Friday, March 12, 2010

200th Review! - Darksiders (PS3, 360)

Here we are. It's been a long time coming, but it's finally here- my 200th review! I wanted to choose a game that was anticipated for such an anticipated moment here on SPC. It's the God of War/Zelda clone, Darksiders, for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3!

The Apocalypse Was Never This Much Fun.

So these two games walk into a bar, all right? The first one is named God of War, and he's a buff, tough, bad dude and doesn't afraid of anything. The other one's a legendary girl named Zelda. They get a few drinks in 'em, start talking together, and God of War gives Zelda his motel key. Seeing that Zelda's been around the block a few times and is liquored up, she accepts. The two passionately and romantically rumble in the bedroom, and what do you know? A baby is born nine months later. They name it Darksiders. Is this game inspired by two of the top franchises in their respective genres worth taking a walk on the dark side?

It is said when the apocalypse reigns supreme on Earth, the horseman, War, will lay siege to the land. Unfortunately, War was duped into coming onto a false alarm orchestrated by someone duly sinister as they are crafty. War is wrongly charged as starting the destruction of Earth and is thereby punished, having all of his sweet moves and abilities stripped from him. Now with a demonic creature known as the Watcher, voiced by veteran actor Mark Hamill, keeping War on probation, the once mighty horseman is now thirsty for revenge. The game's story has you going after the hearts of the four Chosen, The Destroyer's hand-picked bodyguards in order to access the big bad's tower. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but it serves its purpose well enough. There's just enough story to make mowing down countless demons have some much needed purpose.

War. Huh. Good God, y'all.

As stated already, Darksiders seems to draw inspiration from both the God of War series and The Legend of Zelda franchise. The combat is very similar to Kratos' escapades as you slash and slice your way through hordes of demons, devils, and the undead, leaving a bloody trail behind. This is all the while keeping your combo amount tallying high. When an enemy is weak enough, a contextual clue will pop up over that opponent's head. That's War's cue to unleash a finishing move. These are always big, bloody, and beautiful to watch. War also gets a moment of invincibility while in these finishing animations which makes combat against six demons all the more manageable. Unlike God of War, however, there's hardly any quick-time event sequences to speak of. It's simply hit the grab button when the context clue pops up. Nothing more, nothing less. War also has the ability to lift and toss automobiles, desks, and other unlikely weapons at enemies. These little nuances help differentiate Darksiders from other games of God of War's ilk.

Big sword, big insecurities.
...Or just a bad-ass dude.

Speaking of combat, the game has enough different enemies to keep the game feeling fresh. Sure, there's your stereotypical locked rooms which will only open until all enemies have been vanquished, but the game still chugs on at a sweet pace. Each enemy telegraphs their moves, so either War has to dash out of the way or block. However, not all enemy attacks can be blocked. Then come the big, bad bosses that await War, readied to fight. These aren't taken down with just good old brute force. Each boss is like a puzzle. The bat woman, Tiamat, for instance, can only be downed by tossing a bomb onto her, using a boomerang-like weapon to transfer flame to the bomb to cause it to detonate, damaging the boss. Easier said than done when you have someone very big and ugly who eagerly wishes to get her fangs into you!

Every hero needs a trusty steed, right?

Darksiders especially feels like The Legend of Zelda with five dungeons each with cryptic puzzles, hidden treasures, a special item needed to defeat the dungeon's boss, and yes, plenty of enemies to destroy. Fans of Zelda will definitely get a sense of deja vu playing through this game right down to riding a trusty steed across an overworld map. Dungeon puzzles are rather clever, but few will necessarily have you scratching your head in frustration. Usually the solution is with the special item you pick up in each dungeon. These items have a wide range of abilities from a grappling hook to swing across chasms to a musical horn that wakes up sleeping rock titans to a shuriken boomerang that can attack faraway enemies or hit away switches opening up bridges and doors. Some puzzles are of the obvious variety while others will test your mental mettle and force you to think outside of the box. One such puzzle involves blowing up a red crystal blocking the way to proceed. You have to throw a bunch of defused bombs in a line leading from an active bomb to the red crystal. Set the active bomb to explode the line of bombs, thus destroying the crystal. You can be sure there's plenty of block-pushing, lever-pulling, bait-and-switching puzzles in store for War.

Shot through the heart, and you're to blame.

War uses wrath in order to conjure up various magic spells and abilities. He can learn new spells, skills, and abilities from the demon shop-keep who always has time for souls, the currency of the underworld. War can purchase new weapons, new attacks, and wrath moves such as a stone shield that raises his defense and attack for as long as his wrath meter has energy in it. It's hard not to think of Zelda when you think of how War's wrath and life energy increases. Stop me if you've heard this one before. War has to collect four lifestones in order to increase his health. Alternatively, he needs to collect four wrath cores in order to boost his wrath. It might be borrowed from Zelda, but why not borrow from the best? Treasures, artifacts, and pieces of an armor set are all hidden in very clever locations. One might have to resort to a walkthrough just to find them all! In fact, just beating the game will take anywhere from 15-20 hours total, and that's with no filler except for a final "Triforce Shard" like quest near the end of the game which involves a lot of backtracking.

Darksiders is a gore-geous game with plenty of visceral killings to be had. The textures are nice and crisp, the lands are heavily detailed, and there's enough level variety to keep things fresh. The art work is tremendous, and the game feels like a dark, brooding comic book. It's no surprise that the man who did the 90s Uncanny X-Men also did the art for this game. Visually the game is a winner. That isn't to say everything is perfect on the technical side. There's a small amount of tearing and slowdown when things get dicey and there's a lot of enemies on screen at the same time. The voicework and soundtrack is fitting for this game, and they're both done very well. There aren't really that many memorable or recognizable tracks to be heard, but what is there works. We weren't expecting pop tunes, after all.

Say hello to my not-so-little friend.

Darksiders may be a mishmash between God of War and The Legend of Zelda, but the title does enough things that are new to make the game feel like not just another Zelda clone. The combat is tight, responsive (for the most part), and feels right, the dungeon design is textbook-worthy stuff, and the presentation is very much high-budget and high-class. For those looking for a violent, more adult-oriented, visually-stunning take on Zelda, there is no better choice than Vigil's Darksiders.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]

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