- Players control Jackie Estacado, a crime boss
- The Darkness gets released and helps Jackie fight the Brotherhood
- The game is a first-person shooter that adds in the demon arms
"The Darkness II" is a gore-filled, blood-enraged slaughterfest that really wants to be a feel-good, love story. Oh, and you get to fight with characters who have four arms.
Set a couple of years after the conclusion of the original game in this series, players control Jackie Estacado, a crime boss who is also host to an ancient evil known as The Darkness. This force imbues Jackie with superhuman powers including two extra arms -- called "demon arms" in the game -- that look like snakes with piranhas for heads.
It's scary stuff. And these extra arms are essential for in-game combat.
Jackie has been keeping The Darkness bottled up inside, but there are others who want the power for themselves. As the game starts out, The Darkness gets released and helps Jackie in his war against the Brotherhood.
At its core, "The Darkness II" is a first-person shooter that adds in the demon arms and provides four different opportunities of attack. The shooting aspect is solid, with plenty of different weapons to choose from, and allows Jackie the ability to carry around two sets of weapons, at least sometimes.
When you're carrying four weapons with four arms, that's when the action and that's where it really gets bloody. The two arms, which resemble snakes with piranha heads, can lash out at opponents, grab and destroy doors and fences, and help gather Essence -- the element that helps Jackie increase his powers.
The arms also have some pretty bloody (and cool) finishing moves that raise the gore to med-school-dissection-class levels. Opponents get various extremities ripped off and tossed aside or violently torn in two using the legs as a wishbone.
The more gruesome the kill, the more Essence can be collected. And the stronger Jackie can become by spending Essence on improved weapons, special demon arm kill bonuses or super powers.
Using four arms to fight enemies works fairly naturally, but does get a little hectic in some of the group battles. In trying to gain as much Essence as possible, I found myself rushing toward distance opponents to grapple with the demon arms, but taking a bunch of damage along the way. Eventually, I decided just to pick off far-away bad guys with weapons and wait for the grunts to come rushing to me.
In the game, there is no mini-map or radar to let you know where the villains are located and there will be times you just have to get hit to find out there was someone behind you. Enemies do spawn from every direction -- even places you just cleared out -- so be prepared to swivel around a lot.
The artwork in the game is very graphic-noir, with a hand-painted look. It looks great.
Gritty exteriors, colorful interiors and a hell-scape that was foreboding helps immerse the player in whatever environment they were in. Each area was distinct with the appropriate overall emotional landscape.
Darklings are back from the first title. Or, I should say, a Darkling is back. These physical manifestations of the Darkness in your brain were used as weapons in the previous game. This time, there is only one and he acts more like a sidekick than a destroyer.
Looking like an agile goblin, the Darkling provides some good comedic moments, but he's also handy in distracting opponents, getting into tight places, and short-circuiting electrical boxes when needed. There is also a point in the game where Jackie takes over the Darkling and you get to directly control it.
The new viewpoint makes for a nice change of pace.
For all these game-play nuances, however, the story of "The Darkness II" is where the game developers really wanted to make their mark. Jackie, still mourning over the murder of his girlfriend, has visions of her in the early part of the game. Players discover an eternal love between the two that eventually crosses over the barriers between life and death.
That type of romantic story plays out mostly in cut scenes and cinematics. This love stuff felt jarring and out of place at times when compared to the brutality of the battles.
Do you get invested in the story? Sure. However, there are a few disjointed moments that left me scratching my head and wondering what it all meant.
Also, the game seemed short. Compressed action and lengthy cut scenes did nothing to make the adventure last, and the ending came around too quickly.
So I was a little disappointed when I realized the story was coming to a close.
Overall, "The Darkness II" is a solid shooter that gets amplified by the fact that you get to fight with four arms. Using the demon arms to rip opponents to shreds or fling them into the sky never seems to get old.
Oh, and much like today's movies, stick around after the credits. You'll really want to see this.
"The Darkness II" is available in North America on February 7 and in Europe on February 10. It can be played on Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game is rated (unsurprisingly) M for Mature due to blood and gore, drug references, intense violence, strong language, and strong sexual content. This review was done with the Limited Edition version for the PS3.