Everywhere you looked around this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, "The Darkness" was present and accounted for. A panel featuring Top Cow Productions' Matt Hawkins and creator Marc Silvestri addressed the comic series' origins and the upcoming sequel from 2K Games; Creative Director Shelton Carter and "Darkness" voice talent (and Faith No More frontman) Mike Patton were on hand for interviews; and over at Top Cow's booth on the show floor, a throng of playable kiosks allowed avid fans to try out the upcoming "The Darkness II." Being big fans of the first game, Comic Book Resources couldn't resist stopping by and giving the demo a test run.
This was very similar to the demo we had first gotten a look at back at the Game Developers Conference in March, only this one was interactive, letting us get a taste of just what the Darkness could do. It opens with Jackie heading up his crime family, after offing his uncle and other unfavorable types by the conclusion of the first game. However, his position isn't so favorable. He awakens to find a stranger greeting him, while his buddy restrains Jackie, driving metal spikes into his hands. The stranger, an ugly, unlikable figure with a raspy voice, tells Jackie his intentions right away -- he wants the Darkness for himself.
Now here's where things get a bit tricky with the story. While Jackie was able to use the Darkness to his advantage to gain his power position, it came with a price. He was forced to watch his girlfriend Jenny perish at the hands of his enemies, an act that still haunts him today -- and something the stranger is more than happy to notify him of.
Anyway, back to the demo. As the stranger rambles on, Jackie finds himself in a flashback that brings him to a classy restaurant. Customers are making requests, waiters are bumping into one another, and Jackie's faithful right-hand man is leading him to a table, where two beautiful blondes await. They barely have a minute or so to get acquainted (or, as the ladies explain, reacquainted) when a bullet goes flying through one of their eyes. What follows is sheer chaos, as a van comes crashing into the restaurant, setting a fire and knocking Jackie onto the floor with an injured foot. His right-hand man runs over and begins to drag him towards the back, and here's where the game became playable.
Through an "on-rails" segment (where you have control of where you shoot, but not entirely where you move), you'll shoot at any gunmen that come into view, using your sidearm. The controls in this segment actually weren't half bad, as you can line up your targets with a great deal of precision.
After a couple of minutes of being dragged to the kitchen and taking out a few assailants in the process, Jackie and his buddy find themselves ambushed by a Molotov cocktail, which sets off a tremendous blaze and sends Jackie back to his current situation, where the stranger's buddy is slapping him around and a strange-looking artifact attempts to seep the Darkness from the mobster's body. It's here that the stranger talks most vividly about Jenny's demise, which returns Jackie to flashback territory.
Awakening from the explosion, Jackie finds himself confronted by a gunman. We're given a command to hit X to unleash the Darkness, something Jackie's not too crazy about but has no choice since he wishes to stay alive. Two demon limbs pop out, first greeting one another with hisses and screams, then dispatching the gunman. Jackie's foot heals almost instantaneously, and then we're given full control of the Darkness, able to see what Digital Extremes did with the gameplay.
And it's quite a bit. Using a new quad-wielding system, Jackie is able to do quite a bit, with both his hands and the Darkness' abilities. He'll usually hold onto guns with his real hands, while commanding the limbs to do other things. At one point, we were able to grab a car door from its hinges, utilizing it as a shield from incoming attacks while pointing guns through the window and taking them down. Using a tinted lighting system, it's easy to spot the indicators that show what the Darkness limbs can and can't grab.
Defense is only part of the fun when it comes to using the Darkness limbs. Objects can also be thrown, such as car doors and posts. Not only do these save you precious ammunition, but they can also set up some gruesome kills, such as beheading someone with a car door or impaling them to the wall with a spike. The limbs can also perform horizontal and vertical swipes, breaking down doors and smashing an enemy into a bloody pulp.
But perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the gameplay is being able to grab someone up close and ripping them apart, melee-style. The Darkness has a variety of kills it can use here, such as ripping someone in half with a move called "The Wishbone" or holding a helpless thug and tearing through his chest, "Alien"-style. These kills aren't for the faint of heart, but they do add a guilty pleasure sort of dynamic to "The Darkness II," one that's really hard to resist.
Following a bloody battle on the city streets, the demo shifted into the subways, where Jackie has to fight even more gunmen in tight, close quarters. He also needs to keep an eye out for lighting in the area. If he even takes a minor step into bright lights, the Darkness peels away, leaving Jackie vulnerable to damage and forcing him to strictly rely on his pistols. He needs to shoot out these lights in order to keep his demon limbs intact. After a tremendous train wreck and a little more carnage, we're introduced to another factor that Jackie can call upon -- the Darklings. First seen in the original game, these little imps can do a whole lot of damage to enemies, ripping them apart and then urinating on them for good measure. They have a surprising amount of personality, even going as far as to where shirts to express their nationality.
But what's really great about the Darkness is that same emotional involvement as in Silvestri's comic books. While Jackie is utilizing the demonic force to the best of his abilities, he also feels a great deal of remorse for Jenny, constantly having visions of her over the course of the game, which really screw with his head. In fact, the playable portion of the demo concluded with Jackie chasing Jenny down a tunnel, only to come face to face with an inbound train.
It's here that Jackie returns to the stranger once more, with him making more demands and his henchman having a field day with you. Having had enough of all the threats, Jackie manages the strength to free his left hand from the spike (with a little push-button action from the player), then rips the spike from his right hand and stabs the henchman with it. Recovering from his injuries (which the Darkness easily repairs), the stranger creeps out of the room, explaining that Jackie could've easily made this easier on himself. Instead, all kinds of hell will break loose. He then slams the door shut, indicating the end of the demo.
So far, "The Darkness II" looks as if it's going to take us for a hell of a ride, with a higher amount of creative action over the original game (thanks to quad-wielding) and a more involved story that tells us what all Jackie is going through. The Jenny angle in itself reveals a side of humanity that you wouldn't expect from a mobster -- especially one infused with demon powers.
What's more, Digital Extremes (taking over development from Starbreeze, who worked on the original game) has done tremendous work with the in-game engine. We're most impressed with the up-close kills, watching as these henchmen cringe for their lives as you decide their fate. The stage layout is surprisingly well done, especially the lighting, which really has an effect on Jackie's character, as well as what he can do with the Darkness in given situations. We're eager to see what the rest of the game looks like.
And the voicework? Freakishly compelling. Mike Patton, returning to the same Darkness role he personified in the original, is still as menacing as ever…which is surprising. CBR News actually sat down and spoke with the guy, and he doesn't sound like the sort of person who could voice this character at all. (Look for our interview to be posted shortly.) The other voicework is solid, particularly the elusive stranger, a snarling man who sounds like he's missed out on a lot in life and merely wants to use the Darkness to grasp that power again.
"The Darkness II" was, ironically enough, one of the brighter spots on the Comic-Con show floor, letting players get a grip on what could be one of the more unique comic book-licensed games out there -- and a killer first-person shooter, to boot. Be sure to check back with CBR News for interviews soon, including Patton and creative director Shelton Carter.
It's funny; now we sound just like that stranger. "I want the Darkness" indeed!