Publisher/Develolper: THQ/Vigil Games
Release Date: 01/05/2010
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Number of Players: Single-player
The third person action genre is getting a lot of love of late, what with the recent release of Bayonetta, and the forthcoming releases of God of War III and Dante’s Inferno. Darksiders though, is a bit different. It’s a fascinating and somewhat compelling take with a distinct mixture of action, adventure, puzzle solving and storytelling. It’s certainly not perfect, but it does what it does very well.
Our story begins with the Apocalypse. The end of the world of man is at hand. Terror and hellfire rain from the skies as hapless humankind is caught in the middle of the final war between Heaven and Hell. Angels and Demons tear each other horn from wing as one of the four horsemen, War, begins cutting his own swath across the human world. Little problem though. The war has been started too soon. The seventh seal has not been broken, and according to the Charred Council, the group charged with maintaining the balance between heaven and hell, War was the one that pushed the “start” button. Needless to say, this is bad. They strip him of his powers and War is left a fraction of his former self, and he is very, very mad. He starts a quest of discovery and revenge as he attempts to clear his name and discover who set him up.
I want to start with the art style here, because this is where Darksiders sets itself apart. I have been a fan of comic books and comic art for the vast majority of my life and one of my favorite artists of the past 15 years has been Joe Maduriera. Joe Mad had fallen out of the comic scene some years ago after the cancellation of Battle Chasers. I am so glad to see him revitalized and putting out some awesome work on the game scene. The designs in Darksiders span the full range of angels and demons and our main protagonist, the fallen Horseman War, is a wonderful amalgamation of dark and light, spanning the bridge between good and evil with his very design. I was kind of reminded of the art style of World of Warcraft for some reason too. Well done.
If imitation is the best and most sincere form of flattery, then Darksiders is really spreading the praise around. War whips the hell out of bad guys like Kratos, solves puzzles like Laura Croft, gets gear like Link, and advances through stages like Samus. There are two good things about this. First, these are great games to imitate, some of the best of all time. Second, Darksiders pulls it off well. I mean, let’s be real. If you’re going to copy someone, you may as well do a good job.
War controls fairly well. Switching from one enemy to another is seamless and the lock on feature keeps War focused on one guy, which helps out a lot, especially in boss fights where the bosses tend to move around a lot. War’s main weapon is the Chaoseater Sword, a seven foot long bringer of pain. Sword attacks are handled by the square button (X on the 360) and for awhile, it seems that you won’t press anything else. There is a lot of button spam at first but luckily, you’re soon able to upgrade combos and find/buy other weapons. Namely, and most importantly, your main secondary weapon becomes the Harvester, Deaths own scythe which increases the number of souls you gain from killing enemies.
I didn’t mention souls? Well I guess I have to rectify that. As War dispatches his foes and opens chests, he collects a number of souls. There are three types. The white souls count as currency, which War uses to pay a rather unsavory vendor for weapon upgrades, health flasks, and combat combos to punish his foes. The green souls replenish health. And yellow souls replenish Wrath, a special combo and powers resource.
Wrath powers are pretty cool. As you advance, you can make blades explode from the ground, damaging all enemies around you, you can poison your foes with the green plague, and even light yourself on hellfire, burning any that you touch, or that dare touch you. To be honest, in the early stages of the game, because wrath is such a precious commodity, and your stores of it are so scanty, I ended up not using wrath powers too much. However, later on, the use of wrath becomes more important and useful.
Because there’s so much you can do in combat, and there’s so much use of shoulder buttons to lock on and modify attacks, combat can get a teeny bit tedious. Generally however, you can adapt to the situation. I will say that blocking and block countering are two moves you should not forget. Once you get the hang of it, and unlock/ buy a number of combos, you can seamlessly move from sword to scythe to ranged weapons, and keep the combo string alive. Not quite as silky smooth as God of War but really, there’s nothing to complain about in most normal fights. There was a boss fight in the latter half of the game where I spent so much time in lock on mode that I think my finger cramped up because you have to hold down the trigger. Controls can be somewhat unresponsive too as War has to finish one move before going into a block, or my personal favorite, or should I say the thing that made me want to break my controller in half, is jump control. I fell to my death numerous times because I ran too close to the edge of cliffs before pressing the jump button, falling before the jump was registered. That is a serious problem in a game that has such a strong emphasis on platforming.
Generally speaking though, the platforming is handled well. War is no Mario however. Carrying that heavy sword and all that armor really holds this guy down. Still, it’s not too difficult to get from one place to another once you get a real handle on War’s powers and abilities. War has a double jump and some nifty gliding wings to enable traversing wide distances. He can hang from ledges (not all of them) and can climb ‘demon growth’ which is like some kind of evil moss that grows on walls and ceilings. Over time, War gains tools to assist in his navigation. Like a hookshot .. err … Abyssal Chain.. which can be used like a grappling hook.
The puzzles in the game will frustrate few, but they are just challenging enough to spend a few minutes thinking and planning the next steps. Usually, the answers are fairly obvious. There are red walls that can be blown up (the little bombs are always close by), blue walls that can be crushed, big blocks that can be moved, time distorters that will give you enough time to get the job done, etc. There are a couple of stages that can take a little time, and affect the pacing. Usually, the puzzle rooms will have just a little combat, nothing to stress you very much.
Gameplay is actually quite varied. Believe it or not, there is a rail shooter stage in here. If you miss Panzer Dragoon Saga, well, you get a little taste of that here too, and that stage is really a lot of fun. There are even some stages where War gets to pick up heavy weapons that his enemies drop, beam cannons and grenade launchers. Using the heavy weapons in these stages is optional but highly, highly recommended.
The story is engaging but not too deep. The setting is all in the world of man 100 years after the onset of the epic war that our hero has been framed for. There are no humans left but we are exploring many remnants of the world past. Crumbling buildings, sewers, and encroaching deserts are the playground. War is a relatively compelling protagonist with a cool demeanor. But frankly, the supporting cast is much more interesting. This frankly is fine enough. After all, the player is the one interacting with everyone. War’s main assistant , The Watcher, is voiced expertly by Mark Hamill. But I wish he was given more to do. It’s always a pleasure to hear Mr. Hamill’s work. Nevertheless, the rest of the cast and voice acting is handled very well. Including War too, even if he is a little dry. Meh, if you were thousands of years old, you probably would have seen everything too. A little hard to shake up, amirite?
Overall, I really enjoyed the game. Top to bottom, there’s tons of quality here. And at somewhere between 15 and 20 hours, there’s enough meat to justify a purchase.
Graphically the game is way above average. Beautifully rendered environs and character designs are telling the tale here. The textures look great from a medium distance but there are some ailiasing issues up close. The effects look great and aren’t overdone. Everything simply serves its purpose visually. No screen tearing in the PS3 version that I could tell. There seems to be a nod toward the color style of the comic book media. This is understandable considering the background of the art designers. Still, for a game called “Darksiders” most of it is kind of bright and colorful. There’s nothing wrong with this, but a few more shadows couldn’t hurt the tone. Honestly, I’m picking nits as the games visuals are quite good in almost every way. The effects are beautiful, and everything has a good amount of detail. I can’t wait to see what a sequel would have in store.
The combat handles fine if a little dicey in boss fights. The puzzles change up the tempo nicely and really add to the experience. The weapon and equipment upgrades seem to happen at a steady pace and never seem to make the player feel overpowered. There is some backtracking to be made to find all the items and secrets in the game as well. I loved the ranged combat segments and the rail shooter stage. The boss fights were pretty good and fairly well scripted. I never really felt overwhelmed or overpowered by either the enemies or the puzzles either which is a good thing. The puzzles don’t exactly require a MENSA membership though, but I still felt proud of myself when I figured something out. Great implementation of great gameplay elements overall, even if all of this has been done before, Darksiders makes it all work extremely well.
The sounds of combat are well done with everything slinging, and clanging just like it should. The script is polished and the storyline really flows. It’s certainly not overly complex for sure. Special nods to Mark Hamill for his work here. Again, I wish he was given a bit more to do. Liam O’Brian, who Plays War himself fits the role beautifully I think, even though he is written a little dryly. The music sets a decent tone but there are no memorable tones here. I kind of miss the iconic theme music we used to see more often in games.
Just about everything is done well enough to earn above average grades here. Looks good, feels good, sounds good, but can it bake a cheesecake?
There are few originality points to be handed out here. But what is here has been executed well.
That spider boss is surely not going to win any beauty pageants. Eww.
Darksiders was a really great experience. I was anxious to see what Joe Mad had in store for us and I was pleasantly surprised with the overall quality, the look and the feel that his group at Vigil has brought to us. This has the makings of an excellent franchise as long as we are treated to a decent story for a second time around. The bar of the 3rd Person Action genre is extremely high, though, and if gamers have only a limited budget to work with, I don’t know if Darksiders has done enough to make it stand out from the other really good choices out there. But frankly I don’t think that’s the fault of the developers. They have put together a solid effort. It’s up to the marketers to let people know about it.
Final Score: 4/5