I know I usually post only music reviews, but as I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch in good music review material, I though you might be interested in some impressions of the videogame I’m currently playing, Darksiders. (warning, if you don’t want some minor spoilers of the game’s opening and some of the cooler items and characters you meet, then look away now)
So, what is this Darksiders thing all about anyway? Well, we are told that Angels and Demons having this epic war for all eternity, to which the four horsemen are the intermediaries. Essentially, if they war gets too big and they mess up earth by starting the Apocalypse, it’s up to the four horsemen to show them who is boss. Well, the game starts with this war finally spreading across to earth. Demons crash down from the sky, all spikes, claws and teeth and start crushing and maiming everything in sight. Angels fly down to deal with them, as you’ve never seen them before. These angels are covered head to toe in gleaming gold armour and don’t hesitate in completely shredding their demon foes apart, or worry about accidently crushing some humans along the way.
This commotion draws down our hero, War, the most appropriate Horseman for the job. Looking for all the world like the world’s most badass male interpretation of Red Riding Hood, he proceeds to do what War does best, break stuff and kill people. One big sword and a whole lot of dead demons and angels later, we learn that something has gone a bit awry. Turns out someone started the fighting on earth without going through all the right procedures, and so all this demons verses angels, end of all humanity stuff isn’t technically the apocalypse, and so War isn’t meant to be there at all. After getting thoroughly owned by a demon that looks like it’s made out of a cathedral, he returns to his higher ups to learn he’s been framed for starting the pseudo-apocalypse, stripped of his powers and sent back to earth on a suicide mission to fix what they think he has started.
This is where the game properly begins. I, after playing about five minutes of it at my friend’s house, decided to start the game on it’s equivalent of hard mode, “Apocalyptic Difficulty”. The five minutes I was shown didn’t seem hard in the slightest, so I thought I might as well go for the higher achievement and play it through on the harder difficulty. Not the best choice, as he later told me that he was able to start his ‘Apocalyptic’ playthrough with the best armour in the game, significantly lessening the threat of the game’s enemies. Oh well, I decided I would take the challenge by it’s horns and keep playing through on this difficulty.
As I got into it, I realised that this game felt very familiar. It didn’t take me long to realise the Darksiders is the darkest Legend Of Zelda game I have ever played. Ok, so it’s not identical, but stop me if this any of this sounds familiar. Deep within dungeons hide parts of something that must be brought together to be able to access and defeat the main antagonist. In each of these dungeons, you will find a new toy to add to your arsenal (including a grappling hook and a boomerang-like thing) that will be required to traverse that dungeon and ultimately end up being the key to defeating the big boss at the end of the dungeon. Throughout the dungeon crawling you will encounter block-sliding puzzles, chests containing keys, maps and guides to the rest of the chests in the dungeon. To get between these dungeons, you are able to ride your noble steed which uses it’s dash ability to get across gaps in the world. Oh, and you have a flying assistant who points out where to go and gives advice on how to defeat the bosses.
This lack of originality isn’t as big a problem as it sounds, for a couple of reasons. For one, by placing these conventions on a brand new set of characters and a new, post-apocalyptic world, Vigil games have done for Zelda what Nintendo could never do themselves, make it darker without seeming silly and injecting some freshness without changing a winning formula too much. The other reason, well, it’s because Zelda isn’t the only game that Darksiders takes some heavy cues from. The blood, guts, souls and quick-time finishers from God of War appear here, as gloriously gory and satisfying as ever. Also, even after an art style conversion and a boost of steroids, the Barnacle enemies from Valve’s Half-Life games appear in full, dripping and biting force here. Finally, keeping with Valve’s games, the dungeon I’m currently fighting my way through bears one very large resemblance to their esoteric first person puzzler, Portal.
Despite all these similarities, they all end up as feeling more like homage than a cynical attempt to cash in on success. It’s nice to have a game that plays up video game convention again, rather than fail at being innovative. Nothing in Darksiders is new, but it does everything to a level of polish that makes it a joy to play. After all, these conventions lasted so long for a good reason, they make games fun. Spotting a boss’ pattern and using it to your advantage hardly ever gets old, and the boss’ in Darksiders are so massive and dangerous that once you do get it, you start to feel a bit like a Horseman of the Apocalypse for taking them down, at least on Apocalyptic mode.
If you are looking for a great, classic gaming experience, I’d say you should give Darksiders a look, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. You’ll want to do it just for the awesomeness of the dude with the massive hammer. You’ll know him when you see him, listen out for an increase in the frequency of the word “pidgeons”.