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The Darkness 2 preview: Dancing in the dark


Jackie Estacado is an indestructible demigod. At least that's what the early stages of a recent demo for The Darkness 2 taught me about the game's main character. After unnamed assailants quite literally crash the dinner he had just sat down to eat -- subsequently murdering the erotic dancers he's dining with, of course -- Jackie's hurt pretty badly. His right foot is clearly mangled from the explosion, and soon enough he's being dragged to safety by a fellow mobster, all the while shooting at foes in pursuit.

Thankfully for Jackie Estacado, though, he can take a lot of bullets. Like, dozens. From point blank range. At one point during the demo, I stopped firing back for a full 30 seconds to see what would happen. Lo and behold, the mobster dragging me kept right at his task and, aside from the occasional splash of red on the HUD, Jackie was no worse for the wear. Though a 2K Games rep assured me that Jackie could die during the sequence, the dozens of bullets that had already riddled him didn't do much damage.

After that worrying intro, however, things improved greatly. Jackie was granted the power of quad-wielding and, soon enough, I was using his two crazy snake arms – the titular Darkness –to impale, assassinate, rip, and a whole host of other verbs, all while firing off bullets with my boring hands. Project lead Sheldon Carter with incoming developer Digital Extremes refers to Jackie's arsenal of arms as a "symphony of death," employing two weapons and two arms all at once to engage multiple enemies in a variety of ways.

Gallery: The Darkness 2 (April 2011 Preview) | 2 Photos

For instance, after exiting the now destroyed restaurant into the New York City streets, I found myself ripping off a taxi door to shield Jackie from bullets, firing at two of the gunmen, and then using the door to horizontally divide the third assailant with a quick toss. And that's before I started whipping around Jackie's second snake arm, which can quickly be used to rip apart enemies. Carter assuaged my earlier concerns, saying, "The first few levels of the game, we're basically getting you familiar with it, so it's okay if you kinda cake walk through guys. But as it goes on the challenge ramps as well." The Darkness 2 enables this madness by mapping each of Jackie's guns to the two controller triggers, and his two snake arms to each bumper.

I WANT THE DARKNESS!- Unnamed adversary

The feeling of invincibility that I found so distracting in the initial stage of the demo turned to elation in later stages, as I trounced hordes of enemies using the limbs of their fallen comrades ... or with errant metal pipes ... or with Jackie's crazy snake arms ... or, more often than not, some combination of all those things. Sure, Jackie was taking the same flood of bullets from even more enemies than before, but I was so busy whipping things and people around the screen that any concern for that issue was abated.

Any worries of Jackie being too overpowered are put to rest when you find yourself on the street flanked on all sides by bad dudes with guns, forcing you to work through enemies strategically. And adding to the strategy is your (British?) "darkling" friend -- a denizen of the dimension Jackie's tied to via his crazy arms -- who can't be ordered around, but will more than do his part in the assisted murder department all on his own.

Like in the previous Darkness, being in the light drains Jackie's health and renders his tendrils non-functional, so I spent a decent part of my subway crawl picking off lights, so I could sneak up on unsuspecting baddies. That said, Carter assured me that the team at Digital Extremes went out of their way to make sure The Darkness 2 wouldn't repeat the same mistakes with lighting that the first game did -- namely, picking off each light in an area before entering, which many players found tiresome.

Something unchanged from the first game is Jackie's characteristic snide attitude, and the campy lines spewing from his the game's inhabitants. It was impossible not to laugh at an unnamed adversary holding Jackie hostage during a cut scene when he shouted, "I WANT THE DARKNESS!" I'm hopeful that the camp is intended -- The Darkness is a Garth Ennis-penned comic book -- but in all honesty, it was hard to tell. This is video game dialog, after all.

I was told that what I played was stil "pre-Alpha," meaning that Digital Extremes still has a decent amount of work ahead of it before the game's planned fall release. But for now, the goal was simple: get the game into the press's hands (just two, how quaint) and prove that "quad-wielding" is more than just a marketing catchphrase. It is certainly that but it's also a lot of fun. I think I know why that unnamed adversary was so covetous.

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