Darksiders, brought to us from Vigil Studios and published by THQ, puts players in the shoes of War, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The opening act of the game takes place in the midst of a battle royal between heaven and hell. Apparently celestial politics are even more contentions than the knockdown drag out political fights found here on earth. Shadowy forces in heaven and hell have decided that they can’t wait for the end of the world to happen in its due course and have jumpstarted the end of days. War makes the mistake of showing up to the party early, only to find that it’s a false alarm and that not all of the seven seals have been broken, which apparently is the official start of the Apocalypse. War shows up without his 3 fellow horsemen, in time to witness, and participate in a battle between angels and demons.
The celestial powers that be answer to The Charred Counsel, which amongst other things arbitrates disputes between heaven and hell. They promptly lay much of the blame for the Apocalypse at War’s feet. He’s stripped of his rank and much of his power and instead of being put to death manages to convince the counsel to let him return to earth to find the ones responsible for jumping the gun on the Apocalypse.
If that little summary seems convoluted, it’s because Darksider’s story is hopelessly so, but oddly, that’s part of the game’s charm. The story is epic, over the top and the characters are larger than life. Before your time with Darksiders is over you’ll go toe to toe with demons the size of houses. You’ll spill thousands of gallons of demons’ blood–a statistic the game tracks. The voice work is superb, especially that of Mark Hammil, voice of the Joker in Batman the Animated Series. The game is clearly meant to be a new franchise as it nicely lays the ground work for a sequel. While the story is nowhere near as well written as God of War, I found it more than compelling enough to want to see it through to the end, which took me the better part of 20 hours. In any follow up, I’d like to see at least a few human beings. Watching angels, demon lords and mythical creatures punch one another through the ruins of mankind’s cities never got old, but it would have been nice to see how humanity dealt with the end of the world. Where were our armies? Surely the angels and demons didn’t shrug off our nuclear arsenals and our cruise missiles, right? Darksiders has a good story, but I think that there’s a great one yet to be told set in the amazing world Vigil has created.
The Art of War
One of the more striking things about Darksiders is the art direction. It feels very much like the comics that came out in the 90s. I’m thinking here of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, and Rob Liefield’s Youngblood. This comic book aesthetic isn’t surprising since comic book great, Joe Madureira, is responsible for much of the Darksiders’ development and all of its character design. The horseman, War, is huge, hulk sized, in fact. In comparison to objects in the game world, like cars and the occasional bus you’ll be lobbing at the demon hordes and angelic hosts, War seems to be about 8 feet tall. While War would look silly in most contexts, his outsized proportions fit perfectly into a game so epic, that it opens with nothing less than the end of the world . Bright colors, top notch character designs and excellent animations make Darksiders a visual treat. Top this off with an appropriately epic, orchestral sound track, and Darksiders ranks up there with the top games of 2010 (Darksiders was released Jan. 5, 2010, but is stacking up quite nicely against other games released later in the year).
Darksiders has a good story, great graphical and aural presentation, but how does it play? Incredibly well, actually. Vigil borrowed heavily from the game progression of the Legend of Zelda, Metroid and Castlevania schools of game design. Much of the game world is closed to you until you acquire powers and tools that enable you to go places that you could not at the beginning of War’s Journey. Some of these tools are outright lifted from other games. If you’re familiar with Valve’s Portal game, then you’ll wonder whether Vigil crossed a copyright line with its homage to the portal gun, which opens up portals to solve puzzles in Darksiders’ endgame. I didn’t mind though, because the game is so much fun. It’s lengthy, but not boring. Its dungeon crawling has a great balance between combat and puzzle solving. Just when a puzzle is about to wear out its welcome, the solution presents itself, or combat ramps up to break the potential tedium.
Speaking of combat, it’s fast and furious. As War levels up, he acquires new skills, purchased with the souls of his fallen enemies. In addition to his sword, he acquires a gun, a powerful gauntlet, and with the use of a code, a scythe. I never felt underpowered in the game, and towards the end I felt I was a match for a legion of the damned, especially after the acquisition of War’s horse, Ruin, atop which you can one hit kill the game’s weaker enemies.
Darksiders kicks butt. Vigil has stormed onto the scene with a top notch third person action adventure that’s remarkable for capturing the questing of the Legend of Zelda, while fusing it with the violent, comic book aesthetic of games like God of War. War is a great protagonist. To beat the game you’ll have to use your thinking cap to solve puzzles as well as War’s insanely muscled frame to punch demon and angel faces into oblivion. Darksiders earns its mature rating, with over the top violence. Not nearly as violent as God of War 3, but even Kratos would have to acknowledge War is no weekend warrior. Darksiders is held back only by a story that, while engaging enough as far as videogame narratives go, doesn’t live up to the immense potential of the world Vigil has created. I’m looking forward to a sequel that hopefully includes we lowly mortals, if only to bring the ‘holier than thou’ cast of characters down to earth. But consider that a nitpick. Darksiders is one of my favorite action adventure games and is easy to recommend.
FTC Advisory: I purchased a copy of this game for the PS3. In addition, I don’t receive affiliate fees for anything purchased via links from my site.
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