Darksiders – Where we see what War is good for

Well due to my foolish belief that SEGA would in fact properly patch Bayonetta for the PS3 Darksiders ended up being the first game I played this year. Which does mean that it should have gone up before my thoughts on Mass Effect 2. But it didnt so there you go.

Darksiders was a game I had very little initial interest in. Well actually that’s a lie, early last year promo shots came out for it and I thought it looked cool in a cheesy over the top way. But over a year later my interest had severely waned and the third person action genre is not one that’s crying out for lack of new releases.

But I picked it up anyway and I’m very glad I did. The first thing that strikes you about Darksiders is the design work. It’s impressively cohesive and, more importantly, impressively cool. From the intro to the main character to the world to even minor enemy animations the entire game oozes style. Now I have to say that I am slightly biased as the creative director for the game is Joe Madureira, whose work I have been a fan of since Battle Chasers (and Darksiders goes a long way to making me feel better about the former being cancelled)

However I think even on a more objective level it’s fair to say that Darksiders looks great. From design to animation the entire game is simply “cool”. I suppose if the term hadn’t become kitschy enough to make my skin crawl you could call it “metal”. But you shouldn’t , because I’ll slap you if you do. Darksiders is cool in the way that sunglasses, leather jackets and big guns are cool. It’s cool in an unpretentious way that resonates very strongly with your inner twelve years old. This isn’t some kind of wanky, fourth wall breaking post-modern kind of cool. It’s a horseman of the apocalypse riding his flaming steed through a post apocalyptic desert beheading minions of hell with a six foot sword while shooting sand worms in the mouth with his giant pistol kind of cool. It’s slicing the wings of divinepunk angels and using their giant angelic lightning guns to blow their companions into bloody chunks cool. It’s feeding this guy the hearts of Satans minions cool. It’s…well Im sure you get it.

The excellent visuals are backed up by a pretty enjoyable setting and storyline. The world, the story and the characters that inhabit both are all larger than life. But are presented in a manner which avoids derision or self parody. The game looks and feels very reminiscent of the kind of comics that were coming out in the mid to late nineties (well the good ones anyway). Lots of action, melodrama and christian imagery. The visuals are accompanied by some excellent soundwork, the background music and special effects are all well done but its the voice acting where the audio really shines. In particular Liam O’Brien (as War), Mark Hamill (as the Watcher) and Vernon Wells (as Samael) all put in excellent performances.

Still, all these points in it’s favour would be wasted if Darksiders failed to deliver where it really matters, the gameplay. Luckily it doesn’t let us down. The gameplay is a nice blend of third person mash em ups like God of War and more puzzle oriented action games like Soulreaver. Actually the game is very reminiscent of Soulreaver, which is no bad thing as I’m sure we can all agree that Soulreaver was fucking awesome. It is also apparently quite similar to some Legend of Zelda games. But I’m afraid I’ve never been a big fan of the Zelda franchise and so couldn’t really say.

What I can say is that Darksiders does an admirable job of providing a nice mix between the puzzle and action elements. The only area where the puzzle elements become annoying is in the Black Tower where they overdo it a bit. Combat in the game is enjoyable, with wide variety of weapons and moves for dispatching the enemy. The only downside is that you don’t get enough of the games currency to upgrade all your spells and moves (nor enough experience to upgrade all your weapons). This is something of a problem as the game favours specialisation over a broad mixture of weaker moves and weapons. As such you’re unlikely to see everything on your first playthrough and the lack of unlockables doesn’t make a second runthrough particularly appealing. I suppose it’s a good thing then that the game’s one unlockable is both aweosme and available on your first playthrough.

Ultimately though these are fairly minor nitpicks. The game oozes cool, looks awesome, is a good length (~15 hours) and when you complete it you will have a physical need for the sequel.

Listening to: The Weakerthans - Civil Twilight

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