THQ gears gamers up to take on the forces of heaven and hell as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in Darksiders.
Darksiders has been a surprise hit for developing publisher THQ, scoring a higher than normal average on the all-telling Metacritic. While most of the critics love the over-the-top blending of genres mixed up as an action title, this reviewer finds Darksiders to be a let down, after the media built up my expectations. This is bound to be the case with any high scoring game. However, what I expected here was 'Zelda' meets 'God of War', a term that was written over-and-over in various publications. While Darksiders might have a tinge of both those games running its code, in no way is Darksiders the next 'God of War' game, or even sillier, the next 'Legend of Zelda'.
He, Who Rides Alone
Darksiders tells the tale of 'War', one of the four horsemen from Biblical lore, fighting through hell on earth, well not exactly, but close enough. The other horsemen, Pestilence, Famine, and Death, (Strife, Fury, Death in Darksiders world) are not playable characters in Darksiders, as THQ is preventively preparing to build a franchise.
Only being able to play as one of the four horsemen struck me as odd. When you have four characters as rich as the 'Horsemen of the Apocoloypse', it's almost dumbing not to include the other members. Its like 'The Beatles: Rock Band' only including one Beatle, like Ringo. Sure, Ringo can put on a concert, and sing all his own songs, but what makes the Beatles, "The Beatles" is when they are together as a group. Same concept here-- just slightly less convivial, and a hell of a lot more violent.
Today's Forcast: Hell on Earth
Moving into the world of 'Darksiders' you will learn that the seal that bonds Heaven and Hell has been broken unleashing a war between the two divine powers. The Horsemen, the order, has to step in to rectify the situation, which doesn't exactly go as plan. In the early stages of the game, you will be doing battle in the human realm, in a "Hell on Earth" type of scenario, until you are annihilated by the massive Destroyer of the Chosen, Straga. This puts a quick end to the fun, and Darksiders fast forewords a century in the future where Earth is occupied with the walking dead, demon spawn, and heavily armored cherubs. In this post-apocalyptic wasteland you will have to fight even harder to reset the balance of power among heaven, hell, and man.
The Art of the Swing
A post-apocalpyse landscape is the perfect evnvironment for swinging your sword around, fighting the armies of hell. The combat system in Darksiders is one that needs a lot of space to be unleashed, as even one simple swing seems like a huge effort. The combat, for the most part, is a wild button mashing affair with some powers, and ranged weapons thrown into the mix. The combo system isn't kept fairly basic which is nice for those who don't want to memorize thumbstick movements. The on-screen battles are a little slower paced than similiar titles, and for a reference, Darksiders actually reminded me of SEGA's 'Viking: Battle for Asgard' (review) from 2008.
Darksiders can be challenging in this combat at times as you learn how to pull of all the moves. Darksiders formula will not be anything new to any gamer who has enjoyed a hack n’ slash adventure in the past, like ‘God of War’. The boss battles feel pretty epic, although the might be a little too drawn out. The most rewarding feature of slugging through the onslaught of enemies are the brutally-cool death animations when you defeat major, and minor enemies. Darksiders sure earns its "M" rating.
Even though the character of ‘War’ looks like a badass killing machine, there are times when being ‘War’ does not feel powerful at all. The responsiveness of the controls are the main culprit here, and everything from attacks, to blocking, a dashing can be delayed at times. This can be frustrating when locked in a barbarous battle to the death. This adds unnecessary confusion to the battlefield that is somewhat cleaned up by the lock-on feature, but not solved. Having the battle in a relative space helps, but I still think the camera needs a little more room to play than they are given in Darksiders. Even with some frustrations, the combat is addictive, and will please gamers who feel the need to make the body count rise.
Your Soul is Mine!
As you slice through your enemies, you will earn souls, which you can use to upgrade your abilities, or upgrade your warrior. Upgrading is important, as the challenges you will be facing will ramp up early. Besides killing enemies and absorbing their souls (XP), you can earn extra XP by searching out very familiar looking chests. (oh no, I feel another God of War reference coming on). This additional RPG-element adds more depth to Darksiders action giving you reason to squash more heads, rather than moving forward in the plot. Darksiders also has several secret areas to find with hidden objects, and lots of chests, chests, chests.
Continuing to add more of a RPG flavour to the mix is the small mini-objectives like moving objects, hitting switches, and some other puzzles segments. Adding puzzles, and exploration bits does its best to break up the gameplay to add a little more depth. The only thing that I found strange, is how much trouble this mighty horseman has to go through to get what he wants. These archfiends, and angels have him running in circles, instead of his feet being firmly planted in the ground as an authoritative figure. I guess when you're dealing with demons, and such, resentment and trickery is part of the deal.
In Design with Darksiders
What also helps Darksiders stay interesting is the art style. Technically the graphics get the job done, but they are not anything too special. Actually, Darksiders has some pretty bad issues with screen tearing that is yet to be patched up. Screen tearing aside Darksiders runs pretty smooth, without too many issues to complain about. For those who have both consoles and want to know which one performs better, I would give the slight edge to the PS3 over the Xbox 360.
What is special about Darksiders art direction is the over-the-top cartoon(ish) character designs outside of 'War' (the Unreal Tournament Reject). The demon characters, and angels really help make the game feel more distinct and alive. Like the gameplay, you have to give Darksiders sometime before the 'big nasty' creatures start coming out to play. A few of these demon characters are really astounding. Darksiders will definitely please all the gamers who love over-the-top badass monsters.
One observation and a minor downside to all the pumped up demonology is that Darksiders fails to convey a sense of fear like it should. I mean common we are dealing with horrific demons here, I should be a little nervous or scarred when going head-to-head with the biggest and baddest foes in the game. It is almost like Vigil tried too hard to be cool, without feeling out some of the more macabre aspects of hell.
Bigger Doesn't Always Mean Better
Darksiders falls into the trend, the bigger the enemies, the better the game. Well, this isn't always true. You don’t always need hulking monsters in a game just to make it feel bigger, or more epic. At times it Darksiders oversized cast of characters can be a little too much, and the more ‘big guys’ you see and fight, they less impressive they get. This is the same trap ‘Resistance 2’ (review) fell into by cheeping the feel with too many oversized bad guys. However, this is not a reflection of the actual character design, because the bosses look cool (personal favorite Tiamat), but for the most part, a lot of enemies feel unnecessarily oversized.
Will the Real War Please Step Up
Another aspect in Darksiders that I was not too keen on, but accepted once I got into the game was 'War' scurrying across cables and pipes. Having to resort to hand-over-hand cable crossing was a little too silly, braking the illusion of power from the lead character. How can someone who seems like powerful beast of a man, who can throw cars across a city street with easy, cannot jump from building to building? All the climbing up buildings is understandable, but the pipes? They have to go.
Darksiders fantasy role of becoming an all-powerful dealer of death is an average adventure into another post-apocalyptic landscape. The twist here, angels and demons, oh my! Darksiders has its moments with a great sense of action in its combat system, and some impressive characters for you to slug it out with. The only problem is that you are only one horseman, and compared to other games that have a similar feel like 'God of War', or 'Devil May Cry', Darksiders feels like a middleweight fighter coming to a heavyweight bout.
When admitting this isn’t a contender for the action adventure crown, Darksiders starts to hold its own. The combat, while a little forgiving, is satisfying enough to keep your broad shoulders advancing through the wreckage its demon inhabited world. Darksiders has a lot of solid ideas driven by genuine ambition. However, in the end, Darksiders cannot live up to its initial hype. I am sure that when all the movie pitches are put aside, Darksiders II will be an improvement, with more than one horseman coming to the rescue.
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 01.16.10