There are many games you will play in 2010 that will be unique, original creatures. Titles that truly innovate, and for years will be remembered for the trail they've blazed. Darksiders is not one of those games.
Instead, it's an action/role-playing game hybrid where you play as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who's been tricked into starting said Apocalypse when he really wasn't supposed to. Whoops. So you're sent to make amends, and by "make amends", I mean "kill everyone and everything responsible."
Playing through the game, it often feels like every element of Darksiders has been lifted from somewhere else. It plays like The Legend of Zelda (you even get a horse!), only with God of War's aesthetic and combat. There's also a bit of Prince of Persia platforming tossed in for good measure and even some Panzer Dragoon, all the above crudely cobbled together to form something else. It's the Frankenstein's Monster of January 2010.
But is that such a bad thing? Let's find out.
Demon Killer: Fairly early in the game, you gain the ability to transform into what is essentially a giant Balrog. And you can do this once every five minutes or so. Sure, it makes the game too easy as you progress, but when you can click your fingers and turn into a 20-foot flaming monster which can crush enemies at will, I simply do not care.
Mark Hamill: Mark Hamill is in the game. It's not his finest role, but hey, it's still nice hearing the guy, especially since he's playing Darksiders' version of Ocarina of Time's Navi.
Finish Him: Darksiders includes a neat feature whereby enemies close to death (say, they've got 1/3 of their strength left) can be wiped out instantly with a single button press. What's more, those enemies are lit up with an icon indicating this. When you're in the midst of a battle against 5-8 bad guys, it's a big help, as it lets you plan your course through the carnage and deal with enemies one by one.
The Future's So Bright... - I'll get to my grievances with the game's art style later, but one thing that doesn't disappoint is Darksider's colour. Despite being a post-apocalyptic title, the game pops with colour, from War's bright red tunic to lush green and blue water levels to swirling yellow deserts. Even the bad guys are dripping with aqua blues and bright greens. Sure makes a pleasant change from the browns, greys and more browns you'd expect from a game like this.
It's Dangerous To Go Alone. Take This. It's a genuine surprise to see that, in some cases, Darksiders actually manages to succeed in feeling like a Zelda game. After a slow, combat-heavy opening you'll soon encounter large dungeons full of puzzles, then go about unlocking new weapons to unlock new puzzles and defeat new enemies/bosses. Just goes to show that, at least in terms of mechanics, the Zelda formula isn't as hard to copy as you'd have imagined.
Mad Indeed: Much was made of the involvement of comic book star Joe Madureira as the game's creative director. Pity, because Darksiders is a creative mess. Its bulging, ridiculous characters are like something built to appeal to 16 year-old boys from the 1990's, the story is left untended for most of the game and Darksiders' worlds and opponents are so mired in cliché that at times you wonder whether the game's secretly deriding every fantasy game that's come before it.
Ratchet & Clunk: For some reason, there are platforming areas in this game. There really shouldn't be. War's movements are far too cumbersome and "clunky" for wall-running and flying... foxing, meaning some obstacles and areas are far more difficult to traverse than they ought to be. This is also the best spot to complain about the "demonic growth", which is the only substance War can climb in the game. You see, despite the fact the protagonist has metal claw fingers and is a horseman of the apocalypse, he can't climb rocks, or walls, or trees. All he can climb is conveniently-located "demonic growth". It's not the first game to do this, sure, it's just the best example of the way this game implements some ill-fitting and outdated elements.
Hope You Like Fighting: While Darksiders gets the Zelda formula right in some instances, in others, it falls short. In Zelda, the mechanics are only half the fun; the rest comes from exploration, interaction with NPCs and side-quests. Darksiders has mostly... fighting, meaning your only compulsion to advance through the game's sprawling levels is the promise of more combat.
Screen Tear: I played the game on 360, and experienced the worst screen tear effects I've seen since Saints Row. Which, coincidentally, was also published by THQ. It's tolerable most of the time, but in some areas it's almost unbearable.
There's an over-used saying that goes "jack of all trades, master of none". I'm going to use it one more time, however, because that's exactly how Darksiders feels. Yes, it takes the best elements of some of the best games of the past decade and throws them together, but it never manages to mould them all into something truly unique. It's like watching a YouTube mashup of your favourite games in lieu of, well, actually playing through your favourite games.
You've also got to wonder about the timing of the game's release. Zelda inspirations aside, you'll spend the bulk of your time in Darksiders brawling, and with God of War III and the sublime Bayonetta on the way, maybe THQ should have got this out the door a little sooner.
Since they didn't, though, what we're left with is a game that initially disappoints with its bland levels and uninspired premise, but will, for those willing to ride out its humdrum opening hours, gradually unfurl into a competent action RPG.
Darksiders was developed by Vigil and published by THQ for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Released on January 5, retails for USD $59. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played game to completion on Xbox 360 (normal difficulty).
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