The video game industry seems to have an emphatic love affair with the end of the world. You’ll find that not much has changed with the start of 2010; the apocalypse theory is alive and well, albeit growing more than a little old. Darksiders takes the end of the world theory, and runs with it as if the game creators penned the concept all on their own. The game draws heavily from biblical tales of the apocalypse, but does so almost in jest, as if to let the gamer know the world may end one day, but probably not how Darksiders portrays it. Extracting pre-existing concepts is something Darksiders does to a point where many people will be left wondering what original ideas the developers had. This action game draws so heavily from other well-known titles that it’s hard to feel like this is a new game. Still, if you are a fan of games in franchises like God of War, Devil May Cry, or Zelda, you just may have found a perfect early-year purchase.
Darksiders puts you in the role of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. What the human race doesn’t know is that there is a secret balance between Heaven and Hell, a pact that will not be broken until the end of days. The game opens with a comic-style cinematic that illustrates this balance, and gives a bit of background. The comic book art style comes from the involvement of Joe Madureira, the artist who worked on Uncanny X-Men. This opening is one of the best parts of the game, which sadly goes downhill fast after the world ends. War is accused of prematurely starting the apocalypse, and after fighting and defeating both angels and demons; you are stripped of your powers and tried in front of the Charred Council. The council doesn’t trust War, so they set The Watcher, voiced by Mark Hamill, to accompany him as he returns to Earth to seek revenge and try to fix everything that is now wrong. A hundred years have gone by, and the surface world is a vast wasteland filled with demons, zombies, and the occasional angel.
The visual style is decent, but not nearly as good as some other titles on the PlayStation 3. All of the characters, from the angels and demons, to bosses and War himself are colourfully presented. This is a breath of fresh air in the sense that a post-apocalyptic wasteland isn’t just grey, and is full of vibrant, striking creatures of all shapes and sizes. However, the actual environments are fairly uninspiring. The opening of the game sets you in a city, destroying both angels and demons. We loved this part and felt the game had some serious potential. As it progressed and we were transported one hundred years in the future, the world started to fall asleep and the game felt as if it was running on fumes.
As mentioned earlier, the game draws heavily from other games. The first and most noticeable comparison is God of War. The combat is nearly identical. You’ll double jump, slowly falling back to the ground while hacking and slashing at enemies. The action is fairly fluid, and you’ll spend most of your time fighting groups of enemies, meaning you want all of your hits to count. The good news is that the combat works pretty well, but not perfectly. Fundamentally, Darksiders is a competent hack ‘n slash romp mixed with some minor platforming, and heavy puzzle-solving features, though doesn’t execute these aspects quite as well as we had hoped.
Your primary weapon is a giant sword that slashes and bashes enemies in graceful combos. You’ll also get a host of secondary weapons, including projectile artillery. Most of the combat is dealt with in basic combos, so you shouldn’t expect a great diversity in each battle. Boss fights, however, a completely different beast all together. Instead of tests of might, the boss battles require you to use more puzzle-solving style attacks, coupled with a healthy share of good timing. Your weapons, abilities, health, and wrath (the game’s form of magic), can all be upgraded through a travelling demon-salesman named Vulgrim. We enjoyed his wisecracking demeanour, but as a tool for the game’s progression, this feature works just fair as some of the upgrades don’t feel all that useful.
One of the best parts of the combat system is this little feature that allows for finishing moves on all enemies. Once an enemy has about one-quarter of his health left, you can tap the circle button to take down the enemy in a gory finishing move. During this sequence War is invincible, so it’s not only cool to watch, but also a useful tool when planning your attack strategy. The combat can be difficult sometimes, so giving yourself a couple seconds of immunity is certainly a pleasure. We enjoyed these brutal attacks, but were again reminded of Kratos slashing away at countless enemies.
The game appears to almost steal directly from the Zelda franchise in that you venture into 4 dungeons, each with obtainable items that are required to continue to the boss. All that’s missing are Zelda’s iconic sound bits, signifying that you found something useful or a secret passage. You’ll get a mini map showing the enormity of the dungeons, but we found these maps a bit useless. In fact, it’s easy to get lost since the scenery isn’t overly distinct.
Some parts of these dungeon-style puzzles are a bit obvious. For instance, there are loads of these breakable walls that are clearly placed, so you rarely feel like you found something hidden. Speaking of walls, the game is riddled with invisible walls (not the hidden treasure kind, the kind that feel misplaced). This is one of our biggest pet peeves in gaming. The world of Darksiders doesn’t feel real or tangible. For example, if you come across a wall sporting a gaping hole in the middle protected by wooden planks, don’t think that War can cut down the timber to get inside. Very little in the world is destructible, and at this point in gaming, we feel we deserve more realism – funny to write that since this game is extremely fictitious.
Darksiders is repetitive to say the least. You fight the same monsters over and over again, solving similar puzzles in each dungeon. Even the approach to combat is pretty repetitive. Despite your arsenal of weapons, we primarily used our main sword to slash away at the hordes of enemies. At the end of the game you can retrace your steps to gather various collectables that give you souls – in game currency. Darksiders is filled with things to collect, but there feels like a great need to go exploring. You’ll be able to find these treasures easier when you stumble upon the treasure maps.
Some bright spots of the game come from the different mounts War encounters on his quest for revenge. Parts of the game will have you riding on a horse, fighting waves of enemies, while another part will have you fly around on a winged creature, shooting at other flying critters. The flying combat, along with your trusty bladed boomerang, calls forth a cumbersome aiming mechanism. The boomerang was one of our favorite parts of combat, but it’s difficult to really get a good feel for aiming.
Darksiders doesn’t offer a greatly unique story, but it is unique in that you play one of the four horsemen. The concept alone is very strong. We also really enjoyed beating on both angels and demons—something about that felt so awesome. Towards the beginning of the game, you’ll regain the ability to temporarily transform into this giant flaming demon. In this form, you harness intense power and are virtually indestructible. As the game progresses, this ability makes combat quite a bit easier.
The game has some very strong elements, but never really takes off as we’d hoped. Action fans will probably love this game for its fast-paced combat and gory finishing moves. Fans of puzzle-adventure games in the Zelda realm will probably appreciate the obvious homage to the classic Nintendo series. Still, there is the other side of this ‘borrowing from the classics’ theory that will irritate a lot of gamers. We fell somewhere in between these two classes, meaning we enjoyed the throw back to these venerable franchises, but we wish Vigil Games had tried to make a bigger impact kicking off the 2010 gaming season. The game’s concept is strong on the surface, but beneath the colorfully polished exterior rests just another game to keep you occupied for about 15 to 20 hours.