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Game Review

When you're playing a game as a demon-tormented mob guy who has a penchant for ripping foes in half and eating their hearts, it's kind of hard to see yourself as a hero. But if the character you're controlling is actually just some lost soul who's locked in an insane asylum and being pumped full of drugs, well, that's not much of an upbeat improvement. Both scenarios are at the core of The Darkness II—a creepy 2K Games sequel.

In the original Darkness, Jackie Estacado, adopted by the Franchetti crime family mob boss, was a young guy just turning 21. And with that coming of age he suddenly realized that 1) his uncle Paulie was out to kill him to take dominance in the mob, 2) his longtime girlfriend Jenny—probably the only tie he had to a potentially normal life—was being used as bait to trap him, and 3) he was suddenly imbued with a dark demonic force that made him invulnerable, gave him an extra set of snake-like sharp-toothed limbs and constantly whispered its evil nastiness in his ear. Now that's some set of birthday surprises.

With Darkness II, it's a few years later and Jackie is now the don of his large crime family. He's been trying diligently to keep that dark internal monster tamped down while mourning the death of his beloved Jenny. But there's to be no quiet life of mob hits and drug dealing for Jackie. No, the Darkness wants out. And an organization known as the Brotherhood wants to pull that devil to the surface and suck its power away for their own world-dominating plans.

There's more.

As the Brotherhood's deadly attacks bring the rage of the Darkness to the fore, Jackie starts having odd visions. Some are pleasant flashback moments with Jenny. Others are very realistic awakenings in an insane asylum, where the people of Jackie's world show up as doctors and attendants. Here he's simply a little man who's … quite mad. Could all of Jackie's grandiose visions of power and death-dealing be simply the crazed imaginings of a very demented mind? Only those brave, nay, brazen enough to endure the game's onslaught of gory flesh-rending and bloodletting will know for sure.

Four Arms Are Better Than Two?
The Darkness II is a linear, first-person, gross-out shooter with a dank supernatural twist. As mentioned, Jackie receives two demonic eel-like arms that sprout from somewhere around his shoulder blades, each coming equipped with glowing beady eyes and a horrendous set of razor-sharp teeth. So while Jackie blazes away with shotguns, pistols and automatic weaponry, these nasty appendages can hold up car doors and road signs as shields or lash out with their own deadly finishing moves.

As Darkness II progresses, special skill tree attacks and abilities are earned. And by special I mean terrible. For instance, an early kill move involves holding up an enemy and lashing his head off with a vicious swipe. A notch up from there is an anaconda-like roll-up motion that ends with a demonic snout forcing it's long-fanged way through a victim's chest. And yet others involve ripping out someone's spine or grabbing a foe by each leg and snapping him in two—with gushing gore and shrieking agony—like an oversized wishbone in a very bad Thanksgiving nightmare.

Then there's the demon arms' penchant for gobbling up a dead foe's heart, just for a little extra pick-me-up.

Another tool at Jackie's disposal is a cockney-accented imp that jumps up from some hellish otherworld and offers its services to either crawl through tight spots or leap on an enemy's back and tear out his throat. This nasty little creature also likes to desecrate the dead with a filthy stream of urine or some other noxious method. As Jackie and his charge hack and slash their way through grotty subways, ruined warehouses and creepy carnivals—on the way to a visit to hell—they're accompanied by copious amounts of splashing blood and a cacophony of squishing, tearing and rupturing sound effects.

A Not-So-Quiet Fireside Chat
The whole nasty venture does eventually turn into a hero's mission of sorts, to somehow physically save the ever-precious Jenny from eternal torment. Jackie battles all manner of evil to achieve this righteous goal. And the 20 minutes or so of actual story is creatively woven throughout.

But to piece together that story and get to their infernal showdown, gamers must crawl through a whole lot more than just broken glass. They will deal with hours and hours of vicious thugs and scantly clad prostitutes. They will listen intently to a script awash in the rankest obscenities and blasphemies. They must endure a sinister black entity's repeated whisperings of foul desires in their ears. And, of course, they'll battle evil with their own cruel and fiendish malevolence in skirmishes adorned with all the "latest-and-greatest" accompanying dripping and clotting high-def mess.

If only The Darkness was total this time around. As in complete blackness. Then there'd be no way to actually play in it.

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