Ever had a bad day? I mean a really bad day? Well War, the first Horseman of the Apocalypse, doesn’t wanna hear you whine about the day you spilled coffee on your brand new, white silk suit. One hundred years ago, he had the mother of them all. All he wants now is to right the wrongs he committed that day and find out who set him up, and then make them have one final, excruciatingly bad day. Darksiders puts you in control of War and lets you unleash rage the likes of which have never been seen before. Even certain Spartans would tell this guy to calm down, Unfortunately, anger management is not in this guy’s vocabulary.
This folks, is your tutorial.
In the beginning there was only Heaven and hell. Mankind came to be amidst this eternal struggle for power and it is believed that man is the key to it all. A truce was called between the blessed and accursed forces; a pact sealed with seven signs which were not to be broken until the time of the endwar. Quick check…yep, the seals are all still intact, so…why is the first Horseman on Earth laying waste to well, everything? Leave it to Vigil Games to give you a tutorial in the middle of the actual apocalypse. You fight your way through human, demon and angel, killing indiscriminately until you come upon Abbadon, leader of the Angelic forces and Uriel, his lieutenant. Abbadon meets a swift end at the hands of Straga, leader of the chosen demons and one nasty individual. You face off with Straga and teach him that depth perception is not for big nasty demons but before you can kill him you suddenly lose all of your powers and realize that you have broken sacred law. Straga laughs as he takes advantage of this and crushes you to death. Here’s the funny part: one hundred years later your bosses, known as the Charred Council, revive you in order to carry out your punishment – death. According to them the seals were not broken and War was not summoned. He swears that he received the call and begs the opportunity to prove his loyalty or die trying. They bind this scraggly little turd of a wraith to you called the Watcher to make sure you stay in line and send you back to (now) post-apocalyptic Earth. You have been stripped on roughly ninety-nine percent of your true power. Still, you are War and you are determined to show whoever is behind your betrayal why you are the one true herald of the end of all things.
War has a sick fetish for wings – not kidding
The second and third pictures above are in-game, action shots, not cut scenes. This game is visually stunning and moments like the above battle with the bat queen Tiamat really make you want to just go “wow,” but if you stop to stare, you will get torn to pieces. The art of Joe Madureira has wowed countless comic book fans for over ten years and now his work comes to the video game realm in Darksiders. If ever a game needed a replay feature it is this one because there are times you just wish you could see that last move or even that last demon again up close. The camera is a bit lazy in this game unless you control it and that is not really a bad thing. What I mean is that the camera tends to sit back and sort of stay away from the action giving you a wide field of view. This becomes invaluable during the frequent swarms of enemies you encounter. Your primary weapon is not great for sweeping around your body so being able to see when to dodge and reposition is wonderful. I only had a problem with the camera at one point where I was so used to leaving the camera alone that it affected my jump direction and I died. I also have one minor gripe about the transition from game to cut scene and vice-versa. There is a noticeable lag when the transition happens and I have become so used to games being seamless that it really kind of bugged me. It does not take away from the enjoyment of the game in any way and another person might not care but I just felt it was a lack of polish on the final product. This is an IP that will definitely continue based on both the end of the story and the successful sales; I look forward to seeing the next installment fix these little hiccups.
MUSIC/SOUND EFFECTS/VOICE ACTING
The music in the game is unfortunately quite absent during much of the game. There are themes for the opening and the ending and each boss has a decent piece to complement its battle. Sadly, when you are not in one of these gargantuan battles, the music pretty much goes silent. Instead, it is replaced with the ambient sounds one might expect if one were stuck in post-apocalyptic nowhere: creaking metal and crumbling rock, along with eerie howling winds that have you checking behind you every five seconds. Every monster in the game either talks to you or makes some kind of distinct sound to let you know it is near. If that wasn’t enough, some of the nastier ones come out of demonic portals and you can hear those opening as well. The gripe about no music again is just a personal preference, as the battle noises (especially while you ride Ruin) are pretty much all the atmosphere that is needed for this title. The voice acting in this game is nothing less than top notch. I chose the above movie because Ulthane was second only to War himself in my list of favorites in this game. I loved his voice because he made me think of him as a mix of the Juggernaut and Thor, with the voice of Shrek. However, JB Blanc (the voice of Ulthane) has to step aside for some heavy hitters in this recording booth: Moon Bloodgood (Uriel), Mark Hamill (The Watcher), Phil Lamarr (Vulgrim) and Liam O’Brien (War) bring their characters to life with spectacular voices, to name but a few. When you turn this game on, I hope you have a home theater or at least a really good sound bar because Dolby Digital is going to be your friend.
If one were to simply look at this game, “god of war clone” would probably be one of the first thoughts and that person would not be totally wrong. The whole truth, however, is that while there are similarities to Sony’s sunshine boy Kratos, this game does play differently enough that you do not feel like you are in some random corner of Greek mythology. It is difficult to explain in words so I do encourage anyone that enjoyed those games to give this one a go. War offers up the ultra-violence, complete with special kill moves and he is faced with puzzles that will temporarily infuriate you. The controls are very responsive and it is wonderful that War can instantly cancel a combo if, for example, an enemy became stunned and he wanted to go for the instant kill. This was a smart move by developers because War is very frequently surrounded by enemies (some much more powerful) and going into an instant kill makes him temporarily invincible. Even with little tricks like that, you will die quite often on Apocalyptic difficulty, so you had best collect your wrath core shards, life stone pieces and abyssal armor pieces in order. Without them, even the regular bad guys are going to smack you around. The combat can be considered button mashing, but it becomes somewhat important and very helpful to be a little bit diverse in your technique. One could beat the entire game using only the Chaoseater sword, but there are enemies that will be so much easier if you use the Harvester (scythe) and Tremor Gauntlet and keep all three main weapons upgraded. Upgrades come from killing monsters and earning experience points for the weapon you are using. There are tokens you can collect to augment your weapons to either give you more souls, regenerate health, power up your weapon faster, etc. Customization is key to balancing out your abilities and fortunately it can be done at almost any time in the game. Mid-combo you can pause a game and switch from the sword to the gauntlet (or scythe), add a new or different token to any or all of the weapons and go right on back to causing grievous bodily harm. The only downside I can even think of in terms of controls comes from War’s trusty steed, Pain. For the most part, Pain is fun to ride and very easy to control, but the only way to prevent damage (and possibly being knocked off) is to literally dodge a hit. There is no blocking ability while riding Pain and many of your weapons become needlessly unusable. This would not be a pain for someone who does not care about 100% completion and is not going to bother riding Pain for 100 game miles or killing 150 enemies on horseback. There is still the issue of certain areas of the Ashlands, where riding Pain is necessary since War is completely defenseless on foot there. There are many corridors that you ride through that are too narrow for combat. The majority of the hits I took while on horseback were because I was circling an enemy and hit a wall, which kills your momentum and it takes a few extra seconds to get off the wall. Even with the horse controls feeling like they needed more, the gameplay of Darksiders is fun and very easy to learn. Once you get good with switching weapons on the fly, you start feeling like an overpowered version of Dexter and creatively mutilating bad guys becomes an art.
REPLAY VALUE/TROPHY & ACHIEVEMENT HUNTING
The classic and unfortunate drawback of great single player games is that usually once you are done with them, you are very much done with them. Darksiders really has little to recommend even a second playthrough unless you just want to experience the cool story again. If you are like me and try to get everything on the first playthrough then you would have pieced together the Abyssal Armor and it becomes available to you from the beginning of the new game. It is worth mentioning that even towards the end of this game, the armor made anything attacking you that was not at least five times your size feel like a naughty tickle. If you played the game on a lower difficulty and got the armor then I would say go ahead and crank it to Apocalyptic difficulty and have some fun. Truth of the matter is that I started on apocalyptic and the game is not that difficult. There is an item towards the end that even shows you where all the collectible stuff is located so the only place you have to worry about missing anything is in Eden and the first area of the Iron Canopy. You can backtrack anywhere else in the game. As for the achievements/trophies, only four of the forty-three can be missed and one of those you can get within the first five minutes of a new game. Anyone that wants a platinum trophy in this one is going to get it.
The Four Horse”men?”
Darksiders was a wonderful game to experience and a great way to kick off 2010 gaming. If this is the worst title to come out this year then we have a lot to look forward to. A “Zelda-esque” beat-‘em-up; a Kratos adventure with 007 gadgets; these are a few of the ways I can think of to describe the game. War also took weaponry and abilities from his “brothers,” (yes, I see a girl in the picture also) which along with the ending and words from developers is ensuring that we will see more of the Horsemen in the future. In my book that makes this title the opening chapter in what I hope to be a deep and satisfying series of games. I hope to see much improvement from the next game and either a new main character or some online co-operative options. This game is a solid rental at bare minimum however I would not discourage a purchase – some early adopters got a code that got them a free copy of Red Faction: Guerrilla. I would not put it past Vigil and THQ to make your saved game worth something in the next title. Maybe the next Horseman will have use of War’s sword? Who knows? I know I will be one of those to find out.