A samurai named Inugami, the Israeli secret service agent Shoshanna, Jimmy Wilson from Glasgow and voodoo practitioner JP Dumond. These are the four characters central to The Darkness II’s co-op multiplayer. They’d certainly stand out in a crowd.
Compared to the main game’s Jackie Estacado, they could accuaretely be described as coulorful; replacing the dark, brooding charisma with something altogether more “videogamey” and, at times, humorous. Wilson’s accent, for example, is so off the chart of stereotyped that it makes Sean Connery sound like he’s from London. Similarly, Inugami is consistently spurting dialogue that’ll be familiar to anyone with only a passing interest in The Land of the Rising Sun.
Then again, it’s that familiarity that makes them likable as we’re not forced to understand them and their personalities. It’s all laid out before us, allowing us to concentrate on the gameplay.
Co-op is split into two modes – Vendettas and Hit List – both of which are playable by up to four players. Vendettas is initially the more interesting of the two options, packing its own storyline that runs alongside the main game’s narrative (we’re told Jackie will appear in Vendettas).
Our first Vendettas mission involved rescuing a skinny, pathetic little man named Johnny Powell from kidnappers who are keeping him locked up in a car scrap yard. Many gameplay mechanics are transferred in from single player – for example, stepping into the light has a negative effect on your vision and health (forcing you to hunt and destroy hidden power generators) and hearts from dead enemies can be harvested to heal your wounds.
What is missing are Jackie’s demon arms, replaced by unique weapons and ‘darkness powers’.
Each character has their own powers and weapon (‘normal’ weapons can also be carried). For example, we played through the scrap yard mission using Shoshanna and her special weapon ‘Arm of the Night’ – a very powerful shotgun that is surprisingly good at range. Combine that with her ‘Gun Channelling’ ability (providing infinite power for a short period) and you’ve got quite a bit of firepower at your disposal.
And that’s handy because the volume of enemies is high, much higher than single player. The scrap yard map isn’t all that large but it takes quite some time, not only because of enemy numbers but because they must all be defeated before you’re allowed to progress. As a result, things can feel a little bit like a co-op wave-based game mode that has been forced into a narrative skin. That’s an idea I quite like.
To help you deal with the army of bad guys your darkness powers can be levelled up and improved. In order to do this you need to earn enough points from killing enemies. Dispatch of them with your special weapon, an execution (each character has their own close range killing style) a head shot or a long shot and you’ll earn more points.
Darkness powers can help yourself and/or your teammates through the usual crop of increased weapon damage, health upgrades and further enhancements to your weapons. Without playing a lot more, it’s impossible to accurately describe how these work but the upgrade chart looks suitably robust.
Our second Vendetta level took place in a printing factory complete with multi-level walkways, small rooms and large warehouses. The immediate problem here is that there are many more lights than in the scrap yard. However, rather than destroying generators, ridding the area of lights here is a case of simply shooting them. Make sure you do take them out though as there’s nothing worse than being ambushed and, in your panic, wandering into blinding beams. Do that and you’re dead.
Rather than ‘hunt the skinny guy’, the task here is to recover an artefact hidden away in a piece of machinery. The bulk of the mission revolves around standing your ground and surviving waves of enemies attacking your position. It’s hardly a groundbreaking style of gameplay but it does do a decent job of mixing things up from the level previous and provides an excellent opportunity to test out your chosen character’s darkness power and how they can be combined with your weapons.
In particular there seems to be a lot of variety available to Jimmy Wilson. He can summon mini darklings (see our single player preview for more on darklings) who torment the enemy. In addition, he wields a darkly magical axe that performs like a boomerang in that it will fly back to you when thrown at an enemy. Combing darklings and boomerang-axe can lead to satisfyingly bloody deaths.
Alongside Vendetta is Hit List, a mode that allows you to replay Vendetta missions out of order as well as indulge in levels designed as standalone encounters. The ‘Hostile Takeover’ mission we got stuck into took place in a TV studio that broadcast the News Watch 6 show. Our task was to kill the ‘Brotherhood’ members that had taken over the building.
Compared to Vendetta, things were incredibly difficult – whether that’s because it really was harder or because we were playing as the samurai Inugami is unknown, but we suspect it’s a little bit of both. We struggled with Inugami whenever faced with multiple enemies at distance because his special weapon is a katana (read: sword) which cannot be thrown. Unless your foes are up close it’s useless.
This forces you to rely on the (inferior) standard weapons; assault rifles, shotguns and pistols. Play carefully and take your time and the level is more than do-able, but don’t expect a frantic rush beheading guys left and right ad nauseum.
Even compared to the Vendetta missions, Hit List (at least this particular example) is absolutely packed full of foes – often to the extent where you feel as though there are no safe havens. The difficulty urges you to quickly get into the flow of killing>harvesting hearts>killing>deploy darkness power>killing>harvest hearts and repeat.
As a gameplay loop it’s satisfying as soon as you’ve gained enough experience and skill to employ it. The most important thing about any co-op mode is to provide a system that works and is varied enough to remain enticing enough to make you want to see everything. We can’t comment on the long-term variety at this point, but the systems seem to work – even if they are much closer to those of a ‘standard’ FPS than The Darkness II’s single player elements are.