During the six hours it takes to complete The Darkness II you rip men in half, pop off their heads like a child pulling the lid off a felt-tip, slash off their legs, rip their spines from their bodies, and tear out their hearts as they watch. And these are the tame executions. (There's one horrifying kill called 'Assecution' where your tentacles enter a man through his... look, it's one of the most disgusting things. Ever.)
And that's The Darkness II's thing. Violence. It revels in vicious, virtual gore like no other shooter of this console generation. The once-moody, character-led shooter Starbreeze created has gone to a new developer (the aptly named Digital Extremes) and been transformed into a stylish bloodbath. However, that's no bad thing. Although this sequel definitely lacks the nuanced storytelling of its predecessor, it swaps the gentle moments of the first game for relentless horror and grizzly action.
Digital Extremes have a decent stab at the heart-warming tale of demon-infested mob-boss Jackie Estacado and his dead girlfriend Jenny, but much of the sentimentality rests on players having finished the original, which - considering how few bought it and how few of them felt comfortable with the twitchy shooting - means they're preaching to a small flock. However, the way they present Jackie and Jenny's transcendental love story is interesting, and it builds to a fascinating climax for which it's worth enduring the more pedestrian plot elements.
The meat is all dirty mob-talk and comic-book fantasy (not inappropriate considering The Darkness is based on a series of graphic novels) as Jackie's organisation fight a group hell-bent on acquiring The Darkness from him. Although well voiced, this portion of the game feels clumsy next to the clever love story.
The action is slick, if predictable, stuff. Darkness powers have been streamlined since the first game - now you have guns, slashes and darkness grabs all mapped to the shoulders and triggers. At first it's confusing, but master the art of blasting one set of enemies with firearms while you slash and yank others apart with demon arms - otherwise-ordinary shootouts can turn into genuinely entertaining massacres.
Throw in the ability to chuck scenery around with your tentacles, impaling unfortunate goons or roasting them alive with compressed gas-cylinders, and most scraps feel unique, action-packed and satisfying.
Your weapons feel almost as beefy and lethal as your tentacles, giving you a real sensation of power, even during fights that leave you overwhelmingly outnumbered. Again, violence is what Darkness II does best, and the developers have been smart enough to design combat in a way that encourages you to be as aggressive as possible. Whether intentional or not, the combat demands a truly bloodthirsty approach to progress, mirroring The Darkness' in-game insistence that Jackie unleashes his sadistic side. Clever.