The Darkness II launches next year, continuing the story of mobster Jackie Estacado and his demonic powers, The Darkness. Alongside the single-player game, the sequel also features a Left 4 Dead-style four player co-op campaign called Vendettas, featuring new player-characters in an alternative story involving Estacado's fight with the mysterious Brotherhood. Digital Spy went hands on with the co-op to see how it shapes up.
The Darkness II's co-op mode is split into two main sections - the Vendettas campaign and the Hit List. Vendettas runs parallel to the main story, meaning it dovetails with certain events and also features various characters, including Estacado. The Hit List is essentially an arcade mode that allows you to jump back in and replay certain Vendetta missions and unique challenges that are unlocked as you progress. Most of the missions are available to play in single-player offline, but others require at least two players to complete - and really, this is much more fun when played with others.
The Darkness versus the Brotherhood - the battle begins
Digital Extremes, the Dark Sector studio developing The Darkness II, has clearly taken some inspiration from Valve's immensely popular Left 4 Dead first-person shooter with Vendettas, but also the multiplayer in BioShock 2 and the latter Assassin's Creed games.
Just as Ubisoft's series introduced more elements of the story of the Templars and the fight against the assassins, and the second BioShock pitched players into the fall of Rapture, Vendettas brings a separate narrative involving the battle between Estacado's Darkness and the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is an ancient secret society that formed thousands of years ago to protect the world from the Darkness, but its members became corrupted and tried to take the power for themselves.
Unable to take on the Brotherhood on his own, Estacado has recruited four unique characters each with their reason to take on the ancient order, and given them supercharged Darkness weapons to beat the hell out of the horde of enemies. Digital Extremes is very open in saying that the characters in Vendettas are over-the-top creations, geared as a humorous alternative to the dark main campaign.
The Darkness - a perfect place for stereotypes
But these four people push the stereotypical envelope into somewhat uneasy territory. The chief culprit is Jimmy Wilson, a cardboard cut out Glaswegian tough guy, who drinks heavily and "hates the English". It just feels a bit embarrassing to see these ancient stereotypes being trotted out, and also out of kilter with the serious feel of the game. The other characters are a little better, including Israeli ex-Mossad agent Shoshanna and Japanese assassin Inugami, although Voodoo-practising New Orleans doctor J. P. DuMond is a bit much. Each of these characters can carry the usual mix of shotguns, machine guns and pistols, but also have a Darkness-powered weapon with different traits.
Wilson has a hand axe fused with Dark essence, Shoshanna has a gun called the Arm of the Night, DuMond bears the Midnight Stick and Inugami wields the Kusanagi samurai sword. They also have a range of special abilities that can help out in a tight spot - Wilson can control special "alcohol-induced" Darklings known as Little Jimmys; Shoshanna gets "gun channelling" giving unlimited ammo for a short period of time; Inugami has the "swarm" power sending out an attack of miniature 'Yokai' demons; and DuMond wields the power of Black Hole, a "box of tricks" spewing out a vortex that attacks nearby enemies.
The Darkness II co-op thankfully features the same comic book art style as the main game. Digital Extremes has used cel shading with the graphics, making the black outlines thicker and more pronounced, while adding a brushed and hyper-real texture to the colours in a presentation that feels distinct and impressive.
Vendettas is all about killing people... and time
We played two missions from the Vendetta campaign and another from the Hit List. The campaign starts by you selecting which character you want to go with depending on how you want to play. DuMond and Shoshanna have range attacks with their Darkness powers, but Inugami and Jimmy Wilson are more melee focused. All characters have their own particular, gruesome finishing moves for close up executions.
After selecting your character, you enter the story-driven levels, which work pretty much in the same way as the main campaign, albeit with more regular survival sections in which you must hunker down and weather the onslaught of loads of enemies. This is mostly because the co-op levels are smaller and so adding Horde-style moments increases the amount of action. Each level requires you to fight through an area to retrieve an artifact, as well as fulfil a variety of other tasks. One mission unfurled in a scrapyard and another in a housing estate, with both proving enjoyable and engaging, particularly with multiple players.
As with the single-player game, the co-op game focuses on use of the Darkness. Special powers will only work in the shadows and so lights must first be extinguished, which adds a new dimension to the gameplay. Some lights can be shot out, but others are run by power generators, requiring you to follow the power wires, and then knock out the source. When out of the dark, your view becomes black and white, while looking directly at lights becomes dazzling bright, hindering your vision. Health also does not regenerate in the light, meaning it is essential to secure the veil of shadow as quickly as possible.
A tough challenge
Alongside the two campaign missions, we also tried out a Hit List level starting off in an underground car park before moving up through an office block and onto a roof top for an epic battle with hordes of enemies. It should be noted that The Darkness II co-op is a tough challenge, really testing your skills on higher difficulties.
The usual cannon-fodder enemies are pretty easy to dispatch, particularly with the mix of guns and Darkness powers, but the game soon introduces mutated soldier enemies with a variety of abilities, along with soldiers with riot shields and heavy weapons.
The signs appear pretty promising for The Darkness II co-op. It's pleasing to see that Digital Extremes has incorporated more story elements into the modes, although the character stereotypes are a tad grating. The mix of first-person combat involving guns and Darkness powers is strong, while there seems to be enough challenge to make this an engaging experience for multiple players. A lingering fear remains that the full Vendettas campaign will be over rather too quickly, but at least it will be fun while it lasts.
> The Darkness II: Single-player preview
The Darkness II is due out on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on February 7 in North America, and February 10 in Europe.