Beneath all the excessive mutilation and profanity, there’s a sentimental, vulnerable beating heart at the core of The Darkness 2. I never in a million years expected to partake in a slow dance with the ghost of my dead girlfriend to “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos; but alas, that happens in this game. It just goes to show you that for all the bravado this game displayed in its various trailers and screenshots leading up to release — making the title appear like it only caters to those who frequent frat houses — 2K Games and developer Digital Extremes haven’t forgotten about the importance of a story to make the carnage meaningful.
But make no mistake, The Darkness 2 is a very violent package. There's barely a moment that goes by where you’re not pulling the head off some poor sap, or ripping someone apart like a wishbone, or yanking someone's skull and spine out through their butthole. But guess what? I'm the sadistic son of a bitch who enjoyed doing it all thanks to the game's core mechanic, "quad wielding."
With the power of the Darkness inside him, mob boss Jackie Estacado can simultaneously wield two weapons and his dual demon arms. This lets the player have some flexibility with how they go about maiming people throughout the game's campaign. I'll admit, once you get fluent with using your weapons and demon arms in conjunction, it's bloody poetry in motion. If you're worried The Darkness 2 will feel like just another shooter, lay those worries to rest; the quad wielding mechanic is definitely this game's saving grace when it comes to separating it from the pack.
In addition, you can also enhance your abilities as you progress through the game by collecting essence. Collecting essence allows you to upgrade your reload speed, or apply gun channeling for added power, or command a swarm of flies to stun your enemies, or toss your Darkling minion "fastball special" style, to name but a few options. There are four uniquely different upgrade trees, ensuring that you won't be able to max out everything in your first play through.
The Darkness 2 has also garnered some attention thanks to its unique graphical style. The folks at Digital Extremes call it "graphic noir," taking a cue from the comic book source material and the ever popular cel-shaded look incorporated in a lot of games these days. Without the "graphic noir" touch, The Darkness 2 would have looked like a very dated game, honestly. However, the cel-shaded style gives this title legs, covering up some of the dated engine's worts and blemishes and replacing them with a glossy, fantastical finish that works within the context of this fictional world.
If there is one thing to be disappointed by, it's that the game's campaign is only roughly six hours. Granted, I wasn't timing my first play through, but it couldn't have been longer than that. Thankfully, we get an added mode called "Vendettas" for up to four people to play simultaneously, whether locally or online. Vendettas is kind of a side story to the main game's campaign, allowing you and your buddies to perform mob hits or rescue missions in the name of your boss, Jackie. The tasks you're asked to perform range from mildly entertaining to downright boring, but at least there are four unique characters to choose from, all with their own special weapons and upgradable abilities. While nowhere near the main draw of The Darkness 2 package, Vendettas does at least extend the lifetime of this game by a couple of hours.
While the campaign of The Darkness 2 might teeter on the shorter end of the spectrum, it makes up for it with a story and gameplay that manages to engage from start to finish — even going as far as to tease a potential The Darkness 3 that ties heavily into the comic book source material. And on top of that, Vendettas acts as a nice addendum to extend the longevity of the overall package. Don't let the blood, guts and excessive cursing scare you away, The Darkness 2 is definitely a game worth experiencing.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline received one advanced copy of The Darkness 2 for the Xbox 360 from 2K Games. We were held to the embargo date of 2/7/2012 at 8am EST. Before starting our review, we completed 100% of the game's campaign on normal difficulty. We also played a couple hours of "Vendettas" mode.