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Darksiders

Playing Darksiders over the Christmas break, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat of a Scrooge. Its protagonist, War, is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and isn’t keen on partaking in any celebratory festivities. A world away from the cheery chubster that loves to bring joy to children across the globe, the only present War hands out is a stern beating to those who cross his path. And just like Santa, he too has a delivery mission to complete, starting with the hearts of five temperamental demons.

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Rather than talking about an apocalypse, Darksiders throws you right into the middle of one. As the boundaries separating Earth and Hell crumble, War finds himself amidst a holy war on mankind’s turf. Humanity lies between the protection of Heaven’s mightiest warriors and destruction of Hell’s demons.

And while Darksiders isn’t the most original game ever, it manages to successfully cut and stick a number of gameplay elements from other titles. Influences stem from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, to God of War, and even Portal. As you progress through the title you’ll pick up new abilities that must be mastered quickly in order to progress. While these may be additional items to your arsenal, including a Dark Sector styled glaive or a pistol, Darksiders‘ most interesting moments come in the form of puzzles.

“As the boundaries separating Earth and Hell crumble, War finds himself amidst a holy war on mankind’s turf”As you rampage through the ravaged universe with War there are many obstacles to overcome. You’ll often follow the instructions of disgraced demon Samael, as he pushes you into delivering the hearts of The Chosen. Each watches over the tower of The Destroyer, the big boss behind Hell’s ascent in the Final War. As he sits on the Black Throne, angels tremble under the mention of his name, and demons shiver in anticipation of failing to meet his orders. All in all, it’s hardly a ground-breaking story, as The Destroyer quickly builds a reputation that more than begs for you to take him down a notch or two.

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Luckily, the narrative is engaging enough to keep everything interesting. Witnessing War getting stripped of his deadly powers and sent on a relentless trip through a variation of settings is entertaining, as you’ll stumble across some interesting characters. The angels are a force to be reckoned with, and make their feelings known by showing up numerous times to battle against War. As the Horseman is also blamed for the death of archangel Abaddon, the unlikely protagonist certainly has his work cut out for him. You’ll waltz through worm infested desert lands, scuttle across devastated motorways and even enter Anvil’s Ford; a location which reveals Ulthane, the game’s most memorable supporting role. This giant is a legendary weapon maker, and greets both angels and demons alike with a cheery whistle and merry dance. He also plays a huge part in War’s progress, and is the strongest character to back the Horseman up in a physical battle against his enemies.

What You Tolkien About?

Darksiders unashamedly steals from a host of different sources, with The Lord of the Rings trilogy being a main contender. The Destroyer’s ruling quickly acknowledges Sauron, as he sits in a gigantic tower waiting for the hero’s arrival. Also, you’re tasked with entering the lair of a terrifying spider, harking back to Shelob in abundance. There’s also an ounce of Gimli in Ulthane’s character, as Vigil Games make the player well aware of their influences for the title.

Other than Ulthane, War does receive information and new goods along his quest. The Watcher, voiced by Mark Hamill, accompanies him throughout the entire journey, reminding War that he is as powerful as a dog on a leash. Sent by the council to keep watch over the gruff protagonist, his irritating quips and put-downs will have you thirsty for his blood by the finale. Similarly, you’re often forced to strike deals with merchant demon Vulgrim, who provides the means for new moves, weapons, and health upgrades.

In a month that sees the release of Bayonetta, it was vital for Darksiders to have an effective combat system. It doesn’t disappoint, as War’s Chaoseater sword rips through all kinds of enemies with a satisfying crunch. Many larger enemies need weakening before a QTE based ending, all of which have been ripped straight from the realms of God of War. With that said, the finishing move for taking down angels is insanely slick, and never fails to raise a smile, as War rams his sword through their shattered torso without even giving it a second glance.

“War’s Chaoseater sword rips through all kinds of enemies with a satisfying crunch”Your main mode of defence is by evading enemy attacks; something that can be very difficult when the screen fills up with a group of opponents who all possess a range of attack patterns. When enough damage has been accumulated, War is able to transform into an invincible demon that crushes foes with one effortless swipe. Where Darksiders tests your reflexes in the combat arena, its puzzles provide a decent mental work-out to ensure you’re always kept on your toes and thinking ahead.

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And if you aren’t up for the challenge, then Darksiders isn’t going to invite you in. You’ll often be forced to clear impassable barriers, create a set of portals to overcome huge gaps, and hunt down keys to unlock ‘tormented gates’. More often than not the answer lies within the latest addition to your inventory, as the title keeps things moving with progressively complex gameplay. By the time you reach The Destroyer’s Tower, all elements will have been brought into effect, providing a final examination that tests players mental and physical resolve extensively. Huge bosses and seemingly impossible odds rear their heads around every corner, as War’s mission to restore balance back to the universe certainly isn’t a straight-forward one.

“Huge bosses and seemingly impossible odds rear their heads around every corner”While Darksiders doesn’t bring anything new to the hack ‘n slash genre, it does an excellent job of keeping proceedings interesting. War’s insanely deep voice and refusal to give in may be as clich├ęd as the battle between angels and demons, but it doesn’t stop the title from being satisfying from start to finish. Once his noble steed Ruin enters the fold his powers galvanise considerably, as the horse’s arrival provides a shift in power that favours the Horseman. Graphically, trotting around on Ruin’s back highlights how the game’s art design captures the broken universe brilliantly, as it’s here you can soak up open plains and war-torn cities without a care in the world.

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As Darksiders reaches a gripping conclusion, you’ll no doubt feel proud of your efforts at restoring War as one of the revered Horsmen. There’s surprises along the way, in a narrative that is extremely simple to follow. Vigil Games has created a superb protagonist here, as Darksiders proves that its brawn isn’t a world away from the excellence of Bayonetta. What’s for certain though is that, with two thrilling hack ‘n slash releases already this year, Kratos has a hell of a battle on his hands to remain the god of a considerably evolved war.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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