Hands-on: The Darkness II co-op

I stood there motionless. The dilapidated scrapyard was littered with the corpses of freshly slain gangsters. More would be arriving shortly. Caution would suggest that I load up on ammo. But I was preoccupied by a nagging question.

What does a heart taste like?

Perhaps I should backtrack a little. In the real world, I am but a mere peddler of prose, such as pieces like this. But in the cel-shaded, graphic noir world of The Darkness II’s co-op mode – Vendettas, I am a rotund Irish man with a penchant for axes. I’m infused with the same powers granted to Jackie Estacado, the series’ protagonist, and I have a taste for human hearts. You can call me Jimmy. I can summon darklings – imps that do in the game what Internet trolls would do in real life, that is, beat the crap out of people and blow sh*t up.

I could’ve been an ex-Mossad agent with mad occult gun skills, who goes by the name of Shoshanna; or a witch doctor who could create black holes. I couldn’t, however, be an ageless samurai called Inugami, who needed to consume souls to stay alive, and blinds foes with his blade. That spot was already taken by my co-op partner across the room. But I digress. So where was I? Ah yes, you can call me Jimmy.

Names are such a trivial commodity in a world laced with an endless supply of trigger happy mobsters. Moreover, there are the opportunistic warriors of the Brotherhood. They were a once noble organisation dedicated to purging the Darkness, now fallen into corruption, seeking its power for their own ends. They all meet the same fate, regardless of their affiliation – a bullet to the chest, an axe to the face, and a fresh, blood soaked, still beating heart to my mouth.

Sometimes I’d imagine it tastes like a raspberry, other times, dark chocolate, and in more chaotic scenarios, when I’d duck in battle for a quick bite, a tequila shot. Much like the game’s AI during a gunfight, each encounter never quite feels the same. A similar feeling when pulling a gun’s trigger, it feels arcadey, wholesome and not so dreary as it were in real life (or Battlefield 3). It just fit with the environment’s comic book style. In a word, refreshing.

And just as I was close to deciphering what a heart tastes like, Inugami shouts. It seems that we had more baddies on the way. Dual-wielding makes the most sense when overrun, which we were. I pull off a headshot followed by several shots to the groin, coupled by some vigorous axe-slashing. Numbers start flashing, a sign of my skill and talent as one of the chosen few. The rest of you know these as bonus points inspired from games such as Vanquish and Bulletstorm. With enough of these I could upgrade my skills and be more powerful than ever. Oh, look, I unlocked the ability to make darklings explode. My glee was cut short as my comrade was prodding me to flip a switch that would allow us to progress. Killjoy, thy name is player 2.

Anyway, we continued our walk across the junkyard that could soon be rechristened as a mass grave. Our mission was simple – rescue a hostage and get out. So far so good. Everything was going as expected. What we didn’t count on, however, was being attacked by a hulking villain decked up in some sort of armour. Complete with another wave of thugs to boot.

What happened next was a volley of shouting between my partner and I as we ducked, weaved and ripped through the skulls of many a nameless thief. What do these vermin eat that makes them relatively tough to kill? Some of them had to be executed in chillingly bold fashion. I wore them down with a few bullets, came in close, and waved my axe when prompted by the ‘LB’ sign flashing across the screen.

Now, I’m no specialist in symmetry, but I dare say that I did leave their faces split in equal halves, with a fountain of blood right through the middle. I was tempted to try it on the boss of this level, but better sense (and a hen-pecking co-op partner) prevailed. We slowed him down with bullets and axe throws. Then I remembered I could send suicide bomber imps in his direction. A couple of kamikaze demons later, we were done. I was relieved. No, not because the level was exhilarating, which it was, but rather, now I could meditate on the question that’s been playing on my brain from the very outset of it all. What do hearts taste like?

No sooner had I thought that I had the answer than the game’s demo ended. Well done 2K, well done. Looks like I’ll be ponying up for The Darkness II for my existential, philosophical and spiritual fix (ie my one-point agenda on heart[y] eating). And this is just the co-op mode, mind you. The single-player game is a different beast altogether. Vendettas has a rather humorous touch compared to the main game’s dramatic leanings.

And if you’re like me, or just looking for a dark comedy (pun intended) filled time with like-minded friends, you’d do well to check The Darkness 2 when it hits in February. You’ll be in for a bloody good time.

The Darkness II is scheduled for release on February 7 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. A demo will be available for all platforms on January 24 ( January 17 for Xbox Live Gold users).

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