Platforms: PC, Xbox 360 and PS3
The Darkness II is no masterpiece, but it might just turn out to be the year’s best chunk of FPS pulp fiction. It’s bold, lurid, gratuitously violent, incredibly sweary and about as subtle as a baseball bat to the head, but it’s also furiously paced, tightly wound and extremely compelling. It’s not a very long game or even very innovative, but there’s hardly an ounce of fat on it. The Darkness II is all killer, no filler, for its whole duration.
Following directly on from the 2007 original, it’s the tale of Jackie Estacado, once a mob hitman and now head of the family. Years after the events of The Darkness, he has subdued the titular entity – a demonic force that inhabits Jackie and lends him supernatural powers – but still tends the memory of his murdered girlfriend, Jenny, who he was powerless to save in the first game. Needless to say, this fragile peace lasts about two minutes in the follow-up, which soon descends into a violent struggle between Jackie and his family and a mysterious sect dedicated to capturing The Darkness for its own cruel ends. With the odd quiet lull to give you and the game’s strong characters room to breathe, The Darkness II is pretty much a killing spree from start to end.
But what a killing spree. Like last year’s under-appreciated Bulletstorm, The Darkness II is obsessed with providing new and interesting ways to send your enemies to their doom. You see, the reawakened powers of The Darkness give Jackie two demonic tentacles to wield. The one on the left can pick up objects, use them to shield Jackie or fling them at your foes. Alternatively, it can pick up stunned enemies and enable their obliteration in a number of spectacularly gruesome ways, or snatch out their hearts for a handy health fix.
Meanwhile, the one on the right can be used for slicing and dicing, with horizontal and vertical slashes you can tune using the right analogue stick. On top of this, Jackie still has two regular human hands to wield weapons, giving you freedom to dual-wield pistols or pack an assault rifle while your tentacles are free to do their work.
Two other factors make this even more exciting. Firstly, The Darkness II has some light RPG elements. Downed foes make dark essence, and dark essence can be spent on upgrades, allowing Jackie to recharge health or ammo as he eviscerates, or opening up damage boosts, secondary attacks and special moves. Secondly, The Darkness gives birth to a creepy brit-accented goblin called a Darkling, who will cheerfully assault (and subsequently foul the corpses of your enemies). In a couple of areas you can even directly control the Darkling, while a handy upgrade enables you to pick him up and toss him into battle.