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Reading over Rob Zacny's excellent piece on The Darkness II, You Don't Know Jackie, I realized I had never actually written what I wanted about the game; particularly since I rather enjoyed the first one and felt it has been an under appreciated game. I don't necessarily disagree with Zacny, about the tiring aspects of the arcade point shoot-em-up qualities, or the fact that the centuries old brotherhood you're fighting doesn't really propel the plot in an interesting fashion. However, what I took from the game was its thematic concerns with what reality is.
The first game's brilliance came in how it questioned free will, particularly in a videogame. Whenever I am asked about moments in gaming that truly affected me, my mind jumps back to that moment where the titular Darkness stops me from interacting with a cutscene. It is a cutscene: I'm not supposed to be interacting with it, but the fact that the game went out of its way to make sure I understood why, was particularly brilliant. The rest of the game blurs in that fashion, but it was such a defining moment that it had me wonder what exactly Jackie had control over.
The answer was: whatever I could control, and nothing more. Jackie had no free will. He was a puppet not only to the Darkness that lived inside him and controlled him forcibly at times, but my controller, which dictated how he even fought, which powers he learned, and moved him about as a doll in particularly dark set pieces.
Given such, I am less interested in the small pieces that make up an Aristotelian plot diagram for our anti-hero Jackie Estacado, and more interested in what the game tries to push in terms of philosophical questions.
There be spoilers ahead!