue.
Oh, and that fart. That was striking, too.