Jackie Estacado ain't a man you want to mess with. Firstly, he's a mob boss; the Don of the Franchetti crime family. A man with morals and minions. A man who could have your head on a platter simply for looking at him the wrong way. If this wasn't enough, he's also the vessel for the Darkness, an ancient and unholy being that manifests itself in the form of two demonic arms sprouting from his shoulders. He could also be bat-shit crazy if a scene depicting him as the resident of a mental institution is anything to go by.
The jury's still out on that one, and having now seen more of the game, even more questions have been raised. The new level plays out in an abandoned warehouse. It's dank and dilapidated, littered with mannequins and prostitutes. It's a brothel, in fact, and Jackie's there in search of a very specific hooker by the name of Venus, whose job is to ply him with a gun and point him in the direction of Victor Valente - the boss of The Brotherhood, who are after Jackie and his powers - who is holed away upstairs.
The moment Jackie's fingers interlace with the trigger of the (rather beautifully engraved) gun, the game's signature demon arms take up residence on either side of the screen, and things kick off. While the first game often played out like any other shooter, the sequel places much more of an importance on these powers - something that was brought to the forefront during the demo.
Darklings also play a more instrumental role in Jackie's plight this time around, and you'll be able to take direct control of the squat demon-imps for the first time. Finding himself stuck behind a door drenched in light (which is of course rather harmful to the Darkness) Jackie must enlist the services of his Darkling chum, who scrambles up into a ventilation shaft in search of the controls to shut down the power. After dropping out of an opening in the ceiling, a few enemies need to be dispatched of before progressing. Pressing LB behind an enemy prompts the little fella to clamber up the guy's back and rip out his throat with his clawed hands. This is just as satisfying (and grisly) as it sounds.
Like its predecessor, The Darkness 2 is a grim and violent affair, but the Darkling adds some much-needed comic relief, spewing out obscenities with a thick cockney twang. He sings and hums, mocks and ridicules. Although I didn't hear it with my own ears, apparently the foul-mouthed little urchin isn't adverse to dropping the C-Bomb if he sees fit, but - just like the head-giving hookers that can be seen by peering into rooms about the brothel - it's not a dead cert that this will make it into the finished game.
The Darkling also acts as a cleverly disguised guide, subtly leading you along the correct path through the environment. Following him through the building, the next section of the demo offered an opportunity to acquaint myself with Jackie's powers. With two demon arms, the option to dual wield, numerous executions and plenty of other powers forming your demonic arsenal, combat is a much more multi-layered affair than before.
The demon arms are simple enough to wield: LB controls the left prong (for grabbing and throwing), and RB handles the right (for slashing and smashing). For the right arms, you can manipulate the direction of the slash with the right-stick. If you want to slice an enemy in half from the waist, for instance, use a horizontal action. If you want to split them in two down the middle, use a vertical motion. Glowing objects about the environment - ladders, mannequins, metal rods, even Darklings - can be picked up and hurled at your adversaries. Complimenting all of this are specific powers and buffs, which can be unlocked by investing points in a spherical tech tree in the menus. These include new executions, gun upgrades, infinite ammo powers and plasmid-esque abilities that send a torrent of insects to devour an enemy.
After fighting his way through the area above the brothel, Jackie is ambushed as the room he's in floods with light. He stumbles about, his demon arms contorting and whipping erratically. He blacks out. When he opens his eyes, he sees a big ol' nail being hammered into his right hand. He's been strung up on a cross, with a short disfigured man - his captor - milling about in front of him. Victor, the leader of the Brotherhood, wants the Darkness for himself, but can only get it if Jackie surrenders it voluntarily. Cue torture scene.
This isn't the first time the crucifixion has been shown off, but it's been fleshed out this time around. While I can't talk about the specifics of how this plays out, I will say that Digital Extreme is keen to give the player choice wherever possible, and this feeds into how Jackie is tortured. Like the sit-down-with-your-girlfriend-and-watch-a-movie scene from the first game, you're likely to remember this after playing. I was told The Darkness 2 would have several moments such as this.
The end of the demonstration finds Jackie free from the wooden cross, but with no scene in between showing how he might have escaped. Strange. As he escapes the brothel, it transpires that he isn't in the real world. Is this happening in his head, or is it an equivalent of the WWII sections from the first game - a parallel universe of sorts? As he makes his way to the end of an abstract corridor, he finds Jenny, his murdered girlfriend, also hanging from a cross. She doesn't appear to be having a great time. This is where things draw to a close.
As I outlined at the start of the preview, this only raises more questions. From the two demos I've now seen, it's fair to say The Darkness 2 is quite interesting in the narrative department - as you'd hope for, given the involvement of Paul Jenkins. Martin's already addressed visuals in his preview shortly after the game was announced, but it's worth pointing out that stylistically speaking the game now matches the plot. The Darkness is based on the Top Cow comic of the same name, after all, and this vibe is now conveyed in more than just super natural powers. It's more colourful than the original game, with a hint of cel-shading to it all. The game looks great, basically.
It's a good thing the release was delayed, really. While the game would be out already if it had maintained its original October 7 launch date, it would probably have struggled to get itself noticed. With a new slot of February 2012, however, The Darkness 2 should get the attention it deserves.
The Darkness 2 is due for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC February 10, 2012.