Just because we’ve entered a new decade doesn’t mean we’re so eager to start things anew. The success of Modern Warfare, Grand Theft Auto and Halo echo in countless other wannabes and it’s a story gamers have had to groan through time and time again. 2010 will probably play no differently, and with God of War‘s echoing hype standing atop a thundering peak, we’ll probably see ripples of its hype along the way. Darksiders, THQ’s apocalyptic adventure is not very original. It plays like God of War, thinks like Zelda and looks exactly like World of Warcraft. It’s also one of the most fun games I’ve played this year.
If Darksiders does one thing differently, it’s the apocalypse. True, we’ve experienced no shortages of apocalypses in video games, but for the smouldering piles of nuclear and zombie renditions, I’m surprisingly coming up short as to the last time we’ve played a game about the faith based variation. Caught in the middle of the destructive battle between the armies of heaven and hell, you play as War, one of the Four Horsemen. Unbeknownst as to who summoned him to the mortal realm and why, War finds himself being blamed for breaking the pact between worlds in the first place. Claiming innocence, War offers his services to find the true culprit for the end of the world, The Charred Council, though hesitant, agrees, and sends War back to Earth. Now a century after the fall of man, War makes dangerous pacts with the likes of demons. Forging uncomfortable alliances with the merchant Vulgrim and the fallen Samael, War slowly moves his way towards The Destroyer. He is also under the inspection of the council appointed Watcher, voiced by Mark Hamill, who acts as a variation of Zelda’s Navi, though his hints rarely range beyond, “Figure it out yourself dummy.”
Everything about Darksiders is familiar, by which of course I mean, it’s pretty much ripping off more popular franchises. The slashing combo variety, with swords, scythes and chains echo God of War (not shy to throw in some Devil May Cry gunplay and transformations later on); The overworld to dungeon layout is straight out of Zelda; And if it weren’t for the derelict cars scattered about, you would swear you were glancing shots of World of Warcraft. There are enough skull belts, hoods and ill placed hair extensions to make a Myspace addict blush. There’s also a boss fight done on horseback that gave me déjà vu of Shadow of the Colossus. Even the name sounds a lot like Darkstalkers. But this slides into an issue of politics in game design. Ripoffs aren’t rare, we see them all the time. Though usually with a ripoff also comes a cheap cash-in. Lazy designers can be easily spotted for taking the most recognizable aspect of any more popular game, be it purple armoured aliens or big honkin’ swords, and, well, nothing else. Darksiders is an exception, by all means.
Developers Vigil Games are clearly dedicated gamers. They’ve played great games, and they only take from the games they love to create a game you’ll love the same. They are not lazy, it simply isn’t the word. We’ve seen the weapons and combos before, but the attack variety and satisfaction of rampaging through the armies of evil is just as poignant here as it is in any other. We’ve seen the tools and overworld styles before, but the puzzles are original, clever and fun to execute. The game never seems to let you leave the chapter without giving you a new toy to play with, making for better pacing, like cashing out at a store only to discover you just won the millionth customer prize. As much as I’m none so fond of comic artist Joe Madureira’s character design, but I’d be spiteful not to admit the graphics, models and animation are all beautiful, and there was a lot of excellent craftsmanship going around in this game’s creation.
Of course Darksiders isn’t perfect, like even the best games there are flaws. Many puzzles and sequences seem to require just one too many steps. Be it a repetitive puzzle or a fight with unnecessary rounds of enemies, the last serving always feels overdone. There are some excessive activities earlier on, such as the ‘shadow realm’ locks you need to break, but they fizzle out as if they were learning as production went on. Small things, but things you should know.
Calling it a ripoff is not a worthy insult if the final product is fantastic. You’ve played games like it before, those games were gems. Darksiders marches in the same army.