Looking back at it a decade later, it’s shocking that The Darkness 2 never received a sequel. With its violent action, volatile hero, and visceral framing, developer Digital Extremes was able to deliver a faithful adaptation of Top Cow’s beloved comic book series and a shooter that found good distance between its peers. Where Borderlands 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Far Cry 3, and Halo 4 would all release in 2012 with an ambition to push the FPS genre forward in one way or another, it always felt as if The Darkness 2 was most concerned with giving us a damned good time. It’s a great shame the blood-soaked party didn’t continue into The Darkness 3 and beyond.
According to Sheldon Carter, game director of The Darkness 2 and now chief operating officer at Digital Extremes, the studio did have plans to drag Jackie Estacado out of depths of hell – although his fate was ultimately sealed. “A few of us at Digital Extremes started on a pitch document for The Darkness 3, and we even got a very small prototype started, but unfortunately it never moved forward. I like to imagine a parallel universe where it was the biggest game ever made.”
That’s a bold projection from Carter, but it isn’t out of the realms of possibility. The Darkness always felt like it had a home in interactive entertainment – as if original creators Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl had started the comic knowing it would one day transition from panels to pixels. It stars a Mafia hitman turned vessel for an otherworldly power, granting Jackie Estacado control over a small arsenal of supernatural abilities and a pair of boisterous demon arms. Absolute carnage ensued from there – in a way that is vintage video games.
It’s with those aforementioned demon arms that The Darkness 2 created space for itself. Digital Extremes was tasked with picking up from where Starbreeze Studios left off in 2007, reorienting the experience to be driven more thoroughly by the story (penned by returning writer Paul Jenkins) and for its action to be more immediate. Combat unfurls up close and personal as a result, with a distinct focus on the total evisceration of any enemies who walk within slashing distance of the Mike Patton-voiced tentacles that adorn either side of the screen.
Designer Tom Galt remembers the first time he got his hands on an early version of the system and knew at that moment that Digital Extremes was on the right path. “One memory that really stands out to me was the first time I tried the Demon Arm slashing prototype. Even in that early stage, it was fun to play and just felt intuitive to use. We could all see the potential in that early prototype; it was an exciting moment where everyone knew we had a really unique and cool gameplay hook that would make The Darkness 2 stand out from other shooters.”
Most first-person shooters have you wield one weapon at a time. If you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll get the chance to wildly fire two at once. In The Darkness 2, Digital Extremes introduced ‘quad-wielding’ – a system which let Jackie dual-wield weapons with his hands without impeding any of the hacking, slashing, stabbing, and ripping unleashed by the Demon Arms. 10 years may have passed, but it’s still a wildly enjoyable way to engage with a mass of encroaching henchmen and cultists. It was also a bit of a nightmare for Digital Extremes to get right.
“I do remember that we had a lot of trouble during development with Jackie often feeling like a tank as he moved around. Grabby and Slashy, as we affectionately called his Demon Arms, took up a lot of real estate on either side of the screen and initially felt like big turrets on the screen,” recalls Galt. “It took a lot of iteration to get their movement and how they reacted to the momentum of the player to feel good and make them feel like an organic extension of Jackie versus turrets on a tank. I’m really happy with where we ended up, and Grabby and Slashy do give controlling Jackie a very unique feel.”
Despite being one of the most unique shooters of 2012, The Darkness 2 was once at risk of becoming trapped in a development hell. Not because Digital Extremes wasn’t capable of guiding this unlikely sequel through production, but because publisher 2K Games rerouted the entire team to help get another one of its projects out of the door.
As Carter recalls of development: “There are so many memories, but the one that sticks in my mind was when I thought it was going to be canceled. 2K needed all hands on deck to help them finish BioShock 2 and the entire Darkness 2 team jumped on it. It was such a fantastic project to work on and it also emotionally devastated many of us as we abandoned one project for another.”
“I thought The Darkness 2 was canceled for sure, and that we’d never go back to it. In cases like that, it just happens to be an unfortunate byproduct of the situation – at least in my experience,” Carter continues. “Luckily, there were people at 2K who saw all the passion we’d poured into the game to that point. In the call where I thought they were going to say, ‘You’re done,’ they instead said, ‘We’d like to restart the greenlight process.'”
While Carter says the team was “thrilled” to be back on The Darkness 2 – BioShock 2 shipped in 2010 – Digital Extremes used this meeting as an opportunity to alter its original concept and “push the visual and game design”, even if 2K hadn’t exactly ‘endorsed’ such a shift. Through that process some of the more outlandish mechanics and systems emerged, as well as that iconic ‘graphic noir’ art style that helped set The Darkness 2 apart from other FPS games and grittier comic book adaptations like Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Darkness 2, 10 years later
Digital Extremes has spent a decade working on Warframe, but many of the lessons the studio learned here are still in place. “The influence is actually staggering… A lot of best practices came from our time on The Darkness 2,” says Carter. “It was a great game to work on, and I love whenever people tweet at me or talk to me about their experiences playing as Jackie. I’m very humbled to have been a part of the team that worked on that game.”
It’s a shame to see the 10th anniversary of The Darkness 2 pass with such little fanfare from 2K Games. It is, after all, one of the most off-kilter shooters from the publisher – a portfolio which includes everything from Borderlands to BioShock to Duke Nukem Forever (don’t ask; that’s a story for a different day). I asked Digital Extremes what it would do with The Darkness 2, were it to be given a chance to remake or remaster the game all these years later.
Both Carter and Galt had similar suggestions, an expansion to The Darkness 2’s cooperative multiplayer campaign, Vendettas, and to Jackie’s Mansion, the hub-area of sorts which let players gain a new perspective on events and take a breather from the breathless campaign to hell and back. “The industry was at a point [in 2012] where a tightly scoped narrative game like The Darkness 2 was getting harder to sell. We had some plans for lots of side missions coming out of Jackie’s mansion, the Asylum, and Vendetta’s mode… but to execute that would have been at least double our budget,” says Carter.
Galt adds: “We had lots of ideas to expand the narrative and gameplay with more side missions and content. The Mansion was a great space for players to explore and learn more about the narrative and the characters in Jackie’s life. But we never had the time or budget to really leverage that space as much as we would have liked.”
As The Darkness 2 turns 10, Jackie Estacado is no closer to escaping the cliffhanger Digital Extremes left him on today than he was on February 10, 2012. “We all lived happily ever after. Well… except for Jackie, who’s still stuck in hell,” laughs Carter, who is overjoyed that Digital Extremes has spent the better part of a decade evolving its free-to-play shooter, Warframe, from strength-to-strength. And if you want more from The Darkness in lieu of a sequel, Carter has some advice for you: “I think The Darkness 2 stands up very well as a story itself and its examination of the themes that people can still read in the comics is great. There are loads of Jackie Estacado stories out there, if you’re jonesing for them.”
The Darkness 2 is currently available on PC, Xbox Series X via backwards compatibility, and PS5 via PlayStation Now. If you’re interested in giving the series a try, The Darkness returned for a comic book relaunch in 2021.