The first “Darkness” game took players on a journey with mafia assassin Jackie Estacado, as he made gains and explored the underbelly of the crime world with the power of the darkness. Now, the second installment jumps forward two years with Jackie more connected to the darkness and clearly more powerful. As the current don of the Franchetti crime family, his story becomes more aligned with that of the comic book the game is based on, while still creating a world of its own.

After several cancelled release dates – the game was originally scheduled to be released July 2011 –and a long wait for fans, “Darkness 2” finally hit stores on February 7. The delay was worth it, as the game has attained an impressive look and a noteworthy story narrative. The use of the new cell-shading technique and a darker style results in beautiful game-screens, making the game art more aligned to comic book art.

Readers of the comic who enjoyed how amusing Jackie’s helpers, the Darklings, were might find it puzzling that the current game has eliminated these characters, who held specific roles and tasks in the first game. Instead, Jackie relies on one unnamed Darkling in particular, who ends up being an invaluable ally and promises to be an important character in the game's narrative as well. This one Darkling will assist Jackie at many points and in different ways through Jackie’s fights and exploration. Fortunately, the disappearance of such a large cast doesn’t lead to a negative effect on the game, but rather results in more personality for the existing characters, a welcome aspect in a game full of graphic violence.

The creation of an interesting narrative and intriguing characters is something that Starbreeze did well in the first game, and Digital Extremes successfully carries these features into the current “Darkness” game. Compared to most action games, which have lacking, flat characters, the “Darkness” series stands out for its rich character development.

In the sequel, many of the important moments occur in Jackie’s home, while in the previous game they were more spread throughout the world’s settings. While the concentration to a single location makes these moments less surprising to find, they do allow players to not accidently miss them by running into a gunfight as might happen in the first game. Building up this virtual world through significant small moments gets the player invested in this world and those who inhabit it, instead of simply reveling in creating scenes of unique brutality.

In this game, the new challenge to Jackie’s powers is The Brotherhood, a group that seeks to take control of the darkness for their own mysterious purpose. In order to stay alive against this enemy over the course of the game, players need to augment Jackie's already formidable powers, using a talent tree and a Dark Essence point system to upgrade his skills. Within the tree there are multiple branches that focus on different aspects of gameplay, including new abilities and attacks, enhancements of attacks, and perks for Jackie's health and weaponry. Examples of these abilities include “Swarm,” which disables enemies with swarms of darkness, and “Demon Blades,” which strengthens Jackie’s demon arm attacks. These abilities allow players to develop their own strategy of improving and playing as Jackie.

An exciting mode for game play is Vendettas, a co-op multiplayer mode for “Darkness 2” that can be played with up to four people. The characters in Vendetta each have their own history that plays into the main storyline. Vendettas’ story runs parallel to the events of Jackie’s campaign, and features a cast of characters with their own unique abilities that are tied into the powers of darkness that Jackie holds.

The control of more unique characters and darkness powers is also made available through the new Quad-Wielding combat, which allows for the use of darkness abilities and weapons at the same time, creating a quickly paced game that flows easily. If one is willing to dive down its dark alleys, one can easily find much to discover. All together the game’s features create the potential for it to be an even better game than the original, deserving of the spotlight. ?

“Darkness 2” is available for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.