War? Good god. What is he good for? Find out in the Frankenreview for THQ and Vigil Games' Darksiders.
From the pen of comic book writer and artist Joe Madureira comes Darksiders, an epic tale that could very well have been called "There Goes The Apocalypse." The end of days has come prematurely, and the
hideously disproportionate Madureirized apocalyptic horseperson War takes the blame. With a thirst for vengeance and no small amount of embarrassment (whoops!), War takes to the mean streets to find out who tricked him into wiping out humanity.
Sounds like light-hearted fun to me! Let's see what the assembled game critics think.
Darksiders catapults players into a post-apocalyptic Earth full of demons, angels and War, a pissed off horseman tricked into destroying mankind. Plenty of bloodshed ensues, as gamers plunge the likeable hero into heavily guarded fortresses, severing limbs and decapitating monsters en route to the ultimate showdown with The Destroyer. It's both gorgeous and fun, with plenty of memorable characters, intimidating bosses and Hellish imagery. It's also monotonous, confusing and somewhat falsely advertised, making it a good but by no means phenomenal way to ring in the New Year.
Both primary and secondary support character models convincingly push established boundaries of quality, with demons Vulgrim, Samael and Ulthane standing out as particularly noteworthy in terms of believable performance, weight of animation, and as an example of the guiding light provided by Madureira's beautiful artwork. Indeed, that overarching influence is clear from the outset, with War's disgraced Horseman existing as perhaps the most obvious testament to the rich appeal that drew so many comic book readers towards the now-abandoned Battle Chasers series. Sadly, however, while the ceaseless onslaught of Darksiders' generous aesthetics will likely placate gamers focused on instant gratification, there's no hiding the game's derivative structure and lack of ambition when it comes to level design and back-track exploratory aspects.
Though it doesn't go so far as to place War in tight green spandex, Darksiders might as well be set in Hyrule. A subtle nod occurs when War's health is nearly depleted, and players are alerted of impending doom by a faint-yet annoying-repeated beep. More obvious homage is paid through dungeon exploration. Vigil follows Shigeru Miyamoto's blueprint down to the last detail, including maps that reveal all chest locations and the boss room signified with a large red skull. The Zelda observations dip into the realm of "can they really get away with this?" through many of War's gadgets and weapons. A hookshot-like device grants War passage across large expanses, and a boomerang-like object can chain multiple targets together with a single throw. If you're not sold on the similarities yet, War navigates the overworld via horseback, obtains additional health containers at the conclusion of each dungeon, and is on a quest to reassemble a rare artifact that will bring peace to the world. Need I go on?
But enough about that – let's talk combat, as Darksiders has a baffling array of mechanics to get your head around. We wouldn't normally do this, but we'll list most of them just to give you an idea what you're dealing with. [Editor's Note: Not here they won't] Phew! Amazingly enough, all these options (and watching the various gauges associated with them, such as Wrath power and Chaos Form, erm... juice) become relatively intuitive relatively quickly – and of course, you don't have them all at the start of the game. It's a formidable list, but thankfully less experienced players can probably get a fair way through the game by mashing, as there are some great basic combos, and you can choose what aspects of the combat you want to focus on upgrading.
The presentation of Darksiders holds up to the rest of the game, along with competing titles. There is certain design flair to be found throughout the game, with some beautiful environments and fantastic animations being the highlights. The most impressive aspect of the presentation is simply the flawlessness of it all. Everything from the models, to the environments, to the menus and user interface, is all of great quality and extremely fitting of the games theme. The audio once again is equally fantastic, with impressive voice work in particular for all characters. This goes hand-in-hand with the level of polish the game holds, giving a feeling that the developers were not rushing the product out of the door and instead spent time and attention to do it right from the start.
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.