The comic book style violence of The Darkness II doesn't merely shock, but delivers a sense of empowerment. Series protagonist Jackie Estacado rampages through his enemies, ripping them limb from limb in a bloody dance. The way he bounds through environments, tossing parking meters, car doors and more this way and that, utilizing it to flaunt his destructive abilities is almost artful.
The combat in The Darkness II is vastly superior to that of its predecessor, but the story takes time to warm up. As an origin story, the original game was immediately interesting, as we got to know Jackie as he was introduced to the titular Darkness. In the new game, though, Jackie controls the Darkness, much as he controls his mob family. He's managed to keep his powers in check for some time following the events of the first game, but an attack on his organization by unknown forces brings out the monster inside. Now Jackie must confront not only the creature he's become, but also the painful memories of losing Jenny, the love of his life.
The story feels a bit lazy at times, especially since it copies plot devices straight from the original game, but comes into its own by the end. Jackie's struggle to deal with Jenny's death is touching, reminding us that even "evil" people like him feel love and loss. He was irrevocably harmed by Jenny's death, and the scenes between them in the second game are touching, making The Darkness II feel like a more personal story, especially compared to most other shooters. The story of Jackie's battle with evil forces remains important, but it always comes back to Jenny and his inner conflict, something that's easy to identify and empathize with.
Slower, more story-focused scenes help The Darkness II's pacing, giving it some comparatively less intense moments before ramping it back up with the next epic fight. With Jackie's demon powers he has four arms at his disposal: two human two demonic. His extra limbs allow him to dual wield guns with his human limbs, while simultaneously using his beastly extremities to maim opponents with slashes and toss around pieces of the environment. Because of Jackie's extra limbs and the options they afford every encounter becomes more exciting, a time when you aren't necessarily worried about how you're going to survive, but more about how you're going to have the most fun dismembering all who stand against you.
Finding new ways to kill people is entertaining enough, but you're also enticed into experimenting thanks to The Darkness II's experience system. Kill a guy with bullets and you'll gain 10 experience, but if you manage to wing him and then rip him into pieces with your demon arms you'll get three times as much. Experience matters, too, as it grants Jackie access to more powers, which help reinvigorate combat as the enemies get more challenging. You'll always have staple moves that you come back to time and again throughout the campaign, but the array of powers Jackie has make fighting feel as fun and inspiring as being a kid digging through a toy box..
Despite its strengths, polish issues mar the campaign. On top of potential game ending bugs, broken animations, enemies falling through the floor and other minor issues occur frequently. More noticeably, enemies are often clones of one another, which breaks the experience a bit and makes some would-be nerve-racking moments feel silly. Also a bit frustrating are the occasional frame-rate issues in multiplayer during the more intense firefights. None of the issues made it feel unplayable, but did make The Darkness II feel unfinished.
The Darkness II's multiplayer extends the narrative and the life of the game well after the relatively short campaign. The multiplayer isn't like the original's -- a forced-in and boring competitive multiplayer -- but instead ties directly into the story. You play as one of four Darkness-powered assassins in Jackie's employ, taking on missions that his normal henchmen can't accomplish. The missions generally tie into parts of the story, like kidnapping a guy that Jackie asks for during the campaign, giving them a narrative component that makes them more significant. Even the missions that don't link to the campaign's story are worthwhile, as they give you and your buddies more fights to test your skills on. Most importantly, though, they're fun. They may not be the types of things that grow into an addiction, but the multiplayer modes provide hours of extra gameplay, and give you a good reason to play with friends.