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Twice as slice: The Darkness II gives 2012 a bloody start

2K has braved a release for a sequel to one of the most underrated gems of this generation. As Johnny Cullen discovered, The Darkness II is more than worthy of the risk.

The story (albeit, a short one), a ton of gameplay improvements, the inclusion of a New Game+ mode and Vendettas co-op make The Darkness II the first game released this year that I actually like.

Truthfully speaking? I didn't go too far into the original Darkness. I kept telling myself I should play it before its sequel arrived, but I never allowed myself to get dragged into Jackie Estacado's first waltz with games. I'm kicking myself for not doing so: the sequel is all kinds of awesome.

For those that didn't complete the Starbreeze original, there's a handy video at the start of the Digital Extremes sequel that brings you up to speed on the story. From then, it's action all the way. Jackie is up against a force known as the Brotherhood, as well as his own personal demons - literally. Since the events of the first game, he's kept The Darkness bottled up, until a hit on him at a restaurant allows a comeback for his otherworldly malevolence.

It's non-stop violence as you head through parts of New York attempting to identity your would-be assassin. For the first quarter of the game, you'll come back to your apartment and talk to various key characters who set you up for story missions. In addition, you can talk to any number of NPCs whenever you like.

Starbreeze's original take on The Darkness was a serious, realistic-looking shooter. Digital Extremes has gone back to comic roots, given the sequel a cel-shaded look that has a lot of similarities to Ubisoft comic shooter XIII. It brings out a unique side to the world of The Darkness missing from the first game. Credit should go out to the DE team for art design; it's certainly impactful.

Quad damage

The core play concept has remained largely the same, but the introduction of an XP system brings with it a a skill tree. Jackie can buy skills within a specific group to increase the strength of his Darkness powers, such as, for example, new executions. Jackie has demonic tentacles over his shoulders, allowing him to "quad wield". As well as using guns, he can kill enemies with gruesome slashes, lopping people in half, removing limbs and all the rest of it. You also get to control your British-voiced Darkling pet in certain parts, which breaks the pace. I would have enjoyed a few more of these.

The Vendettas co-op mode.

When the game wraps - the ending leaves it wide open for a third stab - a New Game+ option opens, allowing you to run through again with all the skills you collected the first time.

DE has chucked out the competitive multiplayer from the first game and put in four-player co-op, playable either online or offline by yourself. Vendettas mode lets you pick one of four characters separate from the main story and go on missions - again, outside the main plot - with their own Darkness powers linked to unique weaponry. I haven't gone too far with Vendettas, but first impressions are decent.

I saw The Darkness II twice before launch, and while I was impressed with what I'd seen, I still underestimated it. Digital Extremes has managed to add its own stamp while staying true to the Starbreeze original. The story (albeit, a short one), a ton of gameplay improvements, the inclusion of a New Game+ mode and Vendettas co-op make The Darkness II the first game released this year that I actually like.

Should probably finish the first one now.

The Darkness II is out now for PC, PS3 and 360.

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