As usual in my reviews, I'm going to open up with a digression about how a property relates to my childhood somehow. In this case, it doesn't. I'm fairly new to The Darkness universe and it was the game that introduced me to the comic book (which I love). I also played the second game first and I'm looking forward to playing the first one.
So, for people who have never heard of The Darkness comic book or didn't play the original game, how is the Darkness 2?
Don't think the game is going to get unambiguous praise but it is a huge load of fun. It's a great game for people who love First Person Shooters, Occult Horror, and/or 90s antiheroes. Even for those people who hate 90s antiheroes, I'd argue the game transcends the label with phenomenally good writing.
The premise of the game is this: Jackie Estacado is a former mafia goon turned the Boss of one of New York's most powerful crime families. He's so rich that he's got a David Xanatos-esque mansion on top of a skyscraper. He's also got beautiful women at his beck and call and a cadre of loyal goons. He just has one problem, two actually. First, the love of his life apparently died in the first game and he's possessed by Cthulhu.
Well, not actually Cthulhu per-say but it might as well be given it's an evil from before time with tentacles. Basically, Jackie is inheritor of a nightmarish creature called the Darkness that has physically merged with his body.
He can suppress it for a time but it gets called out whenever he's in physical danger. It's a bit like being the Incredible Hulk only with The Godfather, Doctor Octopus, and H.P. Lovecraft thrown in for good measure.
Interestingly, the Darkness 2 places its Lovecraftian horrors within a Judeo-Christian framework. The Darkness is apparently what God pushed back way back in Genesis' first passage. The game hints that Jackie is only making use of a much vaster and more powerful entity than we ever see on-screen.
I like this sort of world-building and we get a plethora of other artifacts across the game with surprisingly detailed back stories (all narrated by Jonny Powell, your Renfield meets Giles-esque assistant). Sadly, you can't use any of the magical relics you recover, they're just for atmosphere.
As much as I love H.P. Lovecraft, the Darkness wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if it was just a straight Call of Cthulhu-esque tale of occult horror. Part of the fun comes from the fact that it's also a straight mafia crime story. Jackie and his goons are straight out of Goodfellas (with some of them being a little too stereotypical). Still, the odd mix works as you see Jackie struggling to uphold the mafia code while dealing with some seriously weird s***.
I won't spoil the story but there's at least some hints that Jackie's need to be the toughest guy in the mob isn't as glamorous a decision as he might think. Especially, of course, when it comes with being the host for an evil older than time. The Darkness speaks often during the game, in a low-guttural raspy voice.
Basically, the writing is top notch from start to finish and it even manages to make Jackie's rather excessive angst over his dead girlfriend appealing. Still, it's not just the writing that makes or breaks a video game. How is the rest of the game? Well, that's a bit of a mixed bag.
As a first person shooter, it's slightly above average. You do the usual thing by seeking cover, shooting things, and so on. The addition of the Darkness allows you to throw things at enemies and literally tear them apart but I'm not exactly overwhelmed. The "kill" animations are a bit too gory for my tastes and get repetitive. I would have preferred keeping them restricted to cut scenes.
The length of the game is also something that may bother players. It's about seventeen hours and while it's much better than Homeland, it feels a bit short. The game has an additional multiplayer campaign where you play as various toughs with magical weapons but this was so divorced from the main narrative I never bothered to play it through.
Overall, I'm satisfied with The Darkness 2. It's a fun game and a nice display of why 90s antiheroes weren't always bad. I wish they'd make a Witchblade and Angelus video game, to be honest.