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The Darkness 2: Stylish sequel blows away our fears

First look at Digital Extremes' brutal follow-up...

We have a confession; when we first heard that the excellent 2006 FPS The Darkness was being granted a sequel, we did a celebratory jig. When we then learnt it was being developed not by the original's Starbreeze but by studio Digital Extremes however, our joyful skip turned into a fearful tumble to the corner.

We mean no offence of course; Digital Extremes has made valuable contributions to some top titles in BioShock 2 and Unreal Tournament, and its debut solo title Dark Sector was decent. But it's always been the co-wingman, the go-to guy who'd stick a solid online component onto your head-deep work putting together a single-player epic.

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It's hardly the main attraction - a like-for-like replacement for one of the most talented FPS developers in Europe, is it? Recently we sat down to watch The Darkness II in action and we were proved VERY wrong.

THE DARKNESS... MY OLD FRIEND
The sequel takes place two years after the events of the original Darkness, with monster-powered Jackie Estacado now head of the family and living the life of a high-rolling gangster. He's basically a hell-powered Tony Soprano, which means he quite often gets into trouble...

Our demo starts with Jackie flickering his eyes, trying desperately to focus on what turns out to be a very un-friendly mobster standing over him. He can hear a noise that sounds like the hammering of metal, and a few swings of his head reveals Jackie's being literally nailed through the hands to a wooden cross - a crucifixion.

Jackie notices a shadowy figure at the back of the room. "You've been keeping something that was once lost," the blackened shape whispers. "Something that doesn't belong to you"... and queue flashback.

Digital Extremes is using its own internal engine for The Darkness II, called Evolution. 2K stresses that this enables the creators to really go wild with the technology that it built, and we don't think we'd be exaggerating when we said that visually, Darkness II is far more impressive than its predecessor.

Our first-look picks back up a few days before the torture scene, with Jackie strolling into a packed Restaurant. He's met by an accomplice who greats him with a strong Italian-American accent and starts to walk him to his table at the back of the restaurant.

The scene looks fantastic: There are hundreds of diners bantering and fiddling with scenery on their respective tables, in a sequence that wouldn't look out of place in the aforementioned gangster series.

Digital Extreme's new art-style, while not quite cell-shaded as previously reported, is striking. Characters and scenery are decorated with a thick black outline in an almost Borderlands-esque fashion. The addition emphasises smaller details in the diners' faces and clothing, while making everything on screen stand out in a tribute to The Darkness' own comic book routes. We like it.

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Jackie arrives at his table and sits down in a bumpy, visceral fashion that nods back to the original game's first-person cinematics.

Opposite him are two attractive young ladies who promptly lean over and ask, "remember us from the club?" Before Jackie has a chance to answer, in a nod to another of the first Darkness's traits, the blonde face across the table is quickly replaced by a bloody hole as a bullet shoots through the back of her head.

We were delighted to discover that The Darkness II is a brutal and violent shooter - more so than the original, going by the demo - and there are plenty of opportunities to see blood spill as unknown assailants follow up the assassination by setting fire to the restaurant and storming through the windows guns blazing.

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