If I was a dynamic entrepreneur (and I'm definitely not, for the record) I would look into creating a middlewear solution that automatically created four-player co-op modes for video games. It would be like the foliage-generation SpeedTree, only much better and less about trees. Within a year I'd probably be a millionaire from the licensing fees alone; my development tool would easily be three times the size of Bink. Who even likes Bink, anyway?
If you hadn't guessed: The Darkness II features a four-player co-op mode, called Vendettas. I know it's hard to get excited about a four-player co-op mode but - and ignore your natural cynicism for a few seconds, please - it's worth having a peek at what Vendettas is offering.
It's big, for a start, coming in with its own campaign (of which I played the opening two levels) that criss-crosses with the events of Jackie Estacado's single-player adventure. The exploits of the quartet will be referenced across single-player and Vendettas, which gives Digital Extremes a chance to sidestep and let players explore its world in a slightly different way, and with a much wackier cast.
Your special quartet are samurai assassin Inugami, Mossad super-spy Shoshanna, witch doctor J. P. DuMond and comical stereotype Jimmy Wilson. Here's a line of dialogue from Big Jimmy, a Scottish bruiser with a penchant for boozing and major disdain for the English, which I present to you with no further commentary or analysis: "Go suck yer own feckin balls, ye daft c**t."
I played the game as Jimmy, for the record.
Much of Vendettas is similar to the single-player campaign - a heavy emphasis on dual wielding mixed with gritty executions and wacky powers. You don't get Jackie's powerful demon arms, but each character jaunts around with their own custom Darkness-infused weapon - DuMond sports a mystical staff, Inugami a samurai sword, Shoshanna a shotgun and Jimmy an axe he is rumoured to have found in the woods behind his local pub.
Each weapon has its own power that complements the arsenal of other players - DuMond can knock enemies into the air, allowing Shoshanna to go in for the kill with some lethal close-range shotgun blasts as they float helplessly, for instance, and Jimmy can embed his axe into enemies to cause damage over time.
The general idea is that more violent kills - including the game's brutal execution finishers - will bank you more points than simple spray-and-pray kills, and this score-meets-currency can then be spent to upgrade the various skill trees of each character alongside giving you a more impressive number you can use to bedazzle your friends and co-workers.
Much of the appeal comes from the simple pleasures derived from these tried-and-tested mechanics - the entertainment is in shooting up regiments of mooks with your chums rather than any particularly clever bits of level design; most of the encounters are simply you walking into a room and being forced to shoot a number of enemies until you can advance to the next area, where the process will promptly repeat.
While I think it's obvious The Darkness II is saving most of its more intricate tricks for the meatier single-player campaign, the Vendettas campaign still manages to plop in a variety of boss fights and an increasingly lavish set of encounters. A bonus scenario exclusive to the Hit Lit missions offered up a meatier level for players, giving more opportunities to explore the combat mechanics at a much higher difficulty.
Vendettas won't be winning any awards for innovation, then, but you'd have to be a particularly miserly fellow to not get any enjoyment from its hyperbolic combat system and exaggerated cast of characters. 2K isn't ready to reveal just how many levels you'll be getting for your money, but this might be one of the most generous four-player co-op modes we've ever seen - and there's a good chance it'll be far too complex to be a by-the-numbers bolt-on, too.
The Darkness II will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on February 10.