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The Darkness 2: Does a new direction cast doubt?

Hands-On with Digital Extreme's demonic sequel...

Bioshock, Crysis, Modern Warfare and Uncharted are all really good reasons why The Darkness can perhaps be considered one of 2007's largely overlooked titles. A popular and critically well received game, certainly, but it would be turned away at the entrance of the platinum lounge if it were to tag on to the end of the above members of gaming royalty.

Which is a shame because it actually contained a lot of the qualities that made those four A-listers the talk of the town. Like Bioshock, The Darkness had intense atmosphere at its heart; the shadows of the New York style streets made for a cold, lonely and permanently dangerous existence while demon-armed mafia man Jackie's descent into a hellish World War II apocalypse mid-way through created what felt like the kind of fever dream a particularly deranged junkie might have after a dose of his favourite brand and an entire wheel of cheese.

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Lending a hand to the visuals was some stellar voice-acting, impressive dialogue and a sophisticated script that Naughty Dog would no doubt have gladly tipped its hat to in between its waves to the thousands weeping with congratulations over Uncharted.

The Darkness also packed a mean ol' punch with hit detection and rag-doll animation that made shooting the army of pin-stripe sporting mobsters (and a couple of innocents for kicks, we're ashamed to say) as satisfying as a certain other first-person shooter.

The real kickers, however, were Jackie's two Darkness tentacles - like dragon-headed snakes dipped in oil spawned on his 21st birthday and hovering over each shoulder - which allowed him to rip up enemies and generally scare them shirtless. Nano-suits? They're a bit too poncey in comparison.

While The Darkness 2 may be some way down most people's 'Most Anticipated' list behind the likes of Arkham City, Uncharted 3 and Skyrim, anyone who played the original will be almost as itchy to continue the story of demonised mobster Jackie as they are to don the dusty boots of Nathan Drake once more.

Or will they (excuse the Top Gear turn-around)? Importantly, The Darkness has changed developer hands, from Starbreeze to Dark Sector dev Digital Extremes, and has undergone some pretty massive changes in the looks department. On the surface it's enough to furrow the brow significantly.

COMIC SANS
That change in visual style is a stark one; gone is the attempt at photo-realism and in its place is what Digital Extreme's is calling 'graphic noir' which sees hand-drawn textures with bright, solid colours and clear, black outlines creating a distinctly comic-book effect, harking back to The Darkness' source material.

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There's no doubt it's visually rich but it's also a big enough change to trigger a Marmite response. While we're sure there are plenty of readers out there who will welcome the graphic style with open tentacles, especially those who appreciate art over photorealism (and some fans of the change right here at Hotel CVG), some of us aren't quite feeling it.

The reason's simple: Funnily enough it was the darkness of the original Darkness that kept us on edge. It's one of the most lightless games we've ever played with the shadows being used both as a game mechanic (Jackie can't use his Darkness powers in bright light) and an atmospheric device; we were nervy throughout as fire often came from shadows in the streets and jumpy, ghostly premonitions didn't make life any easier in No Man's Land either.

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