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Darksiders

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Vigil Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure


Graphics & Sound:

The biggest problem facing Darksiders is convincing players used to clones and sequels it's something different. Although it contains mechanics from nearly every action game from God of War to The Legend of Zelda, Darksiders manages to combine the various parts into such a seamless package, it feels like a completely new game.

If you're looking for a poster game for "Attention to Detail," Darksiders is your game. Everything about the game is dripping with Joe Madureira's unique style, at times resembling a comic book in motion more than a typical videogame. Character designs are as distinct as they come, ranging from technology-clad angels with giant cannons to huge, bug-like demons. As fun as the designs are to look at, they look even better in motion. War transitions between attacks and other motions, including a number of truly brutal finishers, with fluid ease and stylish finesse.

Darksider's soundscape is as distinct as its visuals, only you probably won't realize it. Though it doesn't sound like much of a compliment, its probably the best one any game can get - at least from me. Music pipes in when it's needed, allowing the sounds of combat to stand tall. The rest is filled in by the near-constant (maybe not constant, but enough) jabbering of the Watcher; voiced to perfection by Mark Hamill. Everything seems to fit just right; it's there but doesn't get in the way or trip over itself.


Gameplay:

The cork has popped, causing Armageddon to come much sooner than it was supposed to. This doesn't phase the forces of Heaven or Hell, they love fighting each other, but for the Horseman War it causes a problem. He's the fall guy and condemned to death by the Charred Council - the guys running the show. Though the Council isn't willing to stay War's execution, they do agree to let him travel to Earth, sans powers, to try and figure out what really happened.

For the first hour or so, Darksiders feels like an action game in the mold of God of War or Devil May Cry. A few hours in, it begins to mutate into something more akin to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The longer you play, the more you realize Darksiders is a game of layers. Though it doesn't forge a wholly new style of play, it manages to combine the best play mechanics from the last twenty years, melding them into an incredibly well-crafted experience.

Darksiders will push OCD collectors to their absolute limits. I'm sitting at nearly 28 hours according to the in-game clock and still nowhere near completely leveling up my arsenal or finding all of the game's many collectibles despite earning passage to the final battle nearly six in-game hours earlier. As intimidating as it may sound, its one of Darksiders's strong suits. Obviously I'd like for the weapons experience numbers to be a slightly less than they currently are, but it kept me coming back and always gave me something to work towards. On second thought... smaller experience tables would have been great given the lower-than-usual numbers of enemies you'll encounter once you clear out areas. It's a good reason to keep playing, but does drift into artificially-extended play time territory.

Though likely pilot error more than a major gameplay issue, some items are a little too cleverly hidden. Even with the aid of an item revealing every secret in the game, two items are remaining elusive. This is great for replay, but frustrating.


Difficulty:

Darksiders isn't incredibly hard, but it is inconsistent. Your first major boss encounter, the Tiamat, will leave you screaming in frustration after your fifth quick death. This pattern holds true until you reach the final few bosses. Logic would tell you you're in for a major challenge, but they're pushovers by comparison. Some of the inconsistency is dependant on how powerful you are by the time you reach later bosses, but the scaling is still noticeably off.

If the early boss fights don't knock your confidence down a few notches, some choice enemy encounters will. Darksiders is not above tossing out some incredibly cheap encounters. Maybe "cheap" is too harsh a word, but the designers seem to derive a special pleasure from blindsiding you with powerful enemies when you're at your weakest.

On the plus side, save points are common and nothing is insurmountable. Unlike Demon's Souls, which is sometimes insanely hard just to be insanely hard, there's a method to getting out of the developer's many traps. It may some tactical experimentation, but even the toughest of fights will eventually go your way. If you're old enough to remember NES and SNES era game difficulty, expect similar.


Game Mechanics:

A major reason for Darksiders's successful merging of mechanics is pacing. You begin with an action game and just as it starts to drag, an exploration mechanic is added. When that gets old, there are puzzles. And it doesn't stop halfway in. New mechanics are constantly tossed into the mix just when you need it. It's a great motivational tool and helps keep the experience from becoming too mundane or predictable. The new mechanics merge seamlessly into what's already there. Even something as simple as button-mashing through sword combos becomes more interesting when the Scythe or Crossblade become available.

The only downside to adding so much content is there's nowhere to put everything. Each mechanic/ play style has a place and gets some face time, but some get pushed back a little too quickly or disappear. The Panzer Dragoon style shooting level is fun and I would have loved a similar sequence closer to the end, when action seems to drop off a little. A couple of neat "mini-game" training levels early in the game also disappear about halfway through. Although their absence makes sense within the game's context, I wouldn't turn down a few more. At the very least, they'd offer a great way to earn a little more experience and Souls for weapon leveling and purchasing pricier upgrades.

Once again, Darksiders is a great game facing the uphill battle of convincing clone-weary players it's not what it seems. Even if screenshots and movies have convinced you otherwise, there's a lot to Darksiders, making it 2010's first "Must Purchase" game.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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