The apocalypse is like catching a bus. You wait millennia for it to appear, and when it finally arrives, it isn’t the one you wanted! Such is the dilemma faced by War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He has been invited to the wrong Judgement Day, which breaks an ancient code and strips him of his powers. Eager to discover who gains from an early conflict ’twixt heaven and hell he embarks on a quest to restore his honour and uncover the treachery and truth behind the destruction of Earth. Cue brutal battles with angels and demons, box-pushing puzzles and a duplicitous devil named Samael who looks like Tim Curry in Legend.
Darksiders is the first of three games this quarter featuring brutal battles with the forces of heaven and hell. And, for whatever reason, they each happen to be hack’n’slash adventure games. Darksiders gets in first, and a few hours in, fans of the genre will find themselves on familiar ground. The combat of God of War, the adventuring of Zelda and a few nods here and there to other successful titles ensures that Darksiders provides at least a good game. In fact, it’s a great game. While a little tame on “Normal” difficulty, beefing it up to “Apocalyptic” provides a decent challenge, and War eviscerates and decapitates with easy-bash combos and considerable flair. The adventuring portions feature heavy inspiration from the Zelda series, and a homage to Portal (even down to blue and orange entry/exit points), and if the game doesn’t bring anything new to the genre then imitation is at least the sincerest form of flattery.
What Darksiders lacks in unique gameplay it makes up for with a strong visual identity. The levels are richly coloured and designed, evoking a dystopian world ravaged by chaos and destruction. The characters are especially impressive, modelled in an epic comic book style, conveying everything from bothersome sprites to towering demonic titans. Cut scenes are well animated and you can tell a lot of love went into the art design of this game.
Sound is impressive too – with a sub-woofer cranked up, War could be fighting in your living room, such are the numerous low-frequency effects, explosions and booming voices that fill the air every few moments. Mark Hamill reprises his Joker voice again for the role of a martial Sprite, and every character you meet has a perfectly cast voice; heard elsewhere it might be as cheesy as cheddar, but somehow it all works perfectly in this context.
Darksiders is a great, arguably excellent, hack’n’slash adventure. The story might get a little convoluted at times but its world is solid and its gameplay so well built on the established foundations of successful franchises that it doesn’t falter. It’s this successful pulling together of varied tried and tested game mechanics into one title that makes Darksiders shine. After playing this through, the apocalypse doesn’t look so bad after all!