Saturday, February 11, 2012

First Impressions: The Darkness II Demo

The Darkness II was recently released on Steam for an excessive amount of money - something like $90 USD. It's out of the question - if I were living in America it would be bad enough, but I'm all the way over in New Zealand, and that exchange rate adds up real quick.

Luckily, The Darkness II has a demo - roughly 20 minutes of play time, which isn't too bad. But, I'm not here to judge the game on the length of their demo. I'm here to talk about the various aspects of the game. And in everyone's favourite form - list!

#1 - The Controls

I'll be honest, thing that attracted me to it in the first place was the tentacles. The gimmick is you have two tentacles - one for grabbing (Q) and one for whipping/lashing (scroll wheel). You could use these in conjunction with your guns, and you could dual wield guns too.

And I gotta say, that takes some getting used to. My biggest problem is the use of the scroll wheel. Here's the list of controls the game devs mapped to it:
- Cycling through your guns
- (hold) Basic slash with right demon tentacle
- (hold + mouse up/down) Vertical slash with right demon tentacle
- (hold + mouse left/right) Horizontal slash with right demon tentacle
You can have one or the other, but not both. What's wrong with using the number keys? The effect is whenever I go and slash some dudes up, I cycle through my weapons. Hell, what's wrong with using "[" and "]" for weapon cycling, if you absolutely hated obvious controls and didn't go with the number keys?

When you do decide to start slashing, you'll realize it does far less damage, and far less range, than you would assume. I assumed that a horizontal slash will slice someone cleanly in half, but it just seems to bat them to the ground. And I have to be uncomfortably close for it to be effective. I say uncomfortably because everybody - everybody - uses guns, and you'll get shot at when you move in for the kill.

Thankfully, health doesn't seem to be that big of a deal. Just eat the hearts of fallen enemies to regain health, simple as that. Or just execute them. To be honest, it's a little like Prototype (execute enemies to regain health), but easier because you have guns immediately available in addition to melee attacks, whereas Alex Mercer just has melee.

Another problem is whenever you slash, the camera gets all gummed up and you can't move very much, so it makes chasing enemies with melee attacks hard. It's simpler just to shoot them or throw shit at them. Hey, speaking of cameras...

#2 - The Cutscenes

You know what I love about Penumbra and Amnesia? You almost always have the camera in your control. Even if your body is stuck or on the floor or whatever, you can still look around. Sometimes this is constrained, but sometimes not. Point is, you feel like you have basic control, even if it's as simple as swiveling your head to look at stuff while you're on a conveyor belt.

Think back to the first Half-Life, and if you can't, go play it. It's available on Steam for $10. But let's assume we all can. Remember how you were in the cable car/gondola thing, transported along a fixed path? Remember how that was just a bit boring and felt like it was dragged out way too long? At least you could move around and look wherever you wanted. You could either look at the Black Mesa facility when the game wasn't showing you brown rock walls, or stare at the floor in defiance.

When I first came to that cutscene in The Darkness II in the restaurant, I expected to be able to look around a bit. To really take in the whole place. Maybe even follow the guy at my own pace.
But no. What I got instead was a fixed camera and a fixed conveyor belt path. I didn't look at what I wanted to look at - I looked at what the game devs wanted me to look at. It always sucks when you have to just sit back in your chair and let the scene play out, not at all involved in what's going on until something eventually happens to draw your attention back into the game.

Cutscenes where you can't do anything are fine if it's third person. I don't have any problems watching cutscenes in any GTA game. But The Darkness II is entirely first person, and being unable to look around in a cutscene is very disengaging.

Moral is, let players look at what they want to look at within first person cutscenes, unless the nature of the cutscene would make that an impossibility (paralysis, for example).

#3 - Character Interactions

Because I've never played the original The Darkness, I have no idea who these characters are or why I should care. Which is par for the course for games who's sequels were released on more or different platforms.

What I really don't get is your friend (the guy who drags you across the floor while you shoot at bad guys in the restaurant bit) isn't at all surprised when you meet him again and you've got the tentacles out. In fact, none of your allies are surprised. Maybe Jackie made it obvious that he had that power in the first game, I don't know. Point is, it doesn't make any sense to me that those people aren't freaking out that you're got two evil tentacles coming out of your back, and are using them to liberate people's internal organs.

#4 - The Visceral, Nasty Stuff

Finally, I just want to talk about all the visceral, nasty stuff the game apparently has in it.

Here's my responses to the 'execution' moves in The Darkness II:
First time I saw an execution move: "Oh, ow. That was pretty nasty/Jesus, that didn't look pleasant"
Second time I saw it: "Yeah, still ouch."
Third time I saw it and onward: "Health!"

Like any game with an 'execution' mechanic (a finishing move that guarantees the bad guy's death and possibly heals your character), I get more and more desensitised to the animation that plays when you execute an enemy, since you see one every ten seconds while in combat. Eventually, it becomes less about the gore factor and more about the mechanic behind it, which is usually the replenishment of health.

The only exception I've found with this is Space Marine. I don't know, the execution moves in that game have a certain... impact that other games lack.

Now, I've got to go listen to some Faith No More for some inexplicable reason.

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