A roaming third person fighter, Darksiders casts you in the role of War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse. After receiving the order to deliver God’s judgement, you descend to the mortal realm, comically large sword at the ready. Before you can catch your breath, you’re summoned before a parliament of gargantuan stone heads and charged with instigating the apocalypse before the allotted time. You’ll face the forces of heaven and hell in a desperate, blood soaked, bid to clear your name.
Darksiders enables you to customise your approach to combat. You commence with a handful of basic attacks and special abilities, most involving one to three buttons. Whenever you dispatch an enemy, the creature’s soul is drawn into your body. You can then visit a demonic merchant and exchange the souls for upgrades. If you’re still coming to grips with the game, you’ll probably elect to enhance your existing abilities. If you’ve already mastered the basics, you may prefer to broaden your move set by purchasing new attacks. Simplicity or sophistication, the choice is yours.
You’ll face an impressive variety of angels, demons and indescribable monstrosities, most with unique attacks and grisly death animations. You’ll skewer torsos, lop off appendages, cleave opponents in two and be drenched in arterial spray. One particular demon, a bulbous mass of fire and malevolence, explodes upon defeat. You’d think I’d learn my lesson after being caught in the blast a few times. Think again. When you’re attacked by a group of enemies, it often consists of two or three different creature types, ensuring you don’t consistently rely on the same strategies.
Repetition is often considered the bane of the fighting genre and Vigil tackles the problem in a variety of ways. While combat is certainly an integral component of the game, you’ll probably spend as much or more time solving puzzles of varying length and difficulty. Most are in the Tomb Raider or Resident Evil tradition. You’ll find yourself dragging statues, rotating platforms, redirecting beams of light and transferring water from one chamber to another. The levels in Darksiders are impressive in scale and the puzzles contribute significantly to the thrill of exploration.
Variety is further enhanced by the introduction of new items, each with a fresh gameplay mechanic. The Crossblade projectile, for example, enables you target and strike multiple points in quick succession. You’ll find it invaluable in both combat and puzzle solving. An automated grappling hook known as the Abyssal Chain enables you to reach previously inaccessible heights. You’ll employ a spectral steed known as Ruin to traverse long distances and track down fast moving enemies. If these elements seem a little familiar, it’s probably because you encountered them in The Legend of Zelda where the boomerang, hookshot and horse serve precisely the same purposes. Other items and abilities are modelled on titles such as Devil May Cry, Panzer Dragoon and Portal. Though Darksiders is unashamedly derivative, virtually every element of gameplay is executed with a high degree of competence.
While most developers now strive for accessibility, Vigil is determined to test your skill and resolve. Even on the lower difficulty levels, the game is lengthy, demanding and occasionally frustrating. An initial play through is likely to absorb around 30 hours of your time and if you’re anything like me, you’ll die with some regularity. Fortunately, the penalty for death is rarely excessive and defeating a particularly stubborn adversary can trigger a sense of accomplishment bordering on the euphoric. Only the boss battles, which rely heavily on trial and error, truly aggravate. For the most part, Darksiders is challenging but fair.
The most notable aspect of Darksiders is the art design. Comic veteran Joe Madureira served as creative director on the project and his art team delivered a vibrant and expressive game that bucks the trend towards photo realism. Larger than life combatants are juxtaposed with more realistic environments, further enhancing their already heroic proportions. Notwithstanding very occasional aliasing, framerate and clipping issues, the game is a stunning visual showcase.
All in all, Darksiders is a remarkably complete package.