Monday, February 8, 2010

Darksiders Review

War does his best Dante impression.

In the beginning, when Vigil Games was deciding what kind of game they wanted to make for their premier console appearance, Darksiders was a four player co-op magnum opus starring all four horsemen of the apocalypse, a gigantic sandbox world, devils, angels, and all sorts of other things that were too much for a new developer to handle. They eventually came to their senses, scaled absolutely everything back to more manageable (and fund-able) levels, copied every good idea they had ever seen in another game and dropped them in. It is not enough to say that there are no new ideas here; Darksiders is a greatest hits collection of weapons, puzzles and ideas from other games, most notably Zelda and Soul Reaver, but there are may more. No attempt has been made to hide it, and by relishing in its own blatentness Darksiders has pulled off the developer crime of all crimes: they made a pretty good game using other peoples ideas. Makers of movie licensed games take note, it is possible, you really have no excuse.

Darksiders, if played in the correct company, becomes a trivia contest diguised as a God of War/Ratchet and Clank hybrid. Naming which game every element originated from is actually a good exercise. Zelda is going to come up a lot; with secondary weapons like a boomerang that can target multiple enemies, a hook shot for getting to hard to reach places and puzzles that rarely get beyond 'find key, open door' it is unavoidable, but it manages to never feel derivitive. I honestly saw more of Soul Reaver in the boss fights and overall combat, both of which being slightly deeper than anything Link had to deal with. War is neither as whiny as Raziel nor as awesome as Kain (nor as mute as Link) so he is almost an original character. Almost, because the part of brooding anti-hero who has been screwed over by the gods has already been taken by a bald guy who wears much less clothing, but War still get points for trying. There just isn't much to like or dislike about him. On the positive side, he does make a better candidate for an action game than pestilence or famine, and Death is locked up by the Castlevania franchise.

War does his best Bionic Commando impression.

Combat is shallow and mashy, with one or two abusable combos that will carry players of almost any ability through most encounters. There is a counter system in place, but outside of a forced pratice room I never needed it; War's dodge was more than enough to get out of the way of things and the timing required to counter a move was too strict to bother trying. There were secondary weapons as well, a sickle that can be purchased early on and a glove found much later; the sickle I only bought because I had extra souls laying around and the glove might has well been a margarita machine, all I ever used it for was breaking ice. There was no incentive to branch out beyond the giant sword of swinging death. Usually bosses force some kind of aresenal flexibility, but every boss in Darksiders in a puzzle, often involving whatever gadget was found in their lair. Yes, they had health bars, but each was defeated by figuring out what item to use and then repeating it three times. At this point Darksiders looses the feeling of being an homage and slips right into copy-catting, mostly because it doesn't know when to stop.

Right at the end of Zelda: Wind Waker there is a truly terrible section comprised entirely of fishing for triforce pieces. It throws off the pace of the game, killing any and all momentum towards the final confrontation. Darksiders does the exact same thing, only with a shattered sword instead of mystic triangles. Immidietly after War gets all his answers, kills the demon that killed him in the beginning, and swears some sort of 'I'ma gonna kick yo ass' oath at the main boss he is sent on a boring retread right through all the areas he had already cleaned out. It helps that every sword piece War has to find is identified exactly on the map, and there are quick travel locations provided by Watto the demon merchant near them all, but it is unnecessary and lessens the impact of the final encounter. Darksiders was long enough aready, it didn't need this padding, especialy right at the end when you should be running downhill at the Destroyer, violently flailing your sword at the unfortunte fools who get in your way, not playing pick up sticks for a giant, depressed dwarf.

War visits Middle Earth and has tea with Sauron.

Despite these end game miss steps, Darksiders in a fun enough game to warrant playing through to its cliffhanger ending. Good enough because there is a terrible downside to cribbing your best ideas from better games: the new game is fun and entirely forgettable. The next time a game sneaks a portal gun in I am not going to think of Darksiders, I am going to think of Portal. The same is true for everything else it has to offer: fun, but not something that is going to stick with anyone much beyond the credits because those memories are already spoken for. If Darksiders does well enough to warrant a sequal, and if Vigil revisits their original ideas, then yes, Darksiders 2 will be little more than Borderlands on a pale horse. It will still be fun and forgettable, so I suppose I am looking forward to not remembering it. Darksiders gets a lot right and a few things very wrong, none of which I will give it credit for or hold it accountable to. It made the end of the world a good time, how can you go wrong with that?

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