Every now and then I come across something that makes my 3-inch e-peen of rage throb with the fury of a thousand burning suns, leading me to furiously scramble towards my keyboard in order to let out my righteous anger the only way I know how: By buggering people about it on the Internet.
Fortunately, this is not one of those times. Instead, I am going to talk about what might have been one of the most mis-marketed games I have seen. Recently, I saw The Darkness 2 on sale on Steam for next to nothing. “Blimey, how odd!” I thought. “I dare say this absolutely perplexes me!” I yelled, several confused people at the Internet café giving me the same look that they give me whenever I pull down my pants after winning an online games match. But enough of that. A bit of studying made me realise that The Darkness 2 was apparently a massive flop. Which it would obviously have to be in order to be on sale just a couple months after its release. Either that, or Steam just decided to be nice for once, something which I find very unlikely.
Here’s the thing, however: The Darkness 2 is a good game. It’s not the best game I’ve played, and it’s certainly not Game of the Year material, but it still has the core of a good game. If something like Mass Effect 2 – yes, I said 2, not 3 and you’re about to see why – is a delicious large meat feast pizza, then The Darkness 2 is the tiny bowl of chicken wings that you eat as an appetiser. There’s not enough substance to make you completely satisfied, but it’s still worth eating and still quite tasty. As I see it, the main problem is what I mentioned before, namely the misaimed marketing. The Darkness 2 is doing two things wrong here: First of all, there’s the 2 in the title. I never played the first game, but from what I hear, it has very little to do with this one. I looked it up, and whoop-tee-doo, it seems that it really doesn’t. It has about as much in common with the first game as the first game does with the comics, which is to say some core characters and the basics of the universe, or as I like to call it: “Not a whole bloody lot!” If you’re pretty much just gonna reboot the damn game with some very loose ties to the first one as the only link, why not just cut the number out of the title and give it a subtitle instead, like “The Darkness: Like good stories? Check this shit out.”
“Oh, and tentacles too. Can’t forget those.”
That brings me to the second big problem of this game’s marketing, which is that it tries to sell itself as an FPS game. Now, I’ll admit that what suckered me into pre-ordering the game was in part trying something new for once, and in part power perversion potential of having two giant tentacles coming out of my arse. And if that was really all the game had to offer, then I wouldn’t be sitting here defending it today. Why? Because the combat is about as exciting and varied as your standard FPS goes, except it doesn’t have gun porn to spice things up, it only presents you with the opportunity to pull a man’s spine out of his colon. No, that is not an exaggeration. The level of gore in this game is incredible and it makes my inner little sadist manchild squeal with joy.
But enough of that. The combat quickly becomes boring once you’ve explored every possible way of impaling, disembowelling, decapitating, sodomising and whatever else you can do to kill a man in this game. Which is a lot. But as it turns out, you eventually become a bit tired of the mindless slaughter, especially in the later parts of the game, when the enemies gain a level in Intelligence and realise that after this guy ripped the last five hundred guys who looked at him funny apart with tentacles, perhaps it would be a good idea to wear some armour. I appreciate that the game includes escalating difficulty, but could you please put that in there without removing my ability to slice men in half with a garbage can lid? All it does now is remove their armour. At least make them mourn the loss of their armour because the armour was their best friend or something, just please show them doing more than just staggering back for a second before running at me with massive swords again.
“I was thinking, well… Maybe you could stay dead this time?”
Did I say massive swords? Yes, for all their Medieval level of ingenuity, some of these guys have yet to figure out that if a guy has huge bloody monster tentacles coming out of his arse, perhaps a better idea would be to take him down from a distance. But I digress. Another weak point is the light mechanic. See, your rapist tentacles aren’t too fond of light, presumably because they spent the last few years locked up tightly in protagonist Jackie Estacado’s bum. This means that you are possibly the only superhero – or is that dark, brooding antihero? Eh, whatever – who has a more stupid weakness than the Green Lantern. Your weakness is light. If you are thinking of making a joke by now about how enemies could attack you with flashlights and have an advantage, then congratulations, you just qualified for a game designer. I don’t think Prototype would have been a very good power fantasy if every time you stepped into light, your character ended up on his knees, blinded and begging for mercy. That isn’t quite what happens here either, as you still get to keep your guns, but it does mean that you will often die struggling to find a light source that would be hard enough to hit from where you stand if you weren’t also blind. I realise that this is part of the source material, but come on guys, no one likes hunting down and shooting light bulbs just so we can play with our damn tentacles. Make us lose health and blind us, but don’t take away the fun part of combat.
Other than the gameplay being a big, fat “MEH” for the most part, however, The Darkness 2 is a pretty great game. Why? Because of the story. The story is really, really good. And compared to the usual stupid writing we see in video games, which usually consists of “Here’s a bunch of guys and some vaguely explained reason for why you hate them, probably related to weapons in some form and the bad guys threatening to kill a lot of people or something, who gives a shit? Here’s a gun. Go kill a lot of people.” Hey, remember how Half-Life 2 told the story of the game without ever breaking the immersion? The Darkness 2 does just that. Sure, there’s a couple of cutscenes with exposition from our dear 80s metal band reject Jackie Estacado, but for the most part, everything is experienced from a first-person perspective. And you know what? It really works. If you take the time to go around and talk to everyone in the big mansion you go through between missions, for example, you are almost guaranteed a big emotional payoff later in the game. All the characters are likable, even the love interest. And she’s been dead for years.
Add some handsome, brooding vampires and we have a new teen sensation.
The most brilliant part of it is when you are sent to an asylum and you begin to question what is real and not. It works perfectly, and once again, it pays off to walk around talking to everyone. Particularly the guy who does a Hitler impression. The dialogue is great, the story is great, the characters are nice and cuddly. Only one question really remains: Why the bloody bugger is this advertised as a first person shooter? It’s more like an interactive movie where you have to go through some tedious sequences of ripping people to shreds before you get to experience some more of the story. It’s all on rails with no freedom, so it’s not like they tried to give you a sandbox to play around in. It’s just pointless, and seems like it was only done to pander to the fanbase of the first game. Hey, here’s an idea: Make it an RPG with first person shooter elements. I heard that worked out okay for that space opera thingie BioWare made at some point. The RPG doesn’t expect good gameplay. I can count the number of RPGs with good gameplay on one hand without using my fingers. Because there are none! RPG players want a good story with some moral choices. So give them that. You have the story, all you need to do is put some obvious moral choices between good and evil in there, and bingo, you have an RPG that will make geeks like me foam around our mouths. More than usual.
But I digress. There’s a few more things to touch on in this game. First, there’s your little imp buddy, the Darkling. Fuck that thing with a rusty spoon. Next, there’s the co-op. It’s a fun little experience provided that you manage to find another person who actually bought the game, or you’ll be forced to deal with random match-making in which people will drop in and out constantly unless they get to play the racist Japanese stereotype, rather than the racist Scottish, Jewish and black stereotypes, because none of them get to walk around with a sword. Personally, I have grown fond of the Scottish guy, mostly because he seems to be the only one who doesn’t take himself dead seriously. He knows he’s a drunken tub of lard with a weapon that would make your average MMORPG player wet his pants with excitement, and that fits perfectly well with how I tend to play the co-op. It’s loosely tied into the main story, but much weaker and less serious, and that’s just fine. The singleplayer game is where you enjoy the story, the co-op is where you go to have some actual fun playing the shooty parts of the game, and that’s just how I like it.
It’s kinda like my sex life. Only the game doesn’t feature your mum.
The final thing I’d like to touch on is, appropriately, the ending of the game. Basically, there’s two endings based on a choice you make right before the end. Now, I started out by picking the one that was supposed to be the “bad” ending. And I was flabbergasted. It was a perfect, beautiful ending to the story. Then I was hauled back to the point of choosing my ending. “Alright,” I said with a single, manly tear in my eye. “Let’s see the other one.” I won’t give too much away, but that ending sucked and had an obvious sequel hook that’s never going to lead to anything. And that was the only one which acknowledged that I had finished the game. So yeah. The canon ending is kinda lame, but the non-canon one is really good. Take from that what you will. Personally, I like this game a lot and I recommend that you pick it up if you find it on sale somewhere, whether you are a snobby literature enthusiast like me, or an avid fan of Japanese family entertainment, then this is the game for you.