Violence in video games is a subject that tends to raise its bloodied head on the rare occasion that a product - in this case Mortal Kombat - gets refused classification in Australia. So when we spent time checking out the incredibly violent The Darkness II with producer Tom Galt, who had previously worked on Dark Sector - another game that was refused classification - the subject of the Australian ratings system was seemingly unavoidable.
"It’s this weird mix," claims Galt. "Some get through and some don’t."
Dark Sector didn't make it through but Tom Galt who is, as you'd expect, quite well informed on the R18+ issue, claims that improvements in his team's ability to provide context via story has made him confident the game will pass through the Classification Board unscathed.
"It seems to be all about story context," says Tom, "and since we do have that story - where our narrative context provides a reason why you’re doing this stuff - I'm hoping it'll get through."
The Darkness was one of the first really strong narrative driven shooters released this generation and with Paul Jenkins, writer of both the comics and the original game, returning for the sequel, Tom and his team have made story their main priority.
"That’s the thing that sets the game apart," claims Galt. "The story beats are really important. Paul Jenkins, the writer of the first game and the comics, he's involved in this game as well. The pacing of The Darkness II is important.
"Our high level goal in this game was ‘service of story’. As much as we’re going to improve the mechanics of the game, story is the first point."
The Darkness II is set a couple of years after the events of the first game, and finds Jackie Estacado in a more established position as head of the Estacado family. After a brutally executed opening sequence, which seamlessly integrates playable flashback sequences into the main narrative, Jackie finds himself, literally, with his own cross to bear - with 12-inch nails being explicitly brutalised into his hands.
As he inevitably breaks loose, however, all hell breaks with it - again literally - as the full extent of Jackie's new Demon Arm powers are revealed.
"When we saw the IP," mentions Galt, "we thought, 'what should we do with these demon arms?'"
After roughly two minutes of in-game footage, we get an answer to that question - in the form of close-combat carnage. Jackie uses his demon arms to crush skulls, swipe bad guys, and seperate limbs from torsos.
"We wanted the demon arms to get up close and rip enemies in half. We loved the first game, but it didn’t really give you that opportunity - we wanted to create that ‘quad wielding’ experience."
It's precisely this sort of attitude that makes us simultaneously excited about The Darkness II's visceral new direction, yet worried about its potential for release in this country - but if games like God of War III and Duke Nukem can make it through unscathed, for better or worse, we may find ourselves able to play this game with an MA15+ rating.
"I hear what our publisher has done with getting games into territories where I didn’t think they would make it," says Galt, "so I’m hoping they can work some magic for us."