Unsurprisingly, demons and angels don’t get along. However, an agreement was brokered by the all-powerful “council” and a truce was declared. Seven seals were forged to hold this truce, and only upon the seventh seal’s destruction would the apocalypse begin and the fate of all life determined. Only someone broke that truce early, igniting the war between Heaven and Hell, not to mention calling down one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This is where Darksiders begins. As War, a hulking brute with a sword almost as big as he is, you land on Earth as the demons and angels lay waste to everything. It’s really quite the spectacle: demons leap onto helicopters, dragging those on board to an explosive end; giants tear through buildings; monsters roam the streets, mauling innocent civilians. And this is just the tutorial.
Not unlike the beginning of Metroid Prime, you take control of War at his most powerful, easily cutting down enemies with casual presses of the X button (with full Xbox 360 controller support, it really is the best way to play) while targeting them using the left trigger. After this short introductory sequence, but no less spectacular for its brevity, events transpire that see War accused of starting the apocalypse before its time and stripped of his power.
Sent back to Earth by the council, along with a watcher (with a show-stealing performance by Mark Hamill) to keep tabs on him, it’s up to War to regain his power and find those responsible for dooming mankind.
It may surprise you then, to learn that Darksiders is like a love letter to The Legend of Zelda series. Maybe Vigil were just fans of Nintendo, like many of us have been over the years. Despite being a more combat heavy experience, this follows the same structure as Nintendo’s epic adventures, from its dungeon styles to the fact that it even unlocks very similar items along the way – the hook shot, the boomerang, bomb plants, they’re all here in some form. And of course there’s the small matter of Ruin, War’s trusty steed.
This is not a criticism, however. Quite the opposite. Vigil did such a good job in creating a believable setting, filling it with interesting and varied characters, that it stands as a classic adventure in its own right. This is largely due to Joe Madureira’s stunning and unique art, giving everything in Darksiders life with his comic stylings, and adding vibrant colour to what you might have expected to be an incredibly dark game.
This art direction is the reason why this game will likely age very well over time. While no slouch in the polygonal stakes, it uses the clever design to great effect in hiding its lack of graphical grunt compared to today’s offerings. This also means that it runs well on machines that are considered low-end on the PC spectrum – on an i5 2.2GHz laptop with 4gb RAM and a GeForce GT 330M GPU it runs smoothly at 720p and can, with a slight drop in frame rate, run at 1600×900 resolution.
The PC version comes with only minimal graphics options though, with only resolution and V-sync options available, but it still remains scaleable and it doesn’t detract from an otherwise great game that is loaded with customisation. You’ll gain upgrades during your journey, purchased through a demon named Vulgrim, but his preferred currency is…sketchy, at best. He want souls as payment for upgrading your weapons and items, souls you collect from your fallen enemies. Similar to Devil May Cry in that respect, as the system with which you improve your inventory isn’t too dissimilar to Capcom’s major franchise.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say. And that is where Darksiders excels. It brings together the best of other franchises and forms them into something all its own, something that offers a fun combat system, an interesting and exciting story, a sprawling adventure with many secrets and opportunities for exploration.
Its environments are worth exploring, too. From the ruins of human cities, to lush forests and dank subways and even deserts, that aforementioned art direction shines. Nothing is wasted, and the inspired way that the developers make a subway feel like a Zelda-like dungeon, makes the game world all the more immersive.
The soundtrack and voice acting go a long way to aiding that immersion also, with a suitably epic score filled with choirs and string work that wouldn’t shame a major Hollywood movie. And War’s growling, one-note performance is offset perfectly by Mark Hamill’s Watcher, using dark humour and showing a sinister side that brings to mind his turns as The Joker in his various Batman outings.
All in all, Darksiders is a beautifully crafted adventure, from a team brimming with confidence. It may be a mish-mash of existing game mechanics, but it will remain one of the best new IPs in recent history, from a team that is sadly no longer around.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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