After our first look at The Darkness 2 from GDC, some of you commented that the up close and personal conflict looked fun, but worried that the controls might be awkward. I wasn't convinced that managing two bumpers, two triggers, and two sticks was going to provide the kind of seamless interface that satisfying combat requires. Now I am.
I essentially played through the same demo that I watched at GDC, first relying on guns to mow down thugs in the restaurant, then taking advantage of Jackie's Darkness powers as I took the fight to the streets and subway. The straight-up gunwork in the restaurant was the least satisfying portion of the demo, if only because popping some guy in the noggin simply isn't as enjoyable as pulling his head off with an enormous demonic tentacle. Pulling the right trigger fires, pulling the left allows you to use iron sights to aim a bit better. You can also dual wield and use each trigger to fire the gun in the respective hand. These controls remain the same even when you're in full-on Darkness mode with your demon arms flailing around, anxiously awaiting their next victim.
Using the demon arms requires aiming with the joystick and either tapping or holding down the shoulder button, depending on what you're trying to do. To grab something with the left demon arm, or throw it, just tap; if the thing you've grabbed happens to be an enemy, you can perform an execution by holding the button down. Grabbable objects are indicated by small glowing spots - a huge help when you're in the thick of a fire fight. There were a lot of conveniently-placed poles and parking meters in the demo, and hurling them across the room to impale bad guys never, ever got old. I'm told you can even skewer two at a time, though I never managed to pull that off. I used a car door as a shield for a while, then tossed across the street to cut a thug in half; a random fanblade yielded similar results. If an opponent is unaware of your presence, or if you can weaken them a bit with gunfire or your slashing arm, their heart will begin to glow, which is your cue they they are now grabbable. Grab their torso and you can perform the Anaconda execution, or latch onto their legs for the Wishbone option.
My enjoyment with the grabbing arm actually led to a bit of difficulty with the slashing arm, however. Its controls are pretty much the same - tap for a quick move, hold to execute. But that arm's reach is far shorter than its companion's. The grabbing arm is great for long distances, but the slashing arm is meant to be a melee weapon and requires Jackie to be much, much closer to his intended victim. Assuming you've closed enough distance, rending bad guys is matter of tapping the right shoulder button and flicking the thumbstick in a particular direction.
The hands-on demo also provided a better introduction to the game's one and only Darkling, who is oddly endearing. Sporting a grubby Union Jack t-shirt and a habit of asking Jackie if he'd "like to play a bit of foo'ball", he entered the demo by killing a thug that had Jackie dead to rights, then promptly pissing all over the corpse. You kind of have to appreciate the support, even if it is a bit unhygienic.
The Darkling (who, it seems, has a name, but everyone was being cagey about what that might be), brought me a gun when I was unarmed, collected ammo that was automatically added to my count, and distracted enemies by jumping on their heads, giving me time to kill them. He's a helpful little guy, and it'll be interesting to learn more about the "crucial" role he plays in the game's narrative.
It all took a bit of practice, but the combat flowed smoothly, was fast paced, and the kind of gruesome glee that makes parents' groups worried. (I cackled every single time I pinned someone to the wall with a pole. Every single time.)
The demo did leave a few questions unanswered, however. Kills netted you points - +10 for a headshot, +20 for a demon arm kill - but what those points will go towards, no-one would say. I'm also wondering about those visions of Jenny that Jackie kept seeing (and that ended up putting him in front of a speeding subway car). But the demo definitely relieved my concerns about breaking my fingers trying to master Jackie's abilities - I'm really looking forward to learning new executions and seeing how else I can use the environment to my advantage.
And, of course, to sending more parking meters hurtling through my enemies' chests.