The Darkness II begins with Jackie Estacado, 23-year-old mob boss and current possessor of demonic force The Darkness, saying he will never awaken his dormant supernatural abilities ever again, two minutes before you reawaken his supernatural abilities with a single tap of a button.
Ah, Digital Extremes. Subtlety and nuance has never been its strong suit, though by inheriting this intriguing FPS series from poignancy-laced developer Starbreeze it's decided to have a go at the emotional stuff anyway. So you've got those iconic narrative-led cutscenes, dragged over from the original but not quite as special this time around, and a plot about how Jackie desperately pines for his deceased girlfriend Jenny Romano. The Darkness II attempts to make you care with telegraphed actions rather than character, so you know you're supposed to be overcome with emotion because the game makes you, for instance, press a button to light a candle for Jenny. A candle! I imagine the dripping beads of wax are supposed to symbolise players' tears.
Faffing about with candles isn't why you're here, though, and much of the Darkness II is preoccupied with using your assorted powers to shoot, stab, gut, gore and eviscerate the hundreds of goons between you and the end of the game. Jackie's headlining ability is spawning two demon arms from his back, with the left being used to grab enemies and throw objects, and the right to slice them like a magical tentacle sword.
Both arms - which I've affectionately dubbed Grabby and Slicey - are controlled independently by the player. You can pick up a car door to use as a shield in your left arm while shearing enemies in half with your right, for instance, all while peppering a few bullets into some faraway targets and then finishing the skirmish with a flourish by using your impromptu shield to decapitate the last unlucky mook. Classy.
Weaken a foe with, say, a bit of gunfire, and you'll be able to see their heart (you can also eat hearts to regain health, just like real life) and grab them for a hyperbolic execution move, which can also be used to replenish Jackie's health and ammo supplies. These are gruesome affairs, with Grabby and Slicey toying with their terrified foes before slicing through torsos/heads/squidgy bits and showering the screen in blood.
I find it a fascinating game, empowering in its controls and with some marvellous core combat but severely limited in scope, and it manages to be an odd title that's often thrilling yet painfully dull a few seconds later. Digital Extremes has done an admirable job creating a colourful world and a great control scheme, and after the first few levels you feel like you're spent. And, sadly, it feels like Digital Extremes is, too - throwing up the exact same combinations of enemies, in all too familiar environments, and doing little other than swapping out the early mobsters with some cult members with their own spooky powers. It's also marred by some tedious boss battles, almost all of which use the exact same teleporting trick.
The Darkness II's biggest success is its controls, which elegantly mixes your demonic powers with robust dual-wielding shooting mechanics - it's empowering in the exact same spots where the original felt limited. Upgrades are doled out via an experience system, where just shooting an enemy gives you a fraction of the points gained from a grisly execution, and this systematically exposes the player to one of the game's greatest flaws; there simply isn't enough variety to your execution moves, and it's impossible to relish the prospect of another after they've disrupted the game's rhythm hundreds of times.
As you progress you'll be able to start unlocking Jackie's more advanced powers, such as conjuring up swarms of evil Darkness bees, opening black holes and deploying a jazzy Darkness-themed version of id's Quad Damage. Maxing out your abilities and blasting through New Game+ is actually more fun than your original run.