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'The Darkness II '

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"The Darkness II' is gross! Really. Blood's always splattering everywhere. Pistols and machine guns and shotguns are as gruesome as ever, but in "The Darkness II" you have the added option of just stunning all your enemies and running in to super-murder them.

When you initiate a super-murder, one of three things will happen. In the first, one of your two demon-tentacles will coil around your opponent, lift him up, and hold him horizontally while the other tentacle bursts through his chest from bottom to top. This is called ANACONDA, and it gets you 30 points. The second option has a tentacle on each of your enemy's feet, dangling him in the air for a moment before ripping him in two. This is called WISHBONE, and it gives you 30 points. The final option has one tentacle hold the guy still while the other tentacle whips his head clean off. I can't remember what that one's called. It's worth 30 points.

To activate a super-murder, you have to press the left bumper to lash out with your left tentacle and grab an enemy, and then press A while he's grabbed. One of the three animations above is randomly chosen. While it's happening, you're invincible. Other dudes are probably still shooting at you, but they don't do damage until you're done wrecking whichever poor guy is in your clutches. If you're smart you picked the perk that heals you every time you super-murder, and you can pretty much chain super-murder to super-murder and take out four or five guys pretty comfortably.

You have to stun an enemy before you can grab them, though. For about half the game you can either slap a dude with your other tentacle or shoot him approximately one time to make him vulnerable, but eventually dudes start bringing armor and weird shield things and tentacle-evaporating flashlights and stuff, and it gets pretty serious. Two or three guys, OK, no problem. More than that gets sketchy.

I picked the burp perk pretty early, which launches some kind of weird hornet blob that totally debilitates a group of enemies. Once you burp you can just sprint in and pick all the dudes off one by one. But! The burp only lasts for so long. It would be plenty of time if you were just shotgunning everybody, but once you commit to full-time super-murdering - which, I mean, come on, 30 points! - it gets tricky. The problem is that gosh-darned ANACONDA super-murder. It takes like six seconds! It's probably twice as long as WISHBONE or the head-lopping thing. Since you don't take damage during any of them, it doesn't really seem like a problem - until you're trying to conserve precious burp-seconds.

So, basically, this is how my entire experience with "The Darkness II" went: run into room; burp on everybody; dash around ripping everybody apart; hope I don't get an ANACONDA.

That's it! It's a silly, actiony game. For the first couple hours it feels like an epilogue to the first game, for the second couple hours it feels like a thing you kind of want to just get over with, and then it's done. The campaign never really stretches out the game's combat mechanics, opting instead to just keep pushing the story along. The co-op Vendetta mode puts you through tougher stages against waves of enemies and bosses and stuff, and I guess it probably explores these mechanics more thoroughly. But who cares? You could just fire up "Gears 3" and play Horde mode, or something.

I'll just say that this is the first game I can point at and say, "These guys definitely played Bulletstorm," and I bet it'll be the first of many. It's too bad they (mostly) missed the point!

The guns make pretty good sounds, and the clouds are pretty great. One of the characters is a kind of strung-out Woody Allen. One of the last dream sequence things has that Blind Melon song playing in the background. That's pretty weird.

1 star (out of 4)

Ben Hornsby would like to recommend "Escape from Butcher Bay," which, like "The Darkness II," is about hiding in shadows and murdering people. Except it owns.

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