Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Darkness II: Game Design Review

Based on the Darkness comics by Image Comics and sequel to the Darkness which was released on the consoles, this sequel continues Jackie's story and the mysterious brotherhood pursuing him. Spoilers will be mentioned in this game design review.

First off, Darkness II is a fun, violent and gory action game. It hits all the right notes with comic book feel using cel-shading voice acting and very solid combat mechanics. I used a Xbox 360 game pad so it might be a different experience with mouse and key board.

What I liked about the game:

Executions have a point- Executions in game are very cool and actually serve a point rather than just to finish off the enemy. You can choose to execute to get health, ammo or a shield which creates a nice tension and choice in the game and each has its own use depending on your situation.

Tentacles- You have tentacles hovering next to you at all times acting as extra arms allowing you to attack as well as grab and throw objects like guns, metal poles, shields and other important items. With the controller, the tentacles are mapped onto the shoulder button. It's quite intuitive and fun and you kind of wonder why other games don't have something similar.

Story combined with action- I think the game has a good balance between gameplay and story weaving both together well without either dragging on to long.


Linearity- This is a fairly short straight forward game. It's pretty much level after level. The levels themselves aren't particularly creative either just your standard urban environments. I found them okay but nothing I hadn't really seen in other games.

Lack of enemy variety and bosses- The game plays it a bit too safe with the enemies. You'll only be fighting humans and darkness powered humans. That's it. Aside from you, the people you fight are quite tame. Even in the last level where you find inhuman enemies spawned from Hell, they carry around guns that behave exactly like the ones all the humans have been carrying. I was hoping for some cooler enemies you know? The boss fights feel tame as well since the only enemies you'll fight are human bosses.

Disconnected Co-op multiplayer- Co-op is actually quite fun. In the game you choose one of four characters which have different powers and go around completing missions. It feels very strange and although supposedly running parallel to the main game, there is no mention of it in the main story. As a result it feels very disconnected and very shoehorned in.

Darkness explosions need to be bigger- Instead of grenades you can unlock a power early on where anything you pick up and throw explodes into Darkness. Great. Unfortunately the explosion is a bit small. It's sometimes a problem when the explosion hits a corner rather than the enemy you're targeting and nothing happens.

Dark Vortex too random- Dark Vortexes are like super grenades in the game, they are very powerful and pretty much kills anything. Unfortunately they are dropped randomly. I think they should make it more skill based rather than luck based. Maybe if you kill enough small enemies via combos you can summon it up instead.

X button is both grab weapon and heart- minor point but occasionally you end up picking up a worse gun in battle.

Lacks automatic healing- Unfortunately for some reason you can't heal automatically. This usually isn't a problem but sometimes I would end up at the end of a fight with very little health meaning the next fight became harder than it needed to be because there was no one left to consume health from. When I died and the checkpoint was reloaded I ended up in full health allowing me to pass the next area.

Too weak in light- Being a game where you're constantly needing to be in darkness is a great idea but being exposed to light in the game is extremely penalising. Not only do you lose your armour, you start to become blinded making it extremely hard to see. This becomes especially problematic when the enemies start carrying out powerful lights to attack you. It just makes your weakened state even more punishing than necessary.

No climbing- Hard to believe that a guy with the powers of Darkness no less can't even scale walls. I mean seriously? This guy can pick up dumpsters but can't super jump or clamber over walls? Despite all the innovations in attacking this made Jackie feel illogically stunted in the game and reminded me it was 'just a game' rather than an 'experience'.

Melee- Melee combat is okay but I kind of wished they would have done something a bit different. You basically press attack and flick the right joystick in the direction you want the attack to go. But there are two directions horizontal and up and down and the only reason you need to slash up is to activate a special power and stun enemies. I feel like they should have just had melee as an auto attack and use the joystick for something else. Maybe commanding the imp or activating some special dodge move?

Lack of special attacks- There are only two special attacks. A auto-targeting and a stun attack. That's it. I was hoping for something a bit more creative considering you have the powers of darkness. How about summoning up demons or something? In the comics, Jackie could craft all manner of dark beings and dark attacks. Well I understand a video game has balance surely some abilities like 'summon dark fire' would have been cool?

Terrible ending- Okay seriously what is up with the ending? Don't get me wrong, I quite liked the cliff-hanger ending but  also ends up with Jackie trapped in Hell; or the Hell as created by his Darkness powers. I bet you the Darkness III will feature Jackie having to fght his way out of Hell as the first level.

A more satisfying ending would have Jackie fighting his way out of Hell back into reality, partially defeat the Angelus who then escapes and then closing with some sort of: "I don't know what will happen now but its out there" speech which at least provides more closure. You know, a real final boss fight.

The Darkness II is a fun game don't get me wrong and its innovation of tentacles allowing you to quad-wield really increases the fun factor. Unfortunately, despite the premise, the game only adequately delivers its promises but never really forges ahead in the area of innovation. It's a missed opportunity in my opinion and something I hope the next game in the series will fix.

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