It’s January. That’s not normally the time of year you expect to see a new game on the shelves of your local store that’s getting 10/10 reviews scores all over the place. Yet here Darksiders is having popped out of nowhere to bring some much needed warmth to your toes and your soul in these dark winter days. Darksiders is one of those ‘greatest hits of gaming’ titles. There’s really nothing original here but neither was there in other recent top scoring games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dead Space, Shadow Complex or arguably even behemoths like Bioshock. The gameplay in those consisted of stuff we’ve mostly seen before but they were made with such love and joy as to present well established gameplay on the most wonderfully designed platters. Darksiders falls neatly into this category. The combat plays a lot like God of War, the game looks like the Legacy of Kain series and the gameplay structure closely resembles the dungeon crawling/environmental puzzles solving/ boss fighting/ item gaining structure in the Legend of Zelda game. None of these comparisons are remotely subtle. I don’t have some especially keen eye for designer influences, these are ideas stolen wholesale from the originators. That’s completely fine though because Vigil have invested heartfelt passion into every bit of this title and the playing it is incredibly rewarding.
The first hour is one of the few blips in an otherwise great game. The story is about War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, on a quest to find out who triggered an untimely end to the world. In this first hour the plot is established as War fights his way through angels and demons in what is little more than a tutorial… but it’s a dull one. You could easily mistake this for a straightforward hack and slash set in a rather brown world. It really isn’t but it’s a dreadful oversight on the behalf of the developers to allow people to labour under the apprehension that they’ve paid out for a bit of a flat gaming experience right at the start. As the environments begin to unfurl before you and the extent of the puzzling you’re going to do becomes clear it’s almost overwhelming. Bosses too seem just too big and too powerful to overcome. Even some normal enemies seem way too over powered even on normal difficulty setting. Quickly though you’ll realise that you can usually beat that boss on your second go, dodge a normal foe’s best attack and you’ll get the bugger down, keep moving through the environments and the answers to your puzzles will reveal themselves. The sense of challenge is quickly met with the sense of achievement when you overcome it, a perfect balance.
The world you inhabit and characters you meet become more detailed and complex as you go on. The world of humans has become overgrown, sunken in debris and hidden beneath glistening lakes of water in a thousand years of the battle of Armageddon but it retains some of the telltale signs of man on signposts and in the burnt out wrecks of the cars War uses to beat over the heads of his enemies. The transition from playing to cutscenes causes a momentary freeze which tends to pull you out of your suspension of disbelieve but otherwise the graphics are beautiful. The dialogue and characters are memorable with Mark Hamill putting in a great performance as The Watcher, War’s nasty little guardian chained to him to keep him in line. War himself appears to be doing a James Mason impression which I find to be at odds with how he looks and acts. It surprises me every time he opens his mouth which is a rather a shame especially since he’s voiced by Liam O’Brien one of the most accomplished game voice actors in the world.
Darksiders is a baby bear’s porridge of a game. The balance of environmental puzzling as you work your way through dungeons using various key items and gadgets with a reasonably deep hack and slash combat system, the weapon and combat upgrades, the exploration of the varied parts of the world; it’s all just perfect. You’ll never get tired of what you are doing before a completely new puzzle comes along or you’re rewarded with a new gadget to scratch your itching desire for novelty. The gamers every whim is catered to exactly as it occurs to you. Great design has been matched by very thorough testing to iron out every bump and problem without the game becoming a vanilla experience.