CBR Previews "The Darkness II"

Jackie Estacado has seen better days. His 21st birthday has brought him nothing but pain and suffering, consisting of an assassination attempt by New York mafia don "Uncle" Paulie and the murder of his beloved Jenny, who was killed right in front of him while he helplessly watched. Oh, and then there's a matter of the Darkness, a malevolent demonic spirit that has possessed him. Turns out, Jackie's the latest in his family's bloodline to be inhabited by the Darkness, and he uses his newfound abilities to make quick work of Paulie and his goons before eventually succumbing to its power.

This all took place in "The Darkness," a 2007 video game produced by 2K Games and based on the 1996 series by Image Comics' Top Cow. The game was a superb first-person shooter, requiring you to use strategy at every turn to keep the Darkness from fading away by shooting lighting fixtures and keeping a close eye on your enemies so its creatures could devour their hearts.

Now, Jackie's life is about to get a whole lot worse as 2K Games returns this fall with "The Darkness II," a sequel picking up from the events of the original. Jackie and the Darkness once again star, and trouble follows with rival gangsters and other sinister forces seeking to gain the demonic power for their own. But Jackie's not about to go out quietly, as this time he can use the Darkness directly to dish out some major damage rather than just using part of its demonic power.

Digital Extremes has taken over development for the series, replacing Starbreeze, who worked on the original. The new developer remains loyal to the Darkness theme, so fans needn't worry about anyone going "soft." Nope, Jackie's just as dangerous as he's ever been, and the Darkness is even worse, sporting new abilities that aren't for the squeamish.

The game takes place two years after the events of the original "Darkness," with Jackie having moved up in the world as the Don of the Franchetti crime family. He still has the monstrous power of the Darkness inside of him, though he's managed to keep it at bay. However, he's still haunted by tormenting thoughts of his beloved Jenny and how he was unable to save her.

Jackie -- and the player -- doesn't have too long to dwell on his feelings. The game quickly throws him in the midst of a full-blown mob rivalry, reawakening the Darkness and forcing him to act before it completely overtakes him once again. As if gun-toting gangsters and demonic powers weren't enough, Jackie also has to contend with a mysterious stranger who wants to use the Darkness for his own personal gain. While Jackie considers his power to be a headache, he can't stomach how much worse it would be if th newly introduced maniacal figure had control of it.

Throughout the course of the game, the player takes on gangsters that are out to kill you along with the stranger's colleagues and, eventually, beings that dwell in the Darkness' hell. What kind of creatures these are, we're not sure as 2K hasn't spilled the beans just yet. All we know for certain is that Jackie's in for a headache-inducing trip.

2K previewed the game's levels for CBR News, giving us an idea of what players will be able to accomplish with the Darkness. The first level actually doesn't involve the demonic power at all, instead focusing on Jackie as he makes his way into a restaurant. The exquisite detail that Digital Extremes has put into this level is quite impressive, as couples are toasting everywhere, waiters are running around and everyone soaks in the party atmosphere. And when Jackie finally gets to his designated table, two lovely ladies are waiting -- neither of which he seems to remember from a previous encounter.

Things don't stay peaceful for long, however. A car bursts its way into the restaurant, running over the ladies and leaving a wide open opportunity for gunmen to attack. In the crash, Jackie's foot becomes mangled, requiring an associate to slowly drag him out of the restaurant. It's at this point where the player takes control of Jackie's aiming and shooting abilities, taking out thugs that pop out of corners and behind counters. You'll need to shoot these guys quickly, as you don't have the Darkness around to protect you just yet.

The level concludes in the kitchen, where the thugs think they have the drop on Jackie and throw a grenade his way. However, he's able to heal his foot with the help of the Darkness, and manages to escape with his life barely intact. At this point, he's livid -- and for good reason. He calls upon the Darkness to help him do his dirty work.

It's at this point where you discover just what kind of dirty work the Darkness' demons can do as you work your way through back streets and alleyways, all of which are dimly lit (an advantage to the light-fearing Darkness) and filled with gunmen.

The creatures' abilities have expanded since the first game, both in attacking and protection. Indeed, 2K showcased a great technique where the Darkness could rip a car door off of its hinges and hold it up to prevent incoming fire from hitting Jackie, while giving him just enough room through the window to fire back at enemies. You can then lunge the car door at said enemy, decapitating them if hit in just the right spot. In addition, parking meters can also do a severe amount of damage, as the Darkness can launch them like javelins, impaling some unsuspecting sap on the wall.

Projectiles aren't the only specialty for the Darkness. The demons can once again grab an enemy and chow down on his heart or perform a melee maneuver to finish them off. Our particular favorite is the Wishbone, as nasty as you'd expect with two of the Darkness' arms reaching out, grabbing a gangster's limbs and them proceeding to rip him apart, throwing the leftover pieces away. There are a number of these moves in the game, all of which do their part to keep things fresh and interesting.

The final action-based stage we saw took place in the subway, where Jackie has to shoot out lights in order to keep the Darkness from losing their power. It's here that we get an idea what Digital Extremes is doing with its new Evolution Engine, as red swirling lights go off everywhere, showcasing the dynamic of their work as they shine on every single object, including Jackie as he runs past. It's not all flash-in-the-pan either, as the developer is also putting psychological complexity into play. Jackie has flashbacks where he sees Jenny haunting him, leaving him wondering if he's ultimately doomed by the Darkness or if he'll eventually find peace.

We should also mention the Darklings. These helpful little imps, who did quite a bit of damage in the original game, once again make a return and have even more personality this time around. One, wearing the British flag on his body, had no problem dispatching a bad guy on our command. The Darklings also provide much-needed hardware, such as the Uzi one gave us over the course of the demo.

The demo was well put together, featuring refreshing, bloody visuals and the kind of gameplay that fans of the original could easily get into. It also left a perplexing question regarding the brutal nature of this stranger seeking out the Darkness' abilities. At the start of the demo, before heading into the restaurant, his cohort confronts Jackie as he lays strapped down, with nails impaled through both of his hands. This stranger then taunts Jackie and attempts to use an electrical device to force the Darkness from Jackie's body. By the end of 2K's demo, the device fails, and Jackie manages to break free, looking through the hole in his hand and seeing the stranger taunt him, insisting that, one way or another, the power of the Darkness will be his.

All of this ties together into one mind-boggling mystery. Should Jackie give up the Darkness and face the consequences that this mysterious person would put him through? Or should he continue to possess it, slowly but surely losing his mind -- and his soul -- in the process?

One final note; the voice actor behind Jackie from the original game, Kirk Acevedo, has been replaced with a more voice familiar to gamers. Nolan North, who fills the voice role of Nathan Drake in the "Uncharted" games, takes over the role of Jackie. Fortunately, Mike Patton, the lead singer of Faith No More and the voice of the Darkness in the first game, makes a return, his growling, cackling tone still intact.

Overall, we're quite thrilled for this upcoming game. Starbreeze did a fantastic job with the original, but Digital Extremes is more than fulfilling those shoes, particularly with the Darkness' bloody new techniques and staying true to the twisted tone of the Image title.

"The Darkness II" goes on sale October 4

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