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Hands-On: The Darkness II

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Posted on November 23, 2011 AT 02:49pm

With great power comes spilled entrails

Last we checked in with Jackie Estacado, demon-limbed star of The Darkness II, he was displaying his new “quad-wielding” skills. Behind a pair of pistols and two ass-kicking appendages, he reduced Mafioso thugs to pulpy, pavement-staining smears. Eager to show off the sequel’s enemy-eviscerating executions, 2K Games intentionally pitted us against low-level goons we could effortlessly dispatch with gore-soaked style to spare. Our latest trip to Jackie’s twisted world, however, introduces a threat far more formidable than the first demo’s meatbags. Thankfully, it also equips us with fresh ways to rip these baddies from balls to brains.

Following a lead to the whereabouts of last demo’s Victor Valente—the creepy dude who looks like he French-kissed a George Foreman Grill—we find ourselves in a brothel hidden within a mannequin factory. If the sight of hookers selling their wares against a backdrop of scattered plastic limbs isn’t disturbing enough, the setting also serves as a hideout for Valente and his fanatical Brotherhood followers. Upon acquiring a hand-cannon and some intel from a curvaceous employee, we explore the upper floors of this nightmare-conjuring environment.

Before long, we’re neck-deep in Brotherhood soldiers who seem to be expecting Jackie. Leveraging their knowledge of the Darkness’ aversion to light, they’ve set up traps to siphon his powers; in addition to tossing blinding flashbangs, they utilize a variety of more permanent sources to send Jackie’s limbs scurrying back to their host. While most of the lights are protected, they’re powered by nearby generators we’re able to turn into sparking scrap metal. Like a cornered animal, we’re forced to fend off the Brotherhood as best we can, while also seeking and destroying these light-fueling machines.

The tables soon turn, though, when we discover Jackie’s got some new tricks tucked into his black trenchcoat. First we find a talent shrine, an upgrade station of sorts allowing us to unlock and tweak new enemy-tormenting toys. Triggering the shrine opens a talent tree, where experience points—earned through creative killing—are spent to ratchet up Jackie’s arsenal to all-new rib cage–rearranging levels. Four paths—Demon Arm Upgrades, Executions, Hitman Upgrades, and Darkness Powers—can be explored, encouraging players to customize their kill sprees as they see fit. The more subtle choices add RPG-flavored perks, such as increased ammo capacity, but many options favor the franchise’s stomach-churning style. We, of course, took the latter path, unlocking a power dubbed “Swarm.” And it’s as menacing as it sounds, granting the ability to unleash a sickening green cloud of enemy-consuming insects.

On top of watching baddies claw at themselves while bugs feast on their flesh, we also test out Gun Channeling, which essentially replaces hot lead with soul-sucking Darkness bullets. While these two trips to the talent shrine only whet our appetites, 2K doesn’t let the leash off any more new abilities. They do, however, put us behind the sharp claws of Jackie’s Darkling buddy. We learned during the previous demo that The Darkness II is forgoing its predecessor’s Darkling minions in favor of a single diminutive demon with plenty of personality and story-expanding potential. Our time controlling the little bugger is brief, mostly displaying his ability to explore tight spaces otherwise inaccessible to Jackie; from a first-person perspective, we navigate vents, creep in the shadows, and ventilate throats by jumping on dudes’ backs before introducing their jugulars to the Darkling’s poorly manicured nails.

Having taken some of the title’s new mechanics for a test drive—and spilling more blood than a Texas slaughterhouse in the process—we’re prepared to leave our demo satisfied and craving more. The Darkness isn’t done with us yet, though—and a spoiler warning here for those who haven’t finished the first game. Shedding some fresh light on the story, the demo concludes with Jackie being captured by the Brotherhood, which then leads to the previously witnessed crucifixion scene. With that piece of the narrative puzzle in place, we expect the screen to fade to black. Not yet. Before escaping, Jackie peers into a portal to find Jenny, his dead girlfriend from the first game, trapped among hellfire and brimstone. We don’t know if it’s a hallucination, dream, or Jenny in some spiritual state, but the Darkness itself pipes up and urges Jackie to keep his powers from Valente, lest he wish to lose her forever. So, yeah, we’ll be chewing on that until the title lands next February. Thanks, 2K—you teasing bastards!

What do you guys think? Are you amped up for the February release of the The Darkness II? Were you fans of the first game? How about the comics? What do you think of the quad-wielding feature? Let us know with comments below!

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