DARKSIDERS (2010) – VIGIL GAMES
As far as Doomsday theories go, the arrival of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is one of the cooler ideas – a meteorite crashing into the earth would be boring, and a giant flood would be kind of predictable. The image of four deities riding across the sky dragging Armageddon in their wake (or if you’ve read Terry Pratchet’s Sourcery, seeing them stop off at a county pub on the way and having their horses nicked while they get drunk) simply sounds that much more impressive. It surprises me then that it took so long for a developer to have the inspired idea to put the player into the shoes of one of the Horsemen. Enter Darksiders, one of the brighter lights to shine during the long drawn out demise of THQ.
In Darksiders, you get to take control of War himself, who is dispatched down to Earth because the Apocalypse has come early. Despite fighting against the tide, without his backup War is easily defeated, and stripped off his powers by the all powerful Charred Council; a kind of EU for the Kingdoms of Man, Heaven and Hell. Determined to clear his name, War returns to Earth to find the truth; which involves laying the smackdown to all number of mythical and hellish beasts. To ensure he doesn’t regain his full strength, the Council decides to bond War to a creature called The Watcher – an ever present ally who can be summoned for advice or to mock War for being weak, and who possess the power to kill War should he stray from his quest.
The story is highly commendable, and one of the definite highlights of Darksiders. Not only is the source material very strong (allowing the introduction of several mythical friends and foes), but the writing is exceptional for a new intellectual property, and it ties in nicely to the gameplay as War gradually becomes stronger as his shackles are unbinded. It also helps that the vocal presentation is superb – Liam O’Brien does a great job as the forever brooding War, and Mark Hamill of all people is on hand to provide the banter as the Watcher.
Elsewhere, Darksiders is solid; the gameplay is most similar to God Of War or Devil May Cry, mixing up hack and slash action with platforming, puzzles and a few on-rails sections. War, as you might expect, is a brutal fighter making good use of his enormous sword Chaoseater and massive fists to make a bloody pulp of both angels and demons. Basic combos can be achieved by mashing the X and Y buttons, but for those with more finesse there are more choreographed offensive manoeuvres to enjoy. By collecting souls from dead enemies, War can invest in new moves or upgrade existing weapons, which are gradually obtained throughout the story. He can also make use of items primarily used for getting around, including a nifty light shuriken, to shake things up during a fight. Fighting never really becomes a chore due to the variety on offer and War’s often ruthlessly efficient way of slaying demons rarely fails to satisfy – but it feels neither as visceral or as gory as Kratos’s rampages in God Of War, nor as stylish as Devil May Cry. It also doesn’t help that War’s best abilities (namely transforming into his true Chaos form or summoning his trusty steed Ruin to fight with him) aren’t available until late game.
The aforementioned puzzles and platforming provide the weaker side of the Darksiders experience. At times War can handle quite clumsily which makes jumping in particular quite troublesome, and the character models are quite static which makes aiming quite jerky. The puzzles that you have to solve aren’t too taxing on the mind, but a few of the later challenges require nothing short of pinpoint timing which can get rather frustrating. It’s far from bad, but it looks supremely unpolished given how much of a thrill the combat can be at times.
In pretty much every category thereafter, Darksiders simply remains above average – which is both a blessing and a curse. The art design of Darksiders world is frankly brilliant (and shows up nicely on the comic book thrown in with digital versions of the game) but the graphics outside of cutscenes are functional rather than beautiful; the soundtrack is mostly average (although the theme to the Garden of Eden is worth a listen) and aside from the usual option to go through again at a higher difficulty level, replay value is mostly minimal. For around 10-12 hours of good old fashioned demon killing Darksiders is worth a punt, and now that THQ has fallen to the depths you can find both this and the sequel (told from the perspective of Horsemen frontman Death) for a pretty cheap price. I maintain however that if you were given the choice between this and God Of War, the latter would win the fight every time – Darksiders does what it does well enough; it’s just that if you are a fan of this genre, you will have already seen this sort of stuff a thousand times before. And sadly, not even the lure of being one of the four Horseman can shake you from that fact.