The Darkness II is, simply put, a balls-out action game. A good balls-out action game, mind you, yet if not for its finely crafted narrative, it would be a mindless one. The only reason I bring this up is because this facet of the game appears in stark contrast to the deliberately slow moving, intelligent prequel.
The first game had you exploring a quasi-open world in attempt to exact revenge on those who wronged you. You could simply meander around grim feeling subway stations, converse with the interesting cast of characters, or just watch entire movies on television if you felt like it. Along with this open world came intelligently designed puzzles, that if left unsolved, would hinder your progress through the game's narrative. None of this is in The Darkness II.
This is a striking change to this franchise, and one I don't particularly care for. That being said, I do believe The Darkness II, in context of itself, works perfectly fine for what it's trying to achieve. It's just not the groundbreaking, artistically sound game the original is.
As you take the role of Jackie Estacado, throughout the game you'll pass through surprisingly linear levels, shooting your enemies with weapons that handle beautifully, and using your Darkness tendrils to eviscerate your enemies. In between these linear, set-piece stages are down moments, where you spend time at Jackie's mansion, talking to the one note, often stereotypical characters. The shooting mechanics and Darkness powers are sound, but it won't be long into the game before you realize that's all the game has to offer.
That isn't to say there isn't depth, however. There is a surprisingly large skill tree that Jackie can use to level his powers up. Through gaining "Dark Essence" (the game's version of experience points), Jackie can invest perks into gun handling, Darkness execution moves, or throwing your Darkling sidekick around to pounce on enemies, which will inevitably lead to the Darkling pissing on their corpses. The small moments like this, such as impaling your enemies with parking meters, are what makes the game's combat fun and interesting. It also doesn't hurt that you can dual-wield most weapons, and the gunplay here is extremely solid, if a tad too auto-aimey and sticky. Thankfully, you can turn the aim assist off in the options menu.
Without spoiling anything, the narrative The Darkness II presents is a strong one. It's just a shame it wasn't implemented into the actual gameplay in a more efficient manner. You'll hear characters endlessly spout exposition on your post-level trips to your mansion, and while the voice acting presented is certainly top-notch, particularly Mike Patton reprising his role as the titular Darkness, most of the characters are all way too one-dimensional. They won't have much of anything to say aside from critical narrative points or stereotypical mob chatter. It's a shame, as the characters in the original were all well fleshed out, interesting, and didn't come off as parodies of themselves. Though the narrative is strong, and will ultimately be the driving force of what sees you through this action-fest, the characters can sometimes do their best to make sure you won't want to care. Luckily the story here is as enjoyable as it is, presentation gripes aside, and is absolutely worth seeing through to the end.
Graphically, the game opts for a cel-shaded style, and most of the time, it looks gorgeous. Framerate drops are minimal, and the textures (when they decide to pop-in after an occasional hiccup) are sharp and artistically beautiful. Light and shadows are used to great extent, which is a good thing, as a gameplay mechanic revolves around shooting lights out to make sure Jackie can regenerate health when he's actually in the shadows. The screen effects used for when Jackie is exposed to light are aptly disorienting and do their job wonderfully. All in all, it's a great looking game, but it's missing the dreary tone the first game was praised for. It's still a great looking game, it's just not atmospheric, and the linear levels and stereotypical mob guy characters really enforce this notion.
All this being said, I would still recommend The Darkness II. If you're into modern FPS games. The game does play smoothly, and The Darkness powers implemented are interesting enough as a gameplay mechanic to keep you playing. Ultimately, though, the strong story here is what will keep you invested, even if it doesn't quite reach the level of greatness as the original. It's a good game, but its shockingly short length clocking in at a measly 6 hours, and overall shortcomings when compared to the original hold it back from being great.