Darkness II doesn't feel like a generic shooter
It's a shame more games based on graphic novels don't get made, and while publishers have no qualms about doing things the other way around (there's a Sonic The Hedgehog comic, believe it or not), it's quite perplexing considering the volume of great source material there is to work with. The Darkness II is a great example of a superb transition between the mediums, with comic creator Paul Jenkins' work really taking centre stage in what is, ultimately, a fantastic piece of interactive fiction told through the eyes of Jackie Estacado. Now, Jenkins didn't create The Darkness series (that credit goes to Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl), but he has been involved in both games, the first of which was released in 2007. For those unfamiliar with the Darkness (comics or the first video game), Jackie is a mobster who has a bigger secret than the inherent illegality of his profession: he is the vessel for The Darkness, an ancient elemental force that has existed since time immemorial. This is an obviously evil entity that we're dealing with here, but the sheer power The Darkness bestows upon its host is incredible, and Jackie ends up being an unwilling participant in its diabolical plans. But it does have its uses.
As a former hit-man and present mob boss, needless to say, Jackie has enemies of the Italian-American accent-wielding variety, as well as religious zealots and other-worldly beings. The Darkness helps Jackie deal with all of them. Once he ‘unleashes' The Darkness, he sprouts an extra two limbs that are capable of causing all sorts of gruesome deaths to those upon whom they are unleashed. Apart from basic attacks, the limbs can grab objects which can then be used to impale foes, shield Jackie from damage as well as perform menial tasks such as cutting wires. But there is one catch. They work only when Jackie is, appropriately, in the darkness. Combat, as a result, is a strategic affair, with this extra dimension helping The Darkness II floats above the ocean of generic shooters (more so since you're hardly aiming down the sights of a gun since you're dual wielding SMGs while pummelling enemies with the additional limbs). A character progression system allows you to purchase upgrades for Darkness abilities using ‘essence', gained from downing enemies and collecting relics — but it is a very basic system that offers no incentive to get invested in the process.
The Darkness II story feels personal — it's not long before you're immersed in its universe and start caring about the protagonist as well as the other characters that inhabit it. The comic book-style visuals are great, while the action itself is incredibly satisfying, thanks to some solid gunplay, interesting mix of enemies, good pacing and Jackie's extra limbs that account for most of the game's gruesome violence (which is, admittedly, difficult to stomach if blood and gore aren't your cup of tea). The ‘light' mechanic is well implemented, often causing a sense of panic, and the fact that you're (almost) powerless in its presence results in nervous scampering for darkness — a gameplay dynamic that is truly interesting. The character progression system serves its purpose, while the game's co-operative component doesn't feel tacked-on (adding a precious few hours of gameplay after the relatively brief story mode). If you're in the mood for an adult story that unravels before you like a living, breathing graphic novel filled to the brim with great writing, gratuitously violent action and constant use of profanity, then The Darkness II is easy to recommend. The game is available on PC, PS3 and X360.