Infuriatingly though, while it’s often easy to accuse the abilities at your disposal as being too numerous for the design to cope with, there’s no ignoring how empowering they can be. Combat becomes fantastically variable as you switch from conventional to demonic warfare on the merest whim, dual-wielding SMGs with your hands and scavenging ammo as your rip enemies apart with your tentacles.
A rudimentary skill tree offers a bit more depth to the proceedings, as if that’s what The Darkness 2 was lacking. However, while the tree definitely helps slow down the incoming flood of new manoeuvres to a more manageable pace, it’s wounded by the way you can only level up at certain points.
XP is mostly collected through tedious tasks too, such as shooting out every light you see or loitering in already emptied rooms to eat the hearts of your enemies. The biggest XP boosts come from finding hidden collectibles incongruently scattered through the levels though, each one of which is accompanied by a story that deepens the lore.
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The only aspect of The Darkness 2 which doesn’t carry a balancing good/bad caveat are the graphics, which are irrefutably extraordinary. In an effort to strengthen the ties to the comic book origins of the series, Digital Extremes has decorated the world in a hand-drawn style where individual pen strokes are often clearly visible. It’s an approach that’s visually vastly superior to the cel-shading effects which other developers have previously explored, creating a better sense of place without sacrificing detail or colour clarity.
More than that though, the heavily stylised look of The Darkness 2 helps mitigate the excessive bloodiness of the combat by grounding the experience in the standards of a graphic novel, rather than a game. Cutscenes especially feel very much tied to a comic-book style of storytelling in the way they are framed.
Well, that’s true in the singleplayer campaign anyway. In The Darkness 2’s multiplayer component, called Vendettas, the comic book vibe ends up lost due to the faster rate of play. Human players rush around too fast or get bored too quickly for the experience to feel like anything other than a multiplayer game.
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To its credit, Digital Extremes has done what it can to tie the multiplayer and singleplayer components together, however. Vendettas introduces four new characters, each with unique powers at their disposal, and the missions are more than your run of the mill horde or survival modes. Even the multiplayer lobby is given a sense of place; it’s the back-alley casino where the four mercenaries plan their assault.
Ultimately though, while Digital Extremes definitely elevates the co-op above the class-based copy-and-paste modes we’re so used to seeing in triple-A shooters these days, the singleplayer remains the focus of the game. Vendettas is little more than an added bonus for those who’ve already aced the campaign.
And what a campaign it is! True, it occasionally falters as a result of trying too hard to be angry and graphics – and, yes, there are definitely some tedious moments as you harvest empty rooms for every screed of dark essence. But when it works? When you’re dodging through shadows, impaling far-off snipers on signposts and breaking bodies apart like wishbones? At those times The Darkness 2 manages to be not only an improvement on the too-often overlooked original game, but an incredibly stylish and competent shooter compared to almost anything else on the market.