If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then THQ’s newest IP is heaping a colossal mountain of praise upon a bevy of gaming’s big names. You see, Darksiders, although an original title that introduces us to a new gaming world, takes inspiration from a number of existing titles. Actually, taking inspiration is the understatement of the decade, Darksiders blatantly rips the game mechanics out of its peers and uses them to deliver its own story. The question is, is this a bad thing? No it’s not, actually.
Darksiders, or alternatively ‘Zelda: Mature Edition’ is all about the end of the world. An uneasy peace treaty between the forces of Heaven and Hell has been broken, resulting in the total eradication of mankind. The kingdom of man is in ruins, and the Charred Council – beings that previously worked to uphold the balance of power between Heaven and Hell – blame one of their own servants, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War.
War has seemingly been framed for riding into battle prematurely and thus brings with him the inevitable war to end all wars. Charged with breaking the balance, War is stripped of his powers, and sent to the world of men one hundred years after its destruction in order to try and find and defeat a demon known as The Destroyer. If War can succeed, then maybe the balance can be restored.
Darksiders is a third person action RPG, and as I clearly indicated earlier, is a blatant riff on the Zelda series. It’s so similar to Nintendo’s masterpiece that you could literally replace the game’s textures with Hyrule-themed replacements and you could call this a Zelda story.
All the elements are there, the smooth lock-on combat, the dungeons filled with puzzles and treasure chests, a sprawling overworld to explore, items to find that allow access to previously blocked areas and more. There’s even a horse that War can call upon.
Yep, this is about as close to an unofficial Zelda clone as it gets, and it’s not just Zelda that Darksiders is happy to borrow ideas from. There’s Panzer Dragoon-style on-rails shooting, God Of War-esque combat moves and finishers, Prince Of Persia wall running and even a Dark Sector-inspired glaive weapon (which, as in Dark Sector, can capture elemental powers).
With hardly any new ideas to its name, you’d think that Darksiders would turn out to be a bit of a mess. Luckily, this couldn’t be further from the truth, though, because although not afraid to pilfer from everyone else, Darksiders is one damn fine game.
At first the game starts quite slowly, gradually getting you used to War’s abilities and combat moves. You’re shown the ropes with a flurry of easy foes to defeat, and the initial opening stage is impressive, as you witness the end of mankind.
Once into the game proper, the Zelda theme really hits home. You find out that you’ve got to go on a quest to find and defeat four major demons, each of which is holed up inside a large dungeon. In each dungeon you have to explore and solve environmental puzzles whilst fighting sub-bosses and finding important key items such as the aforementioned glaive weapon (very similar to Zelda‘s boomerang), the abyssal chain (Hookshot) and even make use of bomb-flower-style explosive orbs to destroy barriers.
Boss fights are also very similar to Ninty’s action RPG epic, and most involve figuring out the required strategy to defeat them, and using specific items and weapon combinations is usually key. Bosses can also be epic in size, and they can be very impressive beasts.
While in the overworld you’ll proceed from location to location and will often run into areas that are inaccessible, leaving plenty of reason to retread your footsteps later on to access these locations with your newfound abilities. There’s a lot of soul collecting to do as well, a hint of Devil Mary Cry, and you can find souls to use as currency (blue), restore life (green) and wrath (yellow). The latter of these is used to power War’s special abilities, including AoE attacks, stone skin and other pyrotechnic moves. Souls are farmed from enemies, and can also be found in treasure chests strewn around the world.
Visually, Darksiders is very impressive, if sometimes a little generic. Characters and enemies are all bright and bold, which is no surprise having been designed by famed comic book artist Joe Madureira. The world is also visually striking, despite the constant theme of ruin and destruction, and the locations you visit, including the dungeons, are all interesting and don’t rely on too many gaming clichés.
Audio is well taken care of, too, with some solid voiceover performances, especially by Mark Hamill who voices War’s Jailer, the Watcher.
With solid presentation and game mechanics from some of the industriy’s best titles, Darksiders developers, Vigil, didn’t get too complacent, and not only does the game actually manage to pull off all the collected ideas, and mix them into a well balanced game, the core controls are smooth and responsive, and the general feel of the game is great.
It’s really strange to play a game that uses so many other titles’ ideas and still enjoy it as a wholly new experience. Developers usually know better than to try and clone such usually untouchable classics like Zelda, but somehow Vigil has nailed it, and this could well be the closet Sony-owning Zelda fans will get to Nintendo’s much loved series.
Some faults are apparent, though. Whilst Zelda got the balance of combat and exploration spot on, Darksiders leans more heavily toward the fighting side of things, which isn’t a major problem, as combat is handled so well, but you do sometimes find yourself thinking “here we go again” when you have to fight another weak, but strangely resilient foe.
The combat also relies far too much on one hit finishers, which do become more than a little tedious when you have to sit and watch War perform the same final blow for the thousandth time.
Finally, non-Metroid fans out there will almost certainly dislike the amount of backtracking the game features later on, so if you’re no fan of ‘Metroidvania’ titles, then this may not be a good option.
Overall, Darksiders is an early 2010 surprise. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable action RPG that crosses its Ts and dots its Is, and if you’re patiently waiting for the next instalment of the Zelda series on the Wii, then this could be a great gap-filler.
Some may say Darksiders is a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none, and this may well be correct. It doesn’t really have any truly outstanding features or moments that make you go “wow!” And it never approaches true classic status thanks to its use of others’ ideas and a degree of playing things safe, but it’s still a great biblically-charged game nonetheless, and one that any action RPG fan will enjoy.
A good start to the year.
Darksiders is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.