Review of Darksiders (Xbox 360)

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Darksiders was well promoted during the run-up to its release and it was clear that the developers were aiming for something that may just go beyond one game. So how did it shape up?

Story

The protagonist in this particular game is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War to be exact. In this setup there are four major powers in the universe – Heaven, Hell, Earth, and The Council. Basically The Council are pretty much the ruling denomination and the Horsemen are their right-hand beings.

Without ruining it too much for anyone, War finds himself in the middle of a mystery and needs to work out what has happened. Oh, he intends to punish them too…severely.

The story is a nice twist on a traditional betrayal plot and the fantasy setting allows some very impressive bosses, monsters and dialogue. Although there is nothing mind-blowing there, it is an enjoyable romp through a post-Armageddon warzone.

Gameplay

You start the game by being thrust into the tutorial and taught the basics of combat and movement. The commands are seemingly simple and you get not only to cleave demons and angels alike but you can also take out a few pesky humans too, and even a helicopter (for 5g’s too!).

Like Bayonetta, Devil May Cry 4, Viking, and Conan before that this is definitely a bit of a button masher. As you go through the game you are drip-fed new weapons, new commands and combos and thus the seemingly bare initial controls soon fill up to have your fingers hitting most buttons on the controller during long fights.

In reality there are too many combinations on each weapon for a casual or even semi-hardcore player to really memorise and I often found myself pummeling out the same 3 or 4 moves for every fight.

Boss fights are unique and challenging and also for the most part they require you to use the weapon/skills picked up on that leg of the story to defeat them. In fact, Tiamat on Apocalypse difficulty still has me beat because I can’t quite manage to run to target, grab (B), zoom (RS), aim and fire (RT) and then un-zoom and retreat before being barbecued in the face.

I imagine patience will win out, I just seem to lose the ability to wait when I’ve just chopped through 50 minions with little difficulty.

Whilst un-wieldly at times the control system actually does a great job of handling the different weapons management, skills and movement of War. The camera is pretty good for the most part although at times either through the change in camera angle or just the position of the character it was difficult to climb around corners or transition from wall climbing to ceiling climbing (that’s got you intriuged if you haven’t played it hasn’t it?).

One thing I dreaded when facing the bosses but luckily didn’t appear was the implementation of QTEs (Quick Time Events), they are not sorely missed!

Also littered throughout the game are little puzzles that you need to solve in order to progress. A couple of times I found myself at a loss as to which ways I’d been and quite what I should do next. As a hint-machine I found Mark Hamill’s fantastically voiced ‘Watcher’ a little lacking in anything useful to say other than certain scripted points where he’d fly to a point and scream ‘Over here!’.

Ultimately the gameplay is well balanced although a few people may find the drip-feeding of skills and weapons a little slow, especially as you need to revisit previously traversed areas to access certain things with your new-found kit.

Another point I almost forgot was the use of the environment. A large number of items are destroyable or usable by War. Some bosses and monsters require use of the objects to remove them of their mortal coils but for 90% of the time your powered up sword does far more damage and you’ll only be trashing furniture for the hell of it.

Graphics

Graphically this game is a delight to watch unfurl before your eyes. The artists on Darksiders have definitely treated this as a labour of love. Every ‘area’ has been fashioned to look different and set apart from the others yet it still manages to maintain the belief that you are on a post-Armageddon Earth.

Some of the best graphics are on the monsters, not even the bosses can be rather large and hyper-detailed which adds some nice distraction to the usual formula of ‘kill 200 minions of the exact same size and shape and then the giant boss’.

There isn’t too much more to say about the graphics really. A halfway house between the comic art style of Borderlands and more traditional graphics stylings, albeit very brightly (but beautifully) coloured.

Sound

There is very little in the way of a backing track, certainly no constant songs, but there is a decent drizzling of orchestral manoeuvres for boss fights and other high-points in the plot.

The voice acting is done very well with Mark Hamill lending is tremendous vocal talents to another game. War sounds like a guy with a problem and other voices like Ulthane are well done too.

When you manage to click puzzles into place you are rewarded with a tiny fanfare not too dissimilar to something I used to hear when my Windows computer booted up. Although the animation alongside the event more than clearly indicates you’ve completed the puzzle an audio reminder still seems to somehow feel good after that 30min exploration of the half-submerged subway.

Conclusion

I’d probably have this game completed in half the time if it wasn’t for my innate boredom of what still is unfortunately a button masher. Certainly a button masher with flair but a button masher nonetheless.

That said, unlike Devil May Cry 4, I do keep going back, I have attempted the harder difficulty and I will continue to do so piece by piece because behind it all there is a game and hopefully an IP that is genuinely interesting, different and fun to play.

This game hits all the right notes. It could do with a little polish and pace in some areas where the puzzles take just a little too long to trudge around to resolve and likewise a few more challenging monsters into the grindfest up until the boss wouldn’t go amiss but the fact that a few are there already is a good sign for the future.

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