If there's one thing I enjoyed about The Darkness II, it's that it does a good job of letting you play an anti-hero who's not afraid of raising a lot of hell in order to claim vengeance against those who've wronged him. And with some particularly impressive and gory action on top of an intriguing (albeit profanity laden) story, The Darkness II is one of the better anti-hero games I've played in recent memory. Unfortunately, as much fun as the game is, it's held back by one unlikely flaw.
If you missed out on the first The Darkness, here's a quick summary. Our hero Jackie Estacado, a young mobster, is cursed with a power known as the Darkness, granting him superpowers but at the cost of his sanity and soul slowly being eroded. After his girlfriend Jenny is killed, Jackie goes a little crazy with the Darkness to avenge her death before suppressing it and trying to live the good, quiet mafia life for a while.
Things don't stay quiet though, and The Darkness II opens with a particularly loud and messy assassination attempt against Jackie in an Italian restaurant. Turns out, some mysterious and evil organization known as the Brotherhood is trying to get at the Darkness, and is willing to do anything to get it from Jackie, up to and including murdering everyone he's ever known. And given Jackie's constant monologues about his grim life leading up to acquiring the Darkness, he's none too happy about letting it out again after years of keeping its raspy voice silent. Jackie's also having a hard time controlling the Darkness, and is starting to have a mental breakdown complete with hallucinations of his dead girlfriend Jenny and occasional trips to a mental hospital that may or may not be real.
The combat of The Darkness II is incredibly fun. Not only can you shoot and blast your way through various mobsters and Brotherhood cannon fodder with a full assortment of automatic weaponry, but your primary weapon will be the Darkness itself. The Darkness takes the form of two snake-like creatures hanging off your shoulders, which you can use to grab, slash, and do all sorts of nasty things to your enemies. You won't exactly feel like a one-man army when using it, but being able to throw enemies up into the air or stun them does foster the feeling that you'll always have an edge over your opponents. Plus, there's a little bit of tactical thinking in how you use your arms to pick up objects in the game environment. Sometimes you'll have to decide when it'd be a good idea to use a car door as a bullet shield or if you should try chucking some metal pipes at your foes instead.
The goriest weapons at your disposal are Executions, which allow your Darkness appendages to grab stunned enemies and horrifically butcher them in ways that approach absurdity, which quickly became a guilty pleasure of mine. They're fairly satisfying to pull off, especially against the tougher foes that show up later on, and are useful in giving you health and ammo when you're running short on either. Each 'type' of execution-style cycles through a series of about three or so different animations, which helps keep them from getting old, but seriously, though, when one of the Executions involves ripping a guy's spine out through his colon, you start to wonder how exactly the design team came up with that one. You'll also have a sidekick in the form of a Darkling (an imp-like creature from the first game), who helps you out by breaking open doors, leaping onto opponents faces, and doing crude things to their corpses, but other than some comic relief and a few sequences where you control him, you'll mostly be doing all the dismembering.