2K Games, who, it must be said, are having a wonderful E3 so far, showed off another demo to us of The Darkness II. After the somewhat surprising success of the first title in the series, considerably more attention has been paid to the game and the added effort certainly shows. This is a very pretty game, one that the developers refer to as having a “graphic noir” style that intends to emulate the visuals of the comic books from which the game take its name. The visuals are crisp and a surprisingly colorful for a game that spends the majority of its time wallowing in the, apologies, dark(ness).
Sadly, I wasn’t able to take any footage or photos of the game (a condition shared across all of 2K’s private previews) but to give you an idea of the visuals by way of a comparison, think Wind Waker crossed with BioShock.
A heavier emphasis has been placed on progression in The Darkness II than in its predecessor. The original was fairly straight shooter for the most part, and your abilities early on in the game remained fairly consistent throughout with just a few major upgrades near the end. The sequel offers greater choice for customization, and by the looks of things it won’t be possible to fully upgrade the main character in just one play through, thus requiring some decisions in regards to specialization.
Player abilities have been split into four skill trees: There are gun skills, mystic skills, darkness powers, and gun channeling abilities. The first three are fairly self explanatory, and for the most part just extensions of skills from the first game (i.e. more powerful execution moves), the fourth one, though, is a different beast altogether, and a clear game changer.
Gun channeling is where Jackie (the games protagonist) uses his Darkness powers in lieu of bullets, gifting you a short period of time where your guns fire an unlimited amount of very powerful ammo. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, and could be a nifty trick to use when running low on traditional ammunition – but from what was shown in the demo, it looks as if the upgradable aspects of gun channeling could pose a problem.
First off, it doesn’t take long to reach a point where you can utilize this “dark” ammunition for periods of time long enough to deal with any standard firefight, and given that the ammo is both unlimited and insanely powerful this puts your AI foes at a rather notable disadvantage. The even bigger issue I have, however, is that a certain upgrade allows you to see, and shoot, through walls a la Perfect Dark’s infamous rail-gun.
Combine the length of time for which the power lasts and the ability to kill anyone and anything regardless of positioning and you have a game breaking skill. Admittedly, we were told during the demo that said ability to shoot through walls was a later tier skill, but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t just pour all your experience into gun channeling early on and spam the outrageous ability for the remainder of the game.
No doubt we’ll hear more about specifics such as these, as the game inches ever closer to its October release date, but on first impressions alone I’m worried as to whether there will be much, if any, difficulty to The Darkness II at all.
To move this preview on to a brighter note (see what I did there? Huh? Did you? Did you see… oh, never mind) I was wholly and unequivocally impressed with the game’s use of four separate limbs. You can dual wield standard guns and whip out your Darkness snake thingies to cause melee damage all at once or one at a time. This allowed for some rather nifty combinations of gun play and environment manipulation, perhaps best described with the example of using your Darkness snake thingies to hold a car door in front of you as a makeshift shield, while you blast away with your traditional weapons. It was a neat trick to see in action, and provided it all works smoothly, will be major selling point for the game.
The Darkness II is currently scheduled for an October 4 release in North America (3 days later across the pond) and while the brief demo didn’t necessarily blow me away, it did come across as a very solid title with the small capacity to become something truly great.
Indeed, a reveal at the very tail end of the demo – that I won’t spoil for you – hinted at the possibility of a very surprising, and very engaging narrative. Likewise, if The Darkness II’s weapon system turns out to be totally balanced, it could be a dark horse contender for one of the games of the year. Let’s give this one a tentative thumbs up.