Byline: Joseph Szadkowski, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Jackie Estacado's plunge into demonic insanity returns in The Darkness II: Limited Edition (2K Games and Digital Extremes, rated M for mature, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99).
Adapted from Top Cow Productions' popular supernatural horror comic-book series, this first-person shooter taps into a player's excessively violent side as he sets out on a path of retribution and madness that ultimately may lead to the devil's doorstep.
Story: From the game website - It's been two years since Jackie used his power to kill the men responsible for his girlfriend's murder. He's been unable to shake the memory of Jenny's death since bottling up the Darkness, and now it wants out. A botched attempt on Jackie's life opens the door for the Darkness to re-emerge and sets Jackie on a brutal and personal journey as he unravels the mystery behind the attack and the motives of the Darkness.
Play the role: Through a story written by legendary comic-book scribe Paul Jenkins (Incredible Hulk, Hellblazer and Wolverine), a player is Jackie, the Don of the Franchetti crime family, as he harnesses the obscene powers of his demon soul.
That means the return of a pair of razor-toothed demon-headed snakes that hang out over each of Jackie's shoulders. When in the shadows, he can take advantage of the demons and a little funny fellow named a Darkling who even stars in a few of his own missions.
Beware, however, of any light source and destroy it whenever possible. It will drain our twisted hero's powers and disorient him as the voices of evil cry out in pain.
The 19-chapter story clocks in at about five hours of action. The player sets out to learn the true fate of Jenny and to stop the Brotherhood - a secret society led by the facially disfigured Victor Valente that wants to steal the Darkness from him and use it for the society's own evil purpose.
The plot mixes a gratuitous blood feast with moments of genuine psychological drama, and the settings include an Italian restaurant, a New York City subway, a mafioso's mansion, a brothel, a cemetery, a deserted carnival grounds and a mental asylum.
Get to the action: It's a Darkness hunger satiated only through violent, rampant destruction with help from the new quad-wielding control scheme. It offers players the ability to easily manipulate the demon-headed tentacles to grab items or attack while firing two weapons simultaneously.
A player will discover firepower - including ornate pistols, assault rifles and shotguns - and ammo scattered across the terrain and near fallen foes as he takes down teleporting goons, whip-wielding thugs, shielded lackeys, lamp-pointing lunkheads and bosses who seldom challenge skills.
Memorable moments (in no particular order): Riding in a cart through a carnival horror house that looks as if it were conceived by Clive Barker; the creative use of propane tanks, fan blades and car doors; watching the Darkling drive a truck through a gate and cause a massive explosion; any encounter with Vinny or Jimmy the Grape; cut scenes of Jackie dressed in black doing his best imitation of Criss Angel; walking to a funeral in the rain.
Violent encounters: Playing this game might finally buy me a ticket to the dark realms for reveling in its excessive, gratuitous, riddled-with-profanity bloodlust.
Players are encouraged to rip the hearts out of victims and have Jackie's tethered demon heads eat them to regain health and to collect essence to buy ghastly upgrades.
The snakes also use a variety of methods to kill enemies in their reach, not limited to ripping out the spines and skulls from their torsos, popping though their midsections like an Alien chest-burster and splitting humans in half like wishbones.
Suffice to report, this level of grotesque continues with the upgrades bought through a talent tree. …