In the back of a dive bar in New York City, the stench of ruined lives is almost as strong as the acrid smell of the bleach used to clean up the over-used restrooms. Four defective deviants surround a poker table. They’re playing an invite only high-stakes game where their lives are on the line with every hand dealt. Far from friends, this quartet came together for one reason: the Darkness.
Recruited by Jackie Estacado himself, these four fiends have a vendetta to settle against the Brotherhood. Wielding Darkness-empowered weapons of their own, Jackie’s personal hit squad is tasked with taking down the Brotherhood, and finding a series of Darkness artifacts before the crazed cult does. It won’t be easy, but with this motley crew responsible for the fate of the free world, it will certainly be bloody.
With an ancient power like the Darkness on his side, Jackie Estacado may seem like an unstoppable one-man army, but everyone can use a little help now and then. That’s where we came in during 2K’s hands-on with The Darkness II’s newest mode, Vendettas. “The only way it makes sense to us for the Darkness II to have a multiplayer component, is for it to be a co-op experience,” said Digital Extremes’ Project Manager Sheldon Carter. You and up to three friends will side with Jackie in his new war against the Brotherhood in a story that runs parallel to the single-player campaign. Four new characters have been created just for Vendettas, and each of them brings a decidedly different set of skills to the experience.
Shoshanna’s a no-nonsense former Israeli Special Forces soldier, and her Darkness-imbued shotgun packs a wallop. The sword-slinging Inugami is a whirling dervish that slices, dices, and steals souls in order to survive. Then you’ve got the crass Celtic, Jimmy Wilson. His approach is much more personal, and he loves introducing his Darkness-powered axe to people’s heads. Rounding out this cabal is the voodoo witch doctor, JP Dumond. As proficient with a gun as he is with the black arts, his skull staff can warp hearts and minds just as easily as it can spines. If it seems like these characters are nothing more than stereotypical, that’s because they kind of are. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and is in no way a detriment to the game, but it would have been nice to see these characters receive the same amount of depth that Jackie has been given.
After we’ve picked our characters, the story has us on the hunt for Johnny Powell. Jackie needs Johnny rescued because he has some knowledge about where we can find these Darkness artifacts. Though the game can be played by up to four players, our demo teams us with only one other human. You can play all this content by yourself, but Vendettas is built around multiple players. That said, according to Carter, the game does scale difficulty appropriately based on how many people are playing at a given time. The whole affair is drop-in/drop-out, though once you select a character to play as at the start, that’s who you’ll be in control of for the duration of the campaign. Vendettas also has an additional mode called Hit List. Hit List puts you on the hunt of secret Brotherhood members in high-ranking positions in the media or politics, and it’s up to you to take them out. These missions are a bit more challenging than the narrative portions, but are just as enjoyable.
Like any good multiplayer component, Vendettas also makes use of an experience system tied to enemy kills and completed objectives. Regular kills earn you small points, but execution kills are where you’ll get the big money XP. Never has merely wounding a man so you can finish him off up close been so much fun. We’re in awe of how brutal Shoshanna’s shotgun-to-the-mouth finisher is, and how painful JP’s spine-ripping final blow looks. We feel especially bad for anyone who has to clean up the messes left behind by Inugami’s and Jimmy’s hack-and-stab closing numbers. The executions do leave you exposed for other enemies, but the rewards you’ll reap are totally worth any damage you might incur. You can trade in your experience at purple relics, typically located at the beginning of chapters, and unlock new abilities and bonuses tied to health, ammo, and your Darkness powers.
As great as it was to use characters like Shoshanna and Inugami, their weapons are fairly standard first-person armaments. Throwing Jimmy’s axe across the lot, and getting it to stick in an enemy’s head delivers a whole new kind of exhilaration that is only possible with that character. The same can be said for JP and his voodoo staff. Though he can’t throw it across the map, the staff enables him to lift enemies from behind cover, which makes them much easier to shoot or slice. This is all part of what Sheldon Carter described as an effort to give players new experiences that differ from what’s available when playing as Jackie. The four characters may not have all the strengths and abilities afforded to the bearer of the Darkness, but they do have some Darkness powers of their own. When fighting alone, they may not seem so formidable, but when all four of these miscreants are fighting together, they become as powerful as Jackie himself.
We were already excited by just the single-player content in The Darkness II. Now that we’ve gotten a look at what Digital Extremes has in store for us on the multiplayer front, we’re looking forward to it even more. The new characters and weapons add a nice twist to what we’ve already seen, and we’re glad we’ll be able to experience this game with friends. Mostly because we’re not sure we can handle the power of the Darkness on our own, and now we’ll have someone to help shoulder the guilt of all that blood spilled.