If you want to get people’s attention, a crucifixion is a great way to start a demo.

Our first look at The Darkness 2 is Jackie Estacado getting nailed to a plank of wood as the Darkness is drawn out of him into a mystical-looking receptacle. A scarred man who walks with a cane is asking Jackie to give up the Darkness within him willingly, but Jackie stubbornly refuses – despite the beating he receives as a result.

As you can tell from the demo’s opening, things have not suddenly become kittens and rainbows for Jackie. The Darkness 2 picks up two years after the events of the first game, and though Jackie is now a a Don in the Estacado crime family, he’s still imbued with the power of the Darkness. As the demo continues, we join Jackie as he visits a restaurant, taking a moment to greet goodfellas here and there as they tuck into a nice plate of pasta. Shortly after he arrives, the restaurant is firebombed and Jackie is gravely injured in the explosion. In a scene reminiscent of the first game’s opening, Jackie must shoot his would-be attackers as his loyal pal Vinnie drags him, bleeding, out the back door of the restaurant.

The action of the demo plays around with the chronology of the game a bit so that we could get to see Jackie’s Darkness powers in action. His left demon arm is used for grabbing – you can wrap up an enemy and finish him off with the Anaconda execution, or you can snatch a car door off its hinges to use as a shield during a gunfight. The right demon arm is for slashing … or just ripping a guy in half. The developers really wanted to make the combat up close and gruesome, and they succeeded admirably. (The execution called The Wishbone is definitely a sight to see.)

One aspect of The Darkness 2 that differs from its predecessors is the use of Darklings – the original inspiration for the Zero Punctuation imp. In the first game, you could issue commands to a squad of Darklings, but the developers felt like that kept the action too far away from you, so in The Darkness 2, you have just one. He’s a fully realized character, however, and “crucial” to the game’s narrative, though we weren’t given a hint as to how. In addition to bringing you guns and ammo that he finds lying around, he’ll also remind you of plot points and objectives so that you’re not left wandering aimlessly around the subway.

Tom Galt, lead designer, describes the game’s visual style as “graphic noir,” and says “We want it to feel like you’re playing a graphic novel.” The play of light and dark is a key element of that feeling; Jackie is uncomfortable in the light, and the player will be, too. Whenever Jackie steps out of the “warm embrace” of the dark, the screen becomes blurry and there’s a high-pitched ringing.

The original The Darkness had some great ideas that just fell slightly short in execution, but this early demo of its successor shows a great deal of style and promise. Or maybe I’m just excited by the idea of using a pair of snake-like demonic limbs to pop people’s heads off and eat their hearts. That could be it, too.

The Darkness 2 is due out for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC this Fall.

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