In brief: Darksiders casts you in the role of War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. While Darksiders is ostensibly a third person action title, Vigil has guarded against repetition by drawing on elements from classic Nintendo franchises Metroid and The Legend of Zelda. Notwithstanding occasional aliasing issues, which may be addressed prior to release, the game impresses with its vibrant and expressive art style. Melee combat is accessible and satisfying, ballistic combat slightly less so.
In depth: Held in the sweltering gloom of a Sydney warehouse, the Darksiders preview event afforded me two opportunities. The first was the chance to go hands-on with two levels from Darksiders. Published by THQ and developed by Vigil Games, Darksiders is one of the more promising original IPs scheduled for release in 2010. The second opportunity was to demonstrate my social ineptitude before a gathering of my peers. I’m proud to say, I made a good first of both.
A roaming third person fighter, Darksiders casts you in the role of War, one of the fabled four horsemen of the apocalypse. After receiving the call to unleash the end of days (you really should screen your calls), you arrive in the moral realm, sword in hand. As you make your way through the opening level, you begin to realise that you’ve been tricked into commencing your grim task before its allotted time. Who could be responsible for such a betrayal? A sinister entity known as The Destroyer is your number one suspect. In the first two levels, you’ll explore subway stations, office buildings, ancient temples, ghastly sewers and more in search of your quarry.
Darksiders immediately impresses with its daring and expressive art style. The opening cinematic witnesses angels and demons descend amidst a shower of meteorites to do battle in a modern metropolis. The city and its human inhabitants are presented more realistically, which cleverly exaggerates the already heroic proportions of the combatants. Noted comic book artist Joe Madureira served as Creative Director on the game and his fingerprints are all over it. That’s not to say the visual presentation is flawless. The odd jaggie and flat background suggest, along with some laughably inept water effects, that Darksiders would benefit from another polish prior to release. The frame rate seems reasonably solid, however.
The melee fighting system will be immediately accessible to most players, with basic, though often devastating, combos involving only one to two buttons. A simple lock-on function ensures you don’t lose track of your desired target amidst the chaos of a skirmish. As you wear down your opponents, an on-screen cue will prompt you to deliver a gruesome death blow to your opponent. Expect to sever all manner of limbs as you carve your way towards a confrontation with The Destroyer. Ballistic combat was slightly less intuitive, involving a minor point-of-view adjustment and a targeting receptacle. You’ll also battle enemies from the saddle of a flying mount as it glides, on rails, through a cavernous underworld. Though it was absent from the demo, you will also gain access to Ruin, War’s demonic steed.
Your principle weapon is a comically large sword dubbed Chaoseater. It can be customised to facilitate a range of special attacks. One such attack, the Blade Geyser, causes a nest of golden blades to erupt from the earth, skewering nearby enemies. Most special attacks require to you fill one or more combo meters (Wrath Cores) during general play before they can be unleashed. You’ll need all the help you can get as you face off against avenging angels, bat-winged devils, lumbering ghouls and numerous other repugnant monstrosities.
At this point my notes were blown halfway across the room by one of the fans THQ had kindly installed to alleviate the heat. As I scurried back to my chair, hoping to avoid the glances of my fellow critics, our host offered me a Japanese beer. Keen to appear both cultured and assured, I accepted with what I hoped was an air of casual indifference. After one mouthful, I deposited the bottle on the seat next to me, where it immediately bubbled over, covering the seat in beer.
Madureira has been quite open in acknowledging Darksiders’ debt to classic Nintendo franchises Metroid and The Legend of Zelda. You commence the campaign in possession of a formidable array of powers and weapons. However, you’re swiftly stripped back to the bare minimum required to survive. You’ll then gradually regain your abilities throughout the campaign, with a number of special abilities granted during the opening levels. The first allows you to glide over perilous chasms, the second enables you to access dimensional gates. You’ll soon add a bladed projectile to your arsenal. Similar in function to Link’s boomerang from The Legend of Zelda series, this weapon can be used to solve puzzles and strike multiple targets in quick succession. Though absent from the demo, screenshots confirm that a version of Link’s hook-shot, here known as the abyssal chain, is also on the cards. Hopefully, the gradual introduction of new gameplay elements will ensure the game remains compelling over the long haul.
Darksiders never lets you forget that it is a game. Logic and realism have no place in a world that embraces, with almost tender reverence, some of gaming’s most enduring clichés. You will, for example, encounter numerous barriers which simply refuse to open until you have dispatched the final enemy in the room. You’ll loot dozens, if not hundreds, of arbitrarily situated treasure chests. At times, Darksiders is unashamedly absurd. Whenever you defeat an enemy, the creature’s soul, which resembles an ethereal skull, is drawn into your body. After rampaging through the first couple of levels, you’ll discover that cars, fire hydrants, tables and chairs apparently have souls as well. Who knew?
If the opening levels are any guide, Darksiders should find an appreciative audience among action fans. Stay tuned for our final verdict.
Further reading: Check out our Darksiders interview with THQ Creative Director Luis Gigliotti.
publisher THQ l developer VIGIL GAMES l platforms 360/PS3 l release date 07.01.10