One of the joys of reviewing games is that occasionally a review copy will turn up on my desk for a game that I know nothing about. This means that I have no lofty expectations or bad taste in my mouth before having a go. THQ’s Darksiders is one such game. I’ve always found THQ to be the Kmart of games developers: dependable, nothing flash and does what it says on the tin. Darksiders does nothing to prove otherwise. Describing the game as an apocalyptic mash up of Devil May Cry, Tomb Raider and Zelda just about sums it up.
You play War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Apparently the apocalypse has come early and the fellas that referee the eternal struggle between the angels and the forces of darkness, The Charred Council, have pointed the finger at you. Rather than face execution, War requests that he be granted a chance to redeem himself. The Charred Council agrees with the condition that one of its own, The Watcher, accompanies him. So the journey begins as you travel the scorched remains of Earth and find out who is responsible for the premature destruction of mankind.
The plot is pretty bonkers, but no more absurd than the awkward plots of 99% of Japanese games. The story does a good job of directing you to increasingly difficult hordes of bad guys that need slaying using increasingly complicated combos. Along the way you meet colourful characters and gain rather cool items to aid you on your quest. Hack-and-slash fans will be in their element with Darksiders, and it does offer seductively satisfying combat sequences with some pretty over-the-top weaponry and moves.
The game structure is dungeon-based, similar to Legend of Zelda on the N64. Each location is populated by demonic minions, mini bosses and puzzles, all leading to a big boss battle. The game has a light RPG flavour to it as well. As you defeat the armies of darkness, you absorb souls that can be redeemed for weapons and skills by visiting the demon Vulgrim. It is possible to assign interchangeable power-ups to your weapons and equip special abilities. This customisation gives the game a modicum of much-needed depth.
Darksiders plays like a rollercoaster of button-mashing moments punctuated by an almost redeeming glimmer of something special, like a medley of some of your favourite gaming moments. But try as I might, I could only bring myself to like the game; never to love it. Darksiders wasn’t a game that I could lose track of time whilst playing. Maybe it was the derivative gameplay, but I got the feeling that if I wanted to play Zelda, I would have more fun playing Zelda, likewise Devil May Cry.
Darksiders’ development studio, Vigil Games, is the brainchild of Marvel Comics artist Joe Madureira. It’s pretty clear from the fantastic character designs that someone with a great eye for this sort of thing has been intimately involved in the game’s development. The bosses are truly impressive titans, beautiful to behold, towering above War’s stocky-but-diminutive frame. While the character designs are great, the graphical presentation is let down a bit by the fairly generic post-apocalyptic backgrounds that look like something for the ill-fated Hellgate: London.
Darksiders is fun to play, and being an amalgamation of other game styles, never gets dull. One minute you will fight a demonic horde and the next you will be working out how to navigate across huge chambers to pull a lever and complete a puzzle. It is just unfortunate that a quick bash on DMC, Tomb Raider or Zelda will make you realise that what has gone before did it so much better than Darksiders. That said, if you have never had the pleasure of playing the aforementioned games, you could do a lot worse than try this one.