The Darkness 2 hands-on preview

The Darkness 2 interview with Seth Olshfski

Digital Extremes and 2K Games are just a few short weeks away from finally unleashing The Darkness 2 upon us all. Originally set to go toe-to-toe with Batman: Arkham City during the height of the 2011 holiday season, 2K Games wisely delayed the long-awaited sequel to February 7. Now the game gets to shine on its own merits without the added noise of a half-dozen other freshly released guaranteed million-plus sellers getting in the way.

2K Games sent over a final preview build recently in advance of The Darkness 2‘s February release. It’s a small chunk of the game, running through only the first few hours. You don’t even get to meet the game’s Big Bad. It’s the most unified section of the game that Digital Extremes has yet revealed, however. We’ve all seen and read about quad-wielding. And Jackie’s RPG-like power progression. And player-controlled Darkling play. Lights powered by generators. Quad-wielding again. Yep. The Darkness 2 has been heavily previewed. But for all of the heart-eating we’ve seen, very little has been shown of the game’s ACTUAL heart. You get a better sense of that in the first hours. Read on.

Setting A Familiar Scene

Jackie’s adventure begins in a busy and posh Italian restaurant. You’ve likely seen or read about this sequence already. Like a scene out of Goodfellas, you amble past full tables and gawking wiseguys, seeing the world through the eyes of mob boss and Darkness-possessor Jackie Estacado. Leading the way is Jackie’s right hand, Vinnie, to a private room where a table occupied by a pair of lovely young ladies awaits.

It’s not long before a gunshot rings out. One of Jackie’s escorts is the first to die, the victim of a bullet to the head, fired from outside the restaurant. The other escort expires shortly thereafter when a white work van bursts through the window behind her. Jackie is spared from the brunt of the impact, but his right leg is badly mangled. The series of events that follows sees the Darkness, which Jackie had so successfully tamped down since the close of the first game, emerging once more.

The gunfight that follows rages through the streets of New York City and, eventually onto a subway platform leading to a set of subway tracks. Previous demos ended here, with Jackie stumbling through the wreckage of a crashed train as the whispering Darkness washes over him. The action eases up and the screen fades to white…

…and hey! I get to keep playing! Jackie is standing in what appears to be the corridor of a loony bin. Johnny Powell, the squirrely nervous guy that you’ve seen in so many trailers, is here. He’s raving. So is another wiseguy. There’s this washed-out quality to the visuals here, as if Jackie’s in a dream-state. He is. This is all happening in his head. It’s setting the stage for… something. It’s not clear yet exactly what.

The Life Of A Darkness-Dealing Don

It’s not long before the dream scene fades away and we find Jackie arriving at his highrise home and base of organize crime operations. His split-level penthouse apartment is an elaborate maze of high-ceilinged rooms and expansive balconies. Wiseguys are scattered throughout it, chatting it up, standing around and generally make the space feel more like an actual place than the between-mission hub that it really is.

As hubs go, this one is pretty light on action at this early stage in the game. Maybe it gets more exciting later. You can explore, turn faucets on and off and talk with your scattered lackeys. Most of them will spout words from a canned set of one-liners. A few can be actively engaged with. One even gives you a shot at a liquor bottle shooting gallery that he’s set up on a balcony outside. Looking for side missions? Fuhgeddaboutit. You’re really here to gather information for what comes next.

What comes next, you ask? My answer: why spoil it? Jackie is hunting for some guy who can maybe clear up the question of who ordered the failed hit you escaped from in the opening scene. There’s more shooting, more quad-wielding and, eventually, a boss-style siege. It’s a very straightforward “first mission” kind of sequence. I was able to play a little more with the mechanics than I did on the subway tracks, unlock a few more of Jackie’s powers, and get a grip on the general rhythm of things.

Bring Out Your Dead

Instead of going on about gameplay you’ve read all about before, let’s talk about Jenny. Jackie’s still carrying a torch for his dead girlfriend, killed in the first game by the Bad Guys. Or was she? There’s been some suggestion in earlier Darkness 2 previews that Jenny may still come back. You’ll have no sense of that in the early hours of the game. You WILL see Jenny though.

It’s another dream sequence. This time, we’re in a ’50s-style diner. Jenny is there, waiting for Jackie. It’s not quite his 21st birthday yet, which means we’re seeing a scene from the past, set shortly before the events of the previous game. It’s immediately clear that this scene is attempting to recapture the more personal moments that were so highly praised in the first game. Jackie and Jenny talk, embrace and share a slow dance. There’s a near-kiss, but Jenny pulls away and leads Jackie toward the back room, where she intends to get a little naughty. Never happens though. Instead, Jackie steps through the door to find himself in the same place, only deposited back into reality. The diner is now a broken-down wreck. Jenny is nowhere to be seen.

The sequence doesn’t quite measure up alongside the much-talked-about “movie night” bit from the previous game. Maybe that’s because we’re watching a dream sequence. You know the whole time that what you’re seeing isn’t real. That said, this moment doesn’t need to measure up. It’s a different scene and it serves a different purpose. We’re re-establishing how important Jenny is to Jackie. Setting the stage for them to… re-unite? Live happily ever after? Be tragically torn apart once more? There’s no way of knowing at this point, but one thing is clear: Digital Extremes isn’t using all its talk of quad-wielding to sidestep continuing Jackie’s personal arc.

That’s all I’m going to say today on The Darkness 2, and this is certainly the last preview of new content that you’re going to see before the game’s February 7 release. Previous early looks at the game already confirmed that there’s a different rhythm in The Darkness 2 as compared to its predecessor. Less stalking through the shadows, more guns blazing. There’s a heart here too, though. Not just the health-restoring sort that Jackie’s Darkness tentacles can eat out of the bodies of fallen enemies. I’m talking about a real emotional core, a driving force that once again gives Jackie’s journey some sense of purpose.

Can it all still go wrong? Absolutely. Be encouraged though. Digital Extremes has done plenty of talking, but this last bit of preview time finally demonstrated that the dev team understands there’s something deeper going on in The Darkness series than bloody, stomach-turning executions.

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