The son of a thousand fathers
Played on PC (Steam)
Darksiders is comparable to a pop song – one whose shameless pandering inspires disgust one moment, but has the listener begrudgingly singing under their breath the next. As with many pop songs, Darksiders possesses not a single original idea in its entire construction.
I had recently completed a series of considerably depressing games (The Last of Us, The Wolf Among us and Dark Souls) prior to playing Darksiders, so a colorful, unoriginal, mindless, action/puzzle game was just what I needed.
It’s video game junk food. It threatens no unfamiliarity, complexity or moral questions. It offers nothing new but is designed so competently that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.
Mechanically, Darksiders imitates every popular game in recent memory. The combat is a mix of Bayonetta, God of War, Devil May Cry etc… generally pulling from many spectacle fighter games but never reaching the same complexity.
You can attack with your equipped weapon by bashing either the light or heavy attack button. A set attack animation builds with consecutive hits and different weapons will have different patterns. Some weapons are arguably more suited to certain situations than others, but the main sword or scythe will likely get you through most challenges.
You can also add slight variety to attacks by combining them with jumping or by purchasing additional moves and techniques.
I said innovate, not replicate!
Dungeon design is pulled straight out of the Zelda games. There’s a map showing each dungeon’s layout and points of interest (including a skull marking the boss room). There are chests containing keys that unlock other areas and a hidden map that reveals the entire level plan and all containers.
Many mechanics are also ripped straight out of the Zelda series. The hook shot will pull you towards walls and the glaive can hit many enemies before returning to you (essentially Link’s boomerang). Many puzzles require the use of bombs to destroy obstacles. Some levels require guiding beams of light with mirrors. You even get a horse. Almost everything that happens in Darksiders’ dungeons has happened in a Zelda game.
There is the Metroidvania style mechanic whereby areas are blocked off until the necessary equipment is obtained, such as gloves that can destroy ice walls. Certain chasms can only be swung over with the hook shot and specific explosive materials can only be set alight with the glaive. You will spot many of these barriers as you progress through the game – knowing very well you will be returning after finding the appropriate tool.
Gun turrets can be picked up, forcing a slow walk but also allowing you to gun down waves of enemies a la Halo and Gears of War.
There are also brief flying sections where you gun down other flying enemies, like…well, hundreds of other games you’ve played.
There is a device that creates portals – allowing you to enter one portal and exit the other, just like that game whose name escapes me. The process is simplified however, as the game tells you exactly where portals need to be placed.
You also collect souls from killed enemies which can be used as currency to purchase items and upgrade weapons – similar to that other game with Dark in the title.
I think you get the point. What impresses me is that all of these mechanics are implemented surprisingly competently.
Where each mechanic is used by it parent game to provide a considerable challenge, Darksiders scales back the intensity so the challenge is not too frustrating nor too easy. The puzzles and combat are just challenging enough to give a sense of achievement.
If you have played any game in the last 10 years then you have experienced Darksiders control system. It’s 3rd person action with a lock on system. Movement is responsive and the audio/visual feedback lets you know exactly how you are performing.
Combat is visceral and colourful and the simple attack system remains fun for the majority of the game. Enemies types vary enough to remain visually interesting and the action is considerably gorey. Many finishing moves result in decapitations and flying limbs and are comically gruesome as your character will rip apart a defeated enemy in unnecessarily violent ways.
The graphics aren’t incredible, but they’re colourful with a cartoonishly stylized aesthetic that is reminiscent of Warhammer 40K. There are no hyper realistic faces or animations, which will allow the game to age gracefully.
Ctrl + V
You play as War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who belongs to a neutral faction that exist to keep some sort of balance between angels and demons. The plot kicks off when War is misled into a battle between the opposing sides, resulting in him being marked as a betrayer.
The action revolves around War’s journey through post-apocalyptic Earth, wherein he battles through the domains of angels and demons in a crusade to clear his name.
The resulting drama and cast of characters are nothing special. Villains are cartoonishly campy and War’s allies are stereotypically gruff and devoid of personality.
Characters act serious, but are so generic that it’s impossible to care about them in the slightest.
War Is Hell. And a twit.
Never have I felt so apathetic to a character’s struggle. War behaves like the standard protagonist hardman but is also infuriatingly quick to comply to orders.
He threatens those that are weaker or have nothing to offer, but immediately obeys the demands of others to retrieve whatever macguffin they desire – usually in exchange for information. If War was anyway consistent he would have just beaten the information out of them.
This is a symptom of lazy storytelling – an excuse to get War to the next dungeon, which is to be expected given the rest of the game’s lack of creativity. It would have been nice however, to see a protagonist portrayed differently than the usual honor bound warrior type that, when looked at from afar is a complete sociopath.
In fact, there’s not a single likable character in the game. Everyone is as appealing as burnt toast. I was however, able to derive great humour from seeing animated characters overact. The over-dramatic cutscenes and cheesiness had me pretty much constantly entertained.
Ascend Heaven and Hell, with points.
There were also gameplay elements that interfered with my fun. I struggled with one or two puzzles as the solutions were a bit too obscure – though admittedly, my puzzle solving competence had likely degraded due to other puzzles being a bit too simplistic (some I completed by accident).
There are plenty of the usual ‘Video-Game’ elements that occasionally shook my suspension of disbelief. Barriers appear over exits and entrances when enemies enter the room and inexplicably disappear when all are defeated. I know WHY this occurred – it forces you to overcome the challenge – but that’s a gameplay reason. Even the most token of in world justification would have been appreciated.
A couple of areas required that you complete timed challenges to progress to the next location. Challenges such as killing 15 enemies in 1 minute, or by using a particular attack or weapon. Again, I understand that games usually require the mastery of a challenge to allow progress, but it’s frustrating to have the story just stop, only to continue after completing an activity that has no relevance to the plot.
These challenges had to be completed to ‘release’ stone giants from your path. Giants that never again appear in game and serve no plot relevant purpose.
These are relatively minor complaints when considering the general silliness of the game. None of these issues were so glaring or frustrating to ruin the overall fun.
In the eeeeend it doesn’t even maaaaaatter!
Whether or not you find the shameless aping of other games a positive or negative thing is up to you. I was in a ripe mood to play Darksiders after coming off considerably more complex, more challenging and more inventive games. Darksiders allowed me to put my brain on standby. It has no depth whatsoever and is as video-gamy as can be, but I like it because it has no pretense at being anything else. The colorful spectacle, mindless combat and large scale action can deliver immediate catharsis to even the lowest of attentions spans.
To use film as a comparison; It’s engaging and thought provoking to watch a Schindler’s List or a Godfather, but sometimes you’re just in the mood for The Mummy 2.