Developer: Vigil Games
Released: 5th January 2010
Other Formats: Xbox 360, PC
Drawing immediate comparisons to the likes of Sony's flagship God of War series is no mean feat for a game that was overlooked at launch due to Platinum Games' swift, excellent and ravishing combo-heavy Bayonetta, but Darksiders plays akin with some of the most effective and joyful videogame tropes available in an engaging, action-rich experience (albeit with a terrible and clichéd story to back it up!)
Putting its emphasis on an ever popular hack-and-slash combat system may raise eyebrows as being hackneyed, underdeveloped and devoid of ideas (particularly within the Apocalyptic and mythological setting), however Vigil Games manage to keep harsh critical reception at bay in delivering the combat with a unique set of skills to accompany the extremely basic button-tapping monotony that you are likely to endure. With each new ability enabling previous parts of the world to become entwined into game play, Darksiders is particularly clever in how each new skill or item is possessed. Unlocked in regular intervals, the game manages to allow the player to become accustomed to each unique skill in time, never forcing more than one skill into players' hands before the previous feels second-nature. One of the most intriguing aspects of the game, item acquisition ranges from “War” (yes, that is his name) to be granted ability to use cross blades for a blend of weaponry and gadget to activate forlorn switches, for example, or the ability to fire portals in order to teleport from one area to another (an extension of Valve's Portal into the 3D action game space). Not only giving the game apt room in providing a number of different ways to dispatch the horde of dark beings that populate the hellish setting, but also allowing Vigil to craft some of the most devilishly tricky and fantastic 3D puzzles seen in this generation. Lost in most games these days, Darksiders is an ode to platformers of time's past where thwarting enemies is only a small proportion of the vast gaming experience, where exploration within its many (and multi-layered) dungeons and solving puzzles is vital for progression. However, it also brings up one of my key frustrations with the game, that of the dubious map. Extremely irritating to interpret the various levels of the stage, it's a detriment to the often excellent new IP that has been produced, where idly wandering any of the game's dull, lifeless chasms and corridors will become the norm, not alleviated with the lack of colour on the palette or any weight of graphical beauty. When each area looks almost identical to the next, it makes many of the complex puzzles and tasks hard to swallow, although it still has to be said, they are exceptionally well thought-out for the most part.
Built around a huge, open world, the aforementioned acquisition of new skills and weapons allows previously unfounded parts of the map become free to traverse, meaning the game has a distinct 6-part structure- four of which acting as separate entities where War must defeat the end-boss Demon and tear out their heart to return to the Demon Lord 'Samael', who can grant access to the Black Tower where the “Destroyer” lay. I'd loved to have seen each area pose a stylistic switch in design, although this is never really perceived or alluded to. With each distinct segment of the game offering new tasks to complete and new enemies to face, the game never begins to tire in the least, instead opting to constantly throw new ideas at the player (such as the ability to slow down time, or introducing War's valiant steed). It's a nice approach and a neat separation from the weight of other games thrown at us on a weekly basis, where every game play concept is driven in from the second the 'Start' button is pressed.
In a nod to the previously mentioned God of War, Darksiders insistently rips on the three levels of orbs that populate the hugely popular series. Called “souls” within this title; here, green orbs (sorry, “souls”) fill the health bar (also upgraded through progression, akin to GOW), yellow, the 'Wrath' meter (a meter for magic to be performed for added variety in combat) and blue acting as the currency of the game. Used to buy upgrades, combos, additional powers and weapons from the many Vulgrim locations within the game, the idea is another extension of how deep the initial combat system levels. War also has the added ability to transform into his 'Chaos Form' when the 'Chaos' meter fills (from delivering damage), which envelops him in a giant, demonic form for a short duration in which an added damage boost is accustom.
And although many games of its type suffer from an extreme syndrome of repetitiveness, Darksiders can not be considered amongst them- to a degree anyway. Although the world is often distinctly boring, the array of enemy types is a great thing to see. With some requiring you to perform different attacks to defeat them- perhaps best witnessed in the epic boss battles, where the game exceeds expectations in playing out some great ideas- the format is never tired. One boss battle is particularly memorable in which you must manipulate the portals on the floor in order to float onto the enemies back and deliver some devastating blows. In fact, Darksiders is an amalgamation of some of the best game design ideas available, and in that, it may be considered cheap and superficial but it ought not to be. This is a well drawn out and demanding release that is worthy of attention amongst the very best action-adventure games.