The Darkness 2 Preview

It has been nearly four years since the last time gamers were able to control "The Darkness" as hitman Jackie Estacado. Since then the game has shifted developers from Swedish-based Starbreeze Studios to the Canadian dev team at Digital Extremes. If gamers were worried that Digital Extremes would be unable to deliver a standout sequel in the comic-adaptation franchise, all signs currently point to those fears being completely unfounded. The Darkness 2 takes place two year after the events of the original game. Jackie Estacado is now the Don of his crime family but is still haunted by visions of his lost love, Jenny. "Jackie sees Jenny everywhere," Sheldon Carter from Digital Extremes explains. Though it's still a source of his pain, Estacado remains powerfully possessed by the evil Darkness--a source of tremendous power. But the thing about power is that those who do not wield it, will do anything to obtain it. The demo begins with Estacado begin crucified by a familiar face from the first game. A crippled man tells him he wants Estacado to give up the Darkness and hand it over to the old, scarred man. The Darkness, you see, can heal any wound and won't allow its host to perish. The dark room is the first sign of a big change in The Darkness 2. Gone is the realist Starbreeze Engine and replaced with a "high contrast, graphic novel noir" style of Digital Extremes' Evolution Engine. Hard, dark lines wrap each character and the environment. Everything is sharp and angular. The lighting adds to this new look, keeping the effect unique versus other games that share the same style (Borderlands, for example). According to Carter, all textures in The Darkness 2 are hand-painted.

Hand-painted horror.

As the old man's goon nail Estacado's hands to the thick wooden frame, the game flashes back to another day in Estacado's life. Met by his right hand man Vinny--one of the few who understand his immense power--Estacado walks through a traditional Italian restaurant. Estacado passes filled tables, passing by chattering guests and makes his way to a table where he is greeted by two blond bombshells. The mood is calm, the ladies are flirting, and Estacado seems to have not a care in the world. Suddenly, a gunshot rips through the back of one of the blonde's eyes and she lays in a pool of her own blood. A van crashes through the window and the room ignites in fire. Estacado--trapped under a table--is bloody and hurt, his right leg shattered and missing pieces. Vinny throws Estacado a pistol, tells him to take aim, and proceeds to drag him out of the room. As Vinny, and the player knows, Jackie's power only works in the dark. The lit-up room of the restaurant and the glow of the burning dining area mean that Estacado is helpless. As Vinny drags Estacado through the room, the damaged hero fires into crowds of orange jumpsuit-wearing thugs. Later, Vinny throws Jackie a second pistol and he tears through the opposition. Soon Estacado makes it to the dark and his demon arms emerge. Now, one arm controls grabbing while the other controls slashing. Grabbing works with objects throughout the world. In one instance, Estacado grabs a long piece of rebar and tosses it at an enemy, pinning him to the wall like a thumbtack in paper. The slicing arm, used in conjunction with the right-stick, can slash in any direction. In the demo I witness Estacado eviscerate enemies with slashes that took off limbs and even sliced enemies in half...lengthwise.

Just another night out on the town for The Darkness.

Beyond that, players will be able to dual-wield weapons while using both arms. Quad-wielding is what they're calling it, sadly, but we won't fault Digital Extremes for making up buzz-phrases. Grabbing works in tandem with the slash. Estacado can grab an enemy and use the other arm to help split the adversary in half. The move is aptly referred to as "The Wishbone." Executions return and make an even bigger splash (of blood) with demon arm executions. Estacado can grab sneak up behind an enemy, coil him up with the grabbing arm, and burst through his back and chest for another vicious kill. Another change in the game are the darklings. Rather than have a number of demon helpers, The Darkness 2 features one. "This is a much more personal story for Jackie," Carter tells me. The A.I. controlled ally exists to help Estacado destroy the opposition and to get the game's hero out of bad situations. In one instance, the Union Jack-wearing demon jumps on the back of an armed guard, snaps his neck, and gleefully hands Estacado the handgun.

Say hello to Jackie's little friend.

The game constantly flashes back to the room where Estacado is left nailed to the wall. The old man promises that if Estacado does not give up his power, the man will kill Estacado's Aunt Sarah. According to the legend, the individual who wields the Darkness can only willingly give it to another person. With his Aunt on the line, the old man assumes Estacado will give it up. He's wrong. Jackie rips his hand out from one of the large nails, yanks out the other and quickly stabs one of the old man's goons in the face. Make no mistake, The Darkness 2 is ultra violent. The Darkness 2 was a real surprise for me at GDC 2011. I went in slightly worried and walked out excited to see more. It's certainly one of the best games I've seen during this year's event. Hopefully, Digital Extremes can deliver in the final version of the game when it launches later this year for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.