Xbox 360 Review: Darksiders

Revenge is a dish best served in the fires of hell

Deceived by the forces of evil into prematurely bringing about the end of the world, War, the first Horseman of the Apocalypse, stands accused of breaking the sacred law by inciting a war between Heaven and Hell. Dishonoured and stripped of his powers, War must return to Earth to search for the truth and punish those responsible. Hunted by a vengeful group of Angels, War must take on the forces of Hell; forge uneasy alliances with the very demons he hunts, and journey across the ravaged remains of the Earth on his quest for vindication. But the answers he seeks will reveal a deep conspiracy in which War is just a pawn in the eternal battle between Heaven and Hell.

Darksiders is a game that took me by surprise. I had little expectations and after playing the first section, wondered what all the fuss was about. After that, the game opened up and I simply became addicted to it. It’s the combination of gameplay types that I enjoy most which makes it a must-have for action-adventure gamers. It’s as if Zelda and Dante from Devil May Cry had a baby and that baby is called Darksiders.

Imagine Zelda-esque dungeons mixed with combat that is a mixture between DMC and Ninja Gaiden, which is Darksiders in a nutshell. I grant you that it feels more forced than the games which it takes it ideas from, but Darksiders is still a highly enjoyable game and it has a nice flow to it. There’s no real part of the game that feels like a drag…except for the backtracking part towards the end, but it goes to show that there are plenty of hidden things to find and adds more replay value to the game Metroid-style.

War even has a spirit called The Watcher that can give clues and advice like Link’s fairy, Navi. Puzzles in the dungeons are usually straightforward, but a few did make me scratch my head for a while before solving them. Combat is smooth and flows beautifully, but be forewarned that the Apocalyptic difficulty is pretty tricky to master, but not impossible. The game autosaves often and if you die, you’ll return to your last checkpoint with full health…even if you didn’t when you first entered the room, which helps a lot with some of the harder fights.

There is a Panzer Dragoon-esque section of the game where you ride a winged beast and blast your way through angels and demons alike, it’s pretty fun but the achievement for killing 160 enemies in this section is pretty tough…just be sure to manually save beforehand or you’ll miss out on this achievement unless you replay the entire game again. You can also travel on horseback later in the game for those looking for even more Zelda references.

Is Darksiders better than Zelda and DMC? Not quite. The controls take some getting used to and the classic gameplay from both seems more obvious. For example, you get used to a certain pattern of fighting enemies to advance to the next section, solving a puzzle, fighting more enemies and then maybe a mini-boss. It doesn’t shake the foundations of the games that we love, but it’s still great fun…just hardly original.

And I guess that’s the main problem with Darksiders. It lacks any originality, but instead takes ideas from different games to create this epic game. For most games, this kind of thing would not work and too many things would make the game seem cluttered…but somehow Darksiders manages to balance them all perfectly so there is a great flow to the game and story. The story is actually pretty decent and has some pretty high production values. It maybe full of clichés and the old Heaven vs. Hell story, but it serves well to encourage players to carry on through the game just to see what War’s fate will be.

Visually, Darksiders is a mixed bag. The framerate is solid, character models look decent and the amount of gore is lovely. However, there is some pretty bad screen tearing and some duff visual effects that just don’t look right like when War jumps off an edge and lands on the ground, making some debris fly up around him…it looks odd and cheap. It’s a shame, but it’s not something that hinders gameplay or the enjoyment that I found with playing as War. Voice-acting is superb and the music is powerfully epic. Sound effects are also impressive.

The Verdict

Darksiders could have been a disaster. Instead, it manages to combine gameplay from the greatest games to create a decent, if flawed action-adventure game. But most will overlook the flaws just because of the addictive nature and replay value that the game offers. It’s the first big surprise of 2010 and hopefully a start of another great franchise.