Darksiders Preview: Blasts From Pasts

The first game we've ever been told will include a "badass door" is also scheduled to be the first game released in 2010. And so much of it seems so familiar.

Pay no attention to the 2010 release dates for the next of mythical action champ God of War and the game already occupying the spot of number one contender, Dante's Inferno. They're going to be beat, on the calendar, at least, by another titanic, mythological struggle wrestled into game form, Darksiders.

THQ's epic-in-the-making is forging an identity shaped by many other games. But can it do more than match their features? Can it boast a worth and allure of its own?

What Is It?
Darksiders is a long-in-development (I saw it at E3 2007) action-adventure game from Vigil Games set for 1/1/10 release on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Players control War, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, whose possibly erroneous summoning to Earth ignited the end of the world and made War the enemy of demons and angels. Fighting and exploring a hub-and-dungeon world — that's the Zelda connection — War must claim key items and develop his arsenal in order to stay alive and get vengeance for whoever set in motion the events that set Heaven and Hell at his throat.

What We Saw
THQ brought the game's E3 build to New York, allowing me to re-play the portion Crecente tried during his May pre-E3 event as well as watch the parts that reminded me of Panzer Dragoon, Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Gears of War and games starring The Incredible Hulk.

How Far Along Is It?
The game's set for 1/1/10 release, but the slices I saw looked feature-complete.

What Needs Improvement?
The Unique Parts: Darksiders isn't going to be released for a while, so it's no tragedy that the game is currently pitched and shown with a bunch of obvious references to other games. The crossblade War can hurl can be aimed and locked onto multiple targets as well as ferry elements like fire from one target to the next. That capability is used to beat a winged big-breasted she-bat boss in Darksiders but that looked ripped from the boomerang of recent Zeldas. War can arm himself with limited-use demon weapons like a cannon which fires molten spears that he carries low, next to his right thigh like he's got a heavy weapon in Halo 3. A one-time-only flight sequence resembles Panzer Dragoon. Even War's horse, which is gained a third of the way into the game, may have flaming hooves to distinguish itself from Ocarina's Epona but still seems like an idea borrowed rather than borne. The borrowing of ideas isn't inherently bad, but it would be a pity if the onslaught of homage suppresses the expression of a Darksiders identity of its own. This is, after all, a game that includes the procurement of angel technology. More of that, please.

Darksiders Preview: Blasts From Pasts

What Should Stay The Same?

Cornucopia of Chaos-Causers: More so than God of War's Kratos, War is armed with a wonderfully absurd arsenal. He's got a big sword and that throwable boomerang-blade. He's also got demonic guns, a gauntlet, all kinds of enemy-specific one-button kills (like squashing an attacking undead guy's head in his fist), the aforementioned cannon of glowing-red spears, a horse he can call on that will race under him and catch him if he summons it while he's in mid-air freefall, an impressive red-and-black walking brimstone havoc form and plenty more. This game might give Devil May Cry 4 a run for offering the most ways to fight unrelenting hordes, and just about every technique offered is impressive, in that macho death-dealing kind of way.

Comic Book Style: The game is promoted as the realization of comic book artist Joe Madureira's creative vision. Not surprising, to those who have seen Madureira's art, characters are chunky, with big boots and gauntlets sporting something of an Asian warrior Manga influence. The characters – if not the landscape – are colorful, and everything is aggressive and fantastic at the same time. The game's visual muscles are constantly flexed, showing even what would be a boring door in another game as an impressive (badass?) living rock door giant. The imagination in the visuals is there on the surface and rendered with undeniable enthusiasm.

Final Thoughts
Darksiders controlled just fine when I played it, but I lean toward an innovation-bias. I want to see what's new. Darksiders currently feels built upon what has been. That foundation is solid as there were no glaring weakness in what THQ has been showing. But what should earn Darksiders attention for itself?

It's the game's fiction that stands the best chance of breaking out. At the right moment, it seems like it can. But if that moment would be early next year during the lead-up to the release of God of War III isn't so certain. Darksiders will have to be even more convincing that it can be a fun and satisfying game that can prove it's worthy of a following.