Jackie Estacado isn't your typical video-game hero. Indeed, the New York City mob boss and protagonist of "The Darkness II" is a very troubled individual who spends his days battling against the inner demons that haunt him.
The problem for Estacado is that his inner demons fight back. And rip people in half.
It's been two years since the events of the original game, which was based off of the popular comic book series, and Estacado has learned to control the Darkness -- the demonic entity residing inside his body -- even though he continues to be haunted by death of his girlfriend, Jenny. But when a mysterious group called the Brotherhood attacks Estacado, he is forced to unleash the Darkness and its unholy powers in order to survive. Soon, Estacado finds himself caught in the middle of a centuries-old struggle between the Darkness and the Brotherhood, with Jenny's eternal soul at stake.
The story is dark and haunting, told with ample amounts of gore and violence. But it is also personal and heartfelt. Jenny was the only good thing to ever happen to Jackie and he blames himself for her death. The Darkness feeds off of this guilt and as the evil force tightens its grip on him, Estacado's own grip on reality begins to slip away. Visions of Jenny torment him at every turn and at times, I, too, began to question whether all of this was real or simply inside the head of a damaged man.
While the story is far better than one would expect to find in a first-person shooter, the core gameplay is equally impressive.
"The Darkness II" puts a unique spin on the traditional first-person shooter by allowing Estacado to "quad-wield" weapons and powers thanks to the two tentacle-like creatures that are spawned by the Darkness. Each of these demonic arms has its own abilities - the left can grab and throw objects, while the right is used to hack and slash enemies into bloody bits. These arms work in tandem with Estacado's own hands, which can wield the typical FPS arsenal of handguns, shotguns and assault rifles.
The combination of standard weapons and the immense power of the Darkness arms turns Estacado into a walking merchant of death. I felt like the conductor of a symphony of pain as I effortlessly ripped enemies limb from limb, impaled them with pool sticks hurled from across the room, popped off headshots with a sawed-off shotgun and pulled them into tiny black holes created by the Darkness. A flawless control scheme makes it a breeze to unleash all of Estacado's full fury. It's not surprising, then, that no matter the odds, I never felt overwhelmed. That doesn't mean the game isn't difficult, though, as in the latter stages, enemies begin to use light to combat your Darkness powers.
In addition to the single-player campaign, which clocked in at around 8 hours, "The Darkness II" features a separate four-player co-op campaign and a handful of individual co-op missions. The Vendettas co-op campaign introduces four new characters who serve as assassins for Estacado's crime syndicate. Each character has a unique Darkness power, as well as a special weapon powered by the evil force. The Vendettas campaign compliments the single-player story well and allows players to experience events that were only hinted at in the main narrative. Likewise, the Hit List mode includes plenty of references to the main story, but serves up the action in smaller bites. Both multiplayer modes can be played solo if you choose, and add another 4-5 hours worth of content.