Right off the pitted, post-apocalyptic bat, 2010’s already showing seeping signs of life, ultimately brought to an impressive start thanks to its jazzy January line-up. If there was ever a golden quarter for fans of the action adventure genre, this should be it. In the same boxing ring as Bayonetta, God of War 3, and Dante’s Inferno, Vigil Games’ Darksiders distinguishes itself from its competitors early on, where puzzles and a comic book art style-inspired direction takes precedence over big boobies, shiny visuals, and a game premised on poetry.
You’ve probably heard it all before, but War’s debut – a new IP worth applauding – is one that should ultimately be heralded as a fine first foray by the folks over at Vigil. This exact game should remind us why sometimes a fresh start should be preferred over stale, drawn out franchises.
The first thing that should come to mind when you’re on your high, straight-outta-hell demon horse is that Darksiders actually looks the part. Like a subtle-yet-sophisticated suit, the game doesn’t boast visuals that will rival the likes of Gears of War or Uncharted, but it oozes with enough comic book-inspired art from Joe Madureira’s brain that you’re likely to ignore its mediocre textures and, at times, poor frame rate problem.
Enemies are well-varied, as they range from demonic bats ready to be ripped by War’s bare hands, to more ominous foes such as Wraiths and Phantom Guards. While these names may mean nothing to you now, they will be easily recognizable once you traverse Darksiders’ world.
The distinct use of bright, vivid colours, coupled with signature comic book quirks, helps to counterbalance the game’s decent character models. While Darksiders isn’t an Audi R8 looks-wise, it convincingly places you in the shoes of Joe Mad’s imagination, and in turn immerses you in a world no other screen-tearing, frame rate-stuttering game would. It truly is a feat in itself when Darksiders’ art direction and dazzling variations of angels and demons is able to grab your cojones, hands, and head, and make you forget about its technical flaws just because the world is that much more charming once walked upon.
War is a powerful son-of-an-older-Horseman, and while the narrative is intriguing, your fall and (second) rise to power will be your main motivation to play through the game. As you first begin the game, main protagonist War – one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – answers a call to unleash the end of the world upon Earth. It turns out that War never cleaned his ears, or, more likely, answered a morbid prank call that resulted in a pre-emptive 2012 situation. He tries to quell the whole Apocalypse thing and fails. Because of this, the powers you initially had at your disposal have been stripped. Yes, you’ve been a bad, bad Horseman.
Similar to Prototype’s we’ll-give-then-take-away-your-badass-powers approach, you’ll want to regain every equipment War had lost, just because you want him to rage like an obese demon Yogi Bear again. This is where the main meat of the game takes place. For an action adventure title, there is a plethora of abilities and weapons you’ll be able to earn along the inevitable highway to Hell. While there’s a limited amount of combos relative to games such as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, unleashing finishing moves, using both your Wrath and Passive abilities, and wielding weapons that slice enemies to pieces is just as satisfying.
Darksiders isn’t an RPG by any means, but if you picked up Dragon Age last November, micro-managing War’s skills will feel somewhat familiar. Wrath abilities allow you to let destruction loose, while the number of times this is allowed depends on how full the magic tank is. Passive abilities are, on the other hand, skills that work in the background, such as hovering with demonic shadow wings and transforming into an ugly, Charizard-from-Pokemon-like creature. Ultimately, it’s War, his weapons, and the tricks up his sleeves that light up the fireworks on the combat side of the fence. While Darksiders may have missed the Gajillion Combo Moves boat, slaughtering a whole horde of demonic presence with the amount of tools you have feels just as gratifying.
Despite ticking the right boxes gameplay-wise, Darksiders is not without its inevitable flaws. Evident even from the first few tutorial objectives, the game’s screen tearing problem rears its ugly head more than just ‘once in a while’. This wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for my swing-the-camera-around-really-fast habit, but unfortunately for those of us who like to quickly scan the area, the screen tears. Not only this, War’s world seems to stutter when there are more than a few enemies on the screen. Whether it be because I’ve been spamming too much of my Wrath magic, or exploding one too many cars, the frame rate tends to suffer more than I’d like it to.
Sometimes, the screen tearing and frame rate stutters interrupt the immersion. That said, it’s not game-breaking, nor does it deem the game unplayable. It’s just that from such an already outstanding title, these niggling issues could’ve been ironed out.
While the year might have ended last week, the string of triple-A titles have continued on into the New Year, proven by titles such as such as this, where steamrolling January should now be made mandatory each year. Darksiders offers a different experience to that of its competitors, mainly sister-release Bayonetta, where stringing combos isn’t actually War’s main priority.
Instead of your run-of-the-mill repetitive action adventure title, the game provides puzzles, item collecting, Earth-roaming, and soul harvesting activities as other avenues for you to take part in. Despite the same day release as Sega’s pivotal action adventure title, Vigil Games’ debut is a fine introduction to their future repertoire. The bar for 2010 has been raised a little early, but hey, so did the Apocalypse – and look what that got us.
Dazzling comic book-inspired character design, coupled with a strong sense of identity from Joe Mad, compensates for a decent-looking game with frame rate problems.
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The weapon upgrades, various armaments at your disposal, and breather-like puzzles separate this from your usual action adventure title.
The orchestral numbers set the mood, but Mark Hamill - the man known for voicing The Joker - is the cherry on top of the Apocalyptic cake, as he voices War's companion.
The average single player mode clocks at around 8-10 hours, giving Darksiders' 15-20 hour runthrough that good old 'more bang for your buck' feel.
Despite the same-day release as Sega’s pivotal action adventure title, Vigil Games’ debut is a fine introduction to their future repertoire. The bar for 2010 has been raised a little early, but hey, so did the Apocalypse - and look what that got us.