War is the name and vengeance is the game. This epic battle between the forces of good and evil is driven by so many blasts from your gaming past that it fringes on plagiarism, but keeps it fresh though thoroughly familiar. Say hello to Darksiders.
You play as War, a Horseman of the Apocalypse, who is charged in keeping the balance between Heaven and Hell. Through some crafty deception, he is tricked into bringing about the end of the world, and after an epic battle, gives demons a foothold in the final showdown. He is punished by his council and faces death, but is given one opportunity to go back to Earth, find the truth, and punish all who are responsible (a.k.a. kill every demon and angel he comes across).
At first, Darksiders feels a lot like God of War. You take on hordes of enemies using some simple sword combos. Eventually you start wheelin’ and dealin’ with a demon and trade souls you collect along the way for weapons, upgrades, and new combo abilities. From a third-person view, you hack, slash, and combo enemies until an action-button icon appears above them, allowing you to deliver a mighty death stroke. Sound familiar? However, unlike God of War, when performing the kill move on larger enemies, you are not required to execute a sequence of action moves. Some people might consider that a blessing, but it really felt a little lazy. The souls you collect for currency can be found in chests and in the enemies you mow down, but that’s not all you will be required to collect. Your health meter is replenished with green souls and your “Chaos” meter by yellow souls, and they are sprinkled all over the landscape in chests as well.
Now we are moving on to the other major “contributor” to Darksider‘s inspiration: The Legend of Zelda. War uses some moves that require the use of “Chaos,” which is basically magic that allows you to do magical moves, e.g., spawn a cluster of swords to shoot up from the ground beneath an enemy. You collect pieces of lifestone, and every few you find combine to give you an extra health bar. (Can we say “Pieces of Heart?”) Vigil Games takes their apocalyptic game a step further though, by extending this collection routine to acquiring a kick-ass suit of armor and lengthening the time that you’re allowed to use your “Chaos Form.” (War turns into a huge fiery beast that’s reminiscent of “Balrog” from LOTR.)
Anyone who’s ever played Zelda’s A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or Majora’s Mask will probably pick up on the magic and pieces of heart, but there’s no denying the other, more blatant elements: the Crossblade (boomerang), the Sentinel (hookshot), the Empty Vessels (empty jars), and all the dungeon crawling, back-tracking, key finding, bomb throwing, and treasure hunting that Zelda games are known for. Heck, even your horse Epona…I mean…Ruin, can dash in short busts of fury marked by five fiery icons (instead of carrots).
There are a few more inspirational ingredients, including a dash of Portal, a pinch of Panzer Dragoon, and a hint of Ratchet and Clank. Darksiders may sound like one crazy frankengame, but surprisingly, it manages to blend them together in a way that really works. The combat is not exactly deep, but it’s by no means shallow. The puzzles are thought provoking, but not frustrating. The dungeon crawling is complex, but not ridiculously difficult. Darksiders keeps you on your toes, and the stage bosses are especially fun to battle, varying from an armored arachnid to a sandworm.
The graphics take a pleasanty unexpected turn. I assumed we would get a grim looking game with dark corners and some scary and realistic looking demons. Instead, the developers opted for something a little more like what the illustrators for Marvel Comics did in the 1990’s. The characters are either slathered in huge rippling muscles or are extremely sinewy, and everything has a ton of sharp angles. Instead of dark film grains and muted “scary” shades, everything pops with color. The stage bosses drip with fluorescent hues, the environments glow and shine, and even War himself shows off a vibrant red tunic and hood. Does it look a little juvenile? Yes. Was it what was expected? No. But combine the bright colors and grotesquely exaggerated characters with all the blood and gore and you end up with a pretty fun visual effect.
The story tries to stay interesting, but when your main motive is centered around revenge, it’s easy to become quite mundane. Darksiders can’t quite claw it’s way out of it’s pit of vengeance. It throws in quite a few twists and turns, but it’s never really the story that drives you to keep playing. Hopefully they will dress it up a little before they think about releasing a movie.
The voice acting is also pretty surprising. Though the script was a little limiting, Moon Bloodgood was delightfully powerful as “Uriel,” and Mark Hamill really steals the show as War’s less than friendly sidekick. War is played by Liam O’Brien, who was an excellent choice. He is convincingly sincere and sinister, but not over the top. With an animated body built the way War’s is, the voice had to be believable, or else the character would have failed to reach the gamer.
If not for a few Xbox Achievements, the replay value would unfortunately be pretty low. There is no multiplayer offered, and Darksiders is limited to a single player campaign.
Darksiders is one of those games that is plenty of fun, but certainly has it’s flaws. Fortunately, the developers borrowed all the best features from some really great games and combined them so well, that most of it’s downfalls can be overlooked. Considering the replay value, I wouldn’t exactly recommend buying it brand new, but it’s definitely one to either rent or buy used.
I give Darksiders 3.5 “Mark Hamill’s the coolest” out of 5.