I’ve been waiting on Darksiders from the moment I heard the “horsemen of the apocalypse game” announcement at E3, and since then I’ve done my research. Pestilence, Famine, Death, War. These are the names of the four horsemen sent to the human world from the realms of heaven and hell to herald the coming of the apocalypse, and yes, that is in every way as cool as it sounds. Vigil Games has gone ahead and taken that concept to the next level with Darksiders, and you needn’t worry about being up to date on your biblical lore to hop a ride on this gruesomely entertaining action platformer. What you will need in order to appreciate Darksiders is a taste for toting very flashy weapons, cutting down swaths of angels and demons, solving puzzles, and looking damn cool doing it. Sadly, this is a game that is riddled with contradictions, and every aspect of the awesome monster slaying and vivid landscapes seems countered by abrasive annoyances that work in unity to make Darksiders feel anything but above the ordinary.
You play as War, servant of an otherworldly order and one of the four horsemen charged with heralding the apocalypse when the final of seven protective seals within the kingdoms of demons, angels, and humans has been broken. This task may seem like your run of the mill every day 8-hour shift for a rider of the apocalypse, but not is all as it seems, and as the call is sounded for War to initiate the apocalypse within the kingdom of man, everything begins to go terribly wrong. War arrives on the scene in our control, and the player is quickly prompted to make use of abilities that will at first seem alien in order to lay waste to swarms of demons, angels, and frenzied humans in a sequence that makes little sense above the realm of intoxicatingly unjustified and enjoyable massacre.
It isn’t until after the first semi-boss encounter that the real game begins, and as War awakens after a climactic battle he is charged with wrongfully starting the apocalypse and the extinction of the entire human race. The only suitable verdict War can reach is his return to the realm of man to cut a bloody path of vengeance until everyone responsible for his betrayal lay in a heap beneath his enormous sword. With this, we’re launched back to the human world with severely diminished combat abilities, a badass sense of retribution, and the painfully witty Watcher – a spirit charged with the power to instantly kill War should he deviate from his oath – voiced by the talented Mark Hamill. It’s safe to say that the Watcher may very well be the most enjoyable character in Darksiders’ repertoire of shadowy figures, providing hints to the player as needed and humorous threats and comments as War progresses.
Now if it feels like the story unraveling itself here is just a pinch over the top for you, take a deep breath, you’re probably experiencing the symptoms of being absolutely correct. Darksiders doesn’t do much in the way of subtle and long-lasting story appeal, but if you’ve come to the now extinct kingdom of man for the happy ending story, you’re in the wrong place. The creative and exciting combat visuals and finishers are where this post-apocalyptic action title shines, and as War encounters new minions of the demon and angel armies, new finishing-move sequences will become available.
Fighting hordes of enemies at once has become standard fare for games of the 20th century, but the boss battles awaiting War provide a unique change in pace from your stroll down apocalypse lane, and may very well kill you once or twice before you get the knack of “bigger bad-guy killing”. The control system generally works well during the fighting, but as you acquire new weapons and abilities the D-pad, shoulder buttons, and even the analog buttons may require use simultaneously, leaving on-the-spot reactions feeling cramped and uneasy at times. If you’re familiar with the God of War series you know what to expect of Darksiders, as dashing, blocking, and combos quickly become your friend if you should hope to survive what is essentially one rider against heaven, hell, and everything in between. Combat flows smoothly and the fighting style looks good for an oversized behemoth of destruction brandishing a demonic claymore, but Darksiders falls victim to its own design as mashing the circle button begins to feel a lot less epic than a rider of doom ought to. This is slightly remedied as War encounters new baddies to slaughter in new ways, but it’s difficult to say you’ll be telling all your friends about the boss fights or coming back after the credits roll to experiment with the fighting system.
The End of the World
Is it just me, or has the entertainment industry been flooded with post-apocalyptic settings lately? I mean yeah, every once in a while it’s nice to be reminded that we’re consuming too much and the world is going to end, but what happened to the prosperous days of old when a princess was kidnapped and needed rescuing? If this is to continue, games and movies are going to become the standard for chronic depression. I’m getting weary of watching the world end.
You’ve got to give credit to Vigil Games for making one extremely pretty game. The apocalypse has never looked so good – demons, robotic angels, explosively colorful environments and creative concepts. What’s better is that these environments don’t go to waste! Darksiders isn’t your every-day action game, it features many typical platforming elements such as puzzle solving, wall climbing, and destroyable environment props. I don’t care what anyone says, being able to throw a taxicab at a fluttering angel soldier is better than the smell of coffee in the morning. When you’re not gallivanting about throwing vehicles, you’ll be navigating through some very basic puzzle sequences that ritualistically lead to a giant scary boss and a chest containing one of a handful of new weapons War will use to massacre the bad folk in new and exciting ways. Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of leaving this paragraph free of flaw speculation either. What some may call the inevitable result of a post-apocalyptic environment and others may call laziness is the haunting emptiness that surrounds War at almost all times. Life as a herald of doom isn’t so great when everyone gets the message that you’re coming and flees the scene.
Each and every breathtaking environment will spend half of its time giving your eyes some well-deserved candy, and the other half making you feel like you’ve done something wrong. I know that naturally after the end of the world there wouldn’t be many people left, but animals? Aliens? Hell, I’d settle for enemy demons or angels, but instead we’re given small spawn points where enemies magically appear, and a few key voice-acted chums to try and salvage the silence. Don’t get me wrong, the demon salesman, hammer-wielding giant and of course, the Watcher were all very well voiced and hilarious to experience, but there were many missed opportunities to fill this world with more than the elements, jaw-dropping as they were.
At the end of the world, Darksiders grabs onto a fantastic biblical concept and makes good on it’s promise to convert that idea into a great looking action title, but the game falls victim to its lack of revolutionary inspiration. There really isn’t anything new or exciting to be seen here, and the trademark aspects of gaming that are given shelter under Darksiders’s abruptly absurd plot all succumb to the same flaws we’ve seen in the past. If you’re looking to get a fresh standpoint on a cool modernized story, you’re starved for a Devil May Cry replacement, or you simply wish to turn the game on to drool over its dazzling, albeit empty end-of-the-world settings, look no further. Otherwise, the apocalypse could’ve been more.