When I played The Darkness II at PAX East back in March, I thought it was a ripping good time, so I was a bit confused when 2k urged me to play the demo again at PAX Prime. It was the exact same sequence I’d already played through and enjoyed, so I didn’t understand why they wanted me to revisit my time with Jackie Estacado. “It’s better,” they said. “Just go try it.” So I did.

And you know, they were right. It really is better.

The controls have gotten some pretty serious tweaking, which makes using all of the weapons at Jackie’s disposal – guns and demon arms alike – far easier. Left and right guns are controlled with the triggers, while the shoulder bumpers control the demon arms. At PAX East, I died more than once during the sequence when Jackie has to shoot his way out of a burning restaurant, but chalked my wonky aim up to my own sorry skill. This time around, I was pulling off head shots with ease, as the aiming felt more tightly tuned and responsive.

Using Jackie’s demon arms to grab would-be javelins and hurl them through unsuspecting foes was also a lot easier – but still just as satisfying. I suppose it’s possible that impaling bad guys will lose its charm at some point … but not probable. Skewering someone with a parking meter that I’ve just ripped out of the ground consistently causes me to cackle with wicked glee.

So controlling Jackie’s two gun hands and two wiggly demonic arms is far more precise in this new version of The Darkness II, which makes the combat more fluid and fun. The tighter controls also encouraged me to switch between combat methods more frequently, rather than simply relying on whatever seemed to be working at the time. I’d shoot an enemy to soften him up, then rip him apart with my demon arms. Or grab a car door to use as a shield, then fling it across the street to slice someone in half.

The other big overhaul to the demo was the game’s visuals, which have been given a Borderlands-esque paint job. I was told this was to pay homage to The Darkness II‘s comic book roots, but I rather doubt that. When we first saw the game at GDC, Lead Designer Tom Galt referred to the visual style as “graphic noir” and said, “We want it to feel like you’re playing a graphic novel.” But earlier versions of the game used the same realistic aesthetic as the first game. It seems far more likely that the graphical overhaul is a result of dissatisfaction with the look of The Darkness II than it is with acknowledging the source material, but the end result is the same: This new version of The Darkness II looks slick and stylish, and is now far more visually interesting than it was the last time I played it.

My enthusiasm for The Darkness II has been cranked up yet another notch. Sadly, we still have a bit of a wait before we can start eating those hearts. Originally slated for a Fall release, The Darkness II is now due out February 7, 2012.

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