Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review: Darksiders

If someone would have told me a company was going to mix games like God of War, Zelda, Portal and Prince of Persia into a single package and somehow make it into a quality piece of software, I would have been skeptical. After finally sitting down with Darksiders, though, I have to admit the team at Vigil have pulled it off.

Darksiders is, quite simply, one of the most fun games I’ve played in quite a while. This is thanks to many factors, beginning the fantastic artwork of Joe Madureira. His char-acters and the world of Darksiders were well realized and loads of fun to gawk at. There’s the dark and gritty tones you would expect of a game called “Darksiders,” but there’s also plenty of lush environments, sweeping deserts and more.

The game features a great soundtrack, top-notch voice acting and sound design, and some of the most varied, fun gameplay elements to ever get mixed together.

In Darksiders, you play as War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. When Armageddon unexpectedly strikes and war is the only horseman to answer the call, it is assumed he is somehow responsible for jumpstarting the war between heaven and hell. In order to redeem himself one hundred years after the fall of man, War must find and punish those who are actually responsible for the biblical snafu.

The story gets a little convoluted in the end but, on the whole, I was surprised by how intriguing it was. Those with at least a cursory knowledge of the Bible will get more out of certain references, characters and locations, but it’s surprising to see how similarly this fanciful version of Biblical prophecy matches up to standard RPG fare. And I’m not using “standard” in a bad way here. Also, after a campaign lasting about 24 hours, the closing moments were so well done, I would have gladly popped in Darksiders 2 that very instant, were it available.

As for the world, the end times have torn the city of New York and the surrounding areas asunder, mixing broken buildings and tangled subway tunnels with overgrown valleys and dust-swept wastelands. It feels like the Big Apple and Hyrule somehow merged, mixing elements from both worlds, and I loved looking at it.

While the maps are mostly linear, they are also frequently wide open and feature multiple paths, giving a sense of scale and plenty of exploration while still focusing the story and keeping the pacing, for the most part, quick.
Each area is home to various puzzles, bad guy types and platforming elements. Along the way, gameplay is further broken up with fun diversions including flying angelic beasts, hauling around ginormous bolt guns and more. You eventually unlock War’s horse, Ruin, giving you even more ways to travel and fight.

Speaking of fighting, Darksiders offers a nice arsenal ripped straight from Link’s own backpack. War’s primary weapon is a giant sword, but he also gets to wield a bladed boomerang, a chain whip, a horn capable of opening doors and blowing back enemies and a portal gun. Yes, a portal gun. With several other weapons, like the scythe and gauntlet, to round out your arsenal, War uses these tools to solve puzzles as well as dispatch foes along the way.

While the button layout could have been simplified, and the deeper parts of the combo system require too many buttons being pressed simultaneously to worry about, the combat is fun, varied and quick. Add in some spells and abilities to help you out, and there’s countless ways to dispatch the armies of heaven and hell.

With oodles of collectibles to seek out, chests to open, abilities and items to upgrade and more along the way, Darksiders evolved into a concentrated dose of everything Ilove about several games all rolled into one.

I can understand why some would fault Darksiders for being too much like some of the titles it takes inspiration from (souls pouring out of enemies ala God of War and a tune that goes off when you solve a puzzle that sounds oddly like something from a game featuring a pointy-eared hero in a green tunic), I for one was too busy enjoying the game to worry about such things.

Had the team at Vigil attempted these homages and did them poorly, I’d say there’s reason to complain. When a game looks, feels, sounds and plays this well, though, I can’t help but be thankful they learned from the best and put enough time and effort into the title to do these other games justice.

The world and its inhabitants are different enough to set Darksiders apart from the rest and, even though it borrows from so many, nobody else does it quite like this game. I went in hopeful Darksiders would be as entertaining as its premise sounded and came out surprised by just how much fun I had. Put simply, Darksiders takes a lot from other games, but it also gives a lot back.

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