Developer: Vigil Games
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (reviewed on PlayStation 3)
STORY: The apocalypse has taken place prematurely and you are to blame! War, a horseman of the apocalypse is the protagonist of Darksiders but finds himself in a spot of bother after being framed for causing the end of days a tad early. A long time ago the forces of heaven and hell were at each others throats until “The Chared Council” intervened sending the four horsemen to force a truce upon the two waring planes. Some time after the truce the third plane of earth was formed and it was decreed that the apocalypse would not take place until the humans had grown strong enough to hold their own in the mother of all battles. There’s also something about requiring seven seals to be broken at a certain time to summon the horsemen trigger the end of days but that part is never seems to be fully explained until the end.
It turns out some one fucked up big time because the game starts with Armageddon in full flow, demons and angels are at war tearing the earth asunder wiping out a premature mankind whilst they are at it. War finds himself in the middle of all the chaos ensuring anything that moves gets a taste of his blade. I won’t go into detail on what happens next but War is soon summoned to the charred council and asked to explain why the hell he started the apocalypse early. It is clear from the get go that War didn’t really start the end of days and is given the opportunity to go back to earth about a century after the day of chaos and find out exactly who framed him or die trying.
War does not return to earth alone, the council sends a character called the Watcher (voiced by Mark Hammil) to keep a leash on the horsemen ensuring the councils bidding is done. The Watcher is an interesting character serving as a sort of guide to War but at the same time ensures the horseman knows that he is the Watchers “bitch”.
The Darksiders story is a good one as far as games go, the narrative ensures characters are believable and I found myself ploughing through the game just to see what would unfold next which is always a good sign. The Darksiders experience is a seamless one, there are no load screens or breaks between the action and that really adds to the overall immersion.
SOUND: The sound in Darksiders does its job well ramping up the music during battles, providing atmospheric sounds for the long dungeon crawls and voice acting that is not always spectacular but does a good job and on the most part fits with the characters. Mark Hammil voices “The Watcher” and is probably the best voice in the game. His performance is a bit wacky with a dark undertone very much like his work in Batman: Arkham Asylum where he voiced the Joker. At times I was reminded of the Joker a little too much but overall the experience was not tarnished. War (voiced by Liam O’Brian) has an interesting sound which gives the horseman a sense of depth, you kind of feel War has been around for a long time and you wouldn’t want to mess with him which fits in perfectly with the character.
GRAPHICS: The visual style of Darksiders is something I really liked, the graphics are almost cartoon-like and would not look out of place in the World of Warcraft, if the MMO had a bit of a facelift. The art style was always going to be good with Joe Madureira (worked on Marvel’s fantastic Uncanny X-Men) at the creative helm. His artistic style has definitely rubbed off on the visual side of things. Technically it might not be the most impressive game but it has to be said that the post apocalyptic world of Darksiders is represented superbly.
GAMEPLAY: The gameplay in Darksiders mainly consists of combat and puzzles with a some exploration thrown into the mix. The combat in Darksiders is relatively deep but at the same time you could spam one button to get through the majority of the game which essentially means the novice player has been catered for.
You start out the game with a big kick ass two handed sword which you will probably use for most of the game, I know I did. Your sword attacks are bound to the square button with different variations of mashing square giving different combo results. There is a little room to experiment with the combat early on but it soon gets a bit old. Luckily though, new weapons and combos are just around the corner with the introduction of the demon Vulgrim. Vulgrim acts as the games resident “shopkeeper”, through him you can spend the souls that you have obtained via kills, chests and general destruction. For the most part players will be spending souls on new weapon combos although there is a “weapons” section of the shop which only offers the Scythe. Not really much of a weapons shop but hey it gives everyone the opportunity to claim the Scythe which was bundled with some pre-orders for the small price of 1000 souls. Each weapon has multiple combos that can be unlocked and an enchantment system that allows special effects to be attached to blades. The effects can range from increasing the amount of souls obtained per kill to increasing the damage of a weapon. Finally, each weapon can also be levelled up to increase damage. You level up by simply using the weapon as you gain “experience” for each successful hit upon the enemy.
Once a second weapon is obtained attacks from the new weapon are bound to triangle which is a great bit of design from Vigil Games. Having two weapons bound to different buttons allows for seamless switching between the two in combat opening up a multitude of combinations to be explored. This is where the combat in Darksiders obtains its surprising depth. There is a lot of combat in Darksiders and to compliment the various available combos there are a decent amount of enemies in the game all with varying degrees of difficulty and look. Once wilted down enemies will be open for a finishing move that can hardly be called a quick time event, just one press of the circle button will start and an animation of War tearing into his foe with devastating results, all whilst being completely immune damage. I personally enjoy a well done quick time event (much like the ones found in the God of War III demo played at this years Eurogamer Expo) as it keeps the player in the game. However pressing one button and watching a five second animation I have very little to do with doesn’t make me feel too epic but luckily the rest of the game does.
War has a few power moves available to him for tight situations and they are always welcome even if they are a little lacklustre. War can enter into chaos form which transforms the horseman into large fiery demon. The chaos form is nice way to obliterate enemies even though it is lacking in the combo department with just two attacks to choose from. War can also collect energy in the form of yellow souls which fuel some more powerful and very useful attacks. To start out with you only have one attack which summons blades from the ground all around the horsemen to vanquish nearby foes. There are of course more powerful attacks to be learnt but they felt a little tacked on and I never really found too much use for them.
Darksiders has frequent boss battles to keep you on your toes and for the most part they are very good. Most of them take the form of a phased encounter that requires War to use a newly found weapon or object. I did however have one issue with some of the latter boss encounters, not huge but still an issue nonetheless. The problem is no enemies in Darksiders have health bars which is fine for normal enemies but when it comes to a boss battle you lack a sense of progress. I found myself battling one particular boss for about an hour with no idea if I was making any headway in the encounter, the only way to tell that attacks are landing was to watch the hit counter but hits do not necessarily mean progress. It’s a shame really because my love for the epic encounters was tarnished a little with the repetitive loop I found myself in with no idea of when the crazy ride would end. Don’t let that put you off too much though as some of the boss encounters are truly epic and a joy to play.
Whilst the combat in Darksiders is satisfying the pacing of the game would be completely off if the great puzzle sections were absent. The puzzles in Darksiders emulate the Zelda formula to a certain extent with challenges to be found in the four to five dungeons spread across the game world. Each dungeon offers up a new toy for War to play with and in most cases acts as a new weapon as well as a key for many puzzles. The puzzles are challenging but doable if not completely original. Darksiders emulates some of the best puzzle games including the outstanding Portal. Yes you read that correctly! There is a “portal gun” to be had which is awesome if somewhat limited compared to the original inspiration.
Last but certainly not least a horseman has to go from point A to point B and in Darksiders there are a few ways of doing this. Well as mentioned you play as War, a horseman of the apocalypse but there is no steed to be seen until about halfway through the game when you obtain the aptly named Ruin. Whilst on Ruin, War can travel a lot faster than on foot whilst retaining the ability to attack. The mounted combat in Darksiders is refreshing with the most epic boss battle taking place while in this mode.
Riding on horseback may seem like the quickest form of transportation but the worm holes that Vulgrim offers are the quickest way around the world of Darksiders, providing you have visited the portal you wish to travel to. Whilst not riding on Ruin or in the process of being zapped through portals War finds himself running and gliding to get from place to place. The glide mechanic looks pretty cool and of course serves as a way to traverse the many gaps dotted around the landscape.
LONGEVITY: Darksiders will take the average player roughly 15-20 hours to complete making it a pretty lengthy experience compared to a lot of single player titles on the market today. The end of the game is somewhat artificially lengthened, but that’s not always a bad thing when your enjoying such a kick ass world that Darksiders offers. The replay value for the hardcore will be in maxing out weapons and abilities or playing through again using a completely different combat style.
VERDICT: Darksiders is a visually stylish game that borrows from some of the best games on the market whilst adding its own unique touch. There may seem to be nothing new here, but the gaming experience is fantastic and definitely one that should not be missed.