Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Darksiders - The Apocalypse Begins, And It's Awesome

In preparation for Darksiders II, to be released August 14, I took it upon myself to play the original Darksiders. I'll be honest, the first time I played this game a couple of years ago, I started playing and never got around to finishing it. I believe it was due to outside circumstances, but I regretted not being able to finish it. So on my second go round, and for the 200th review of this blog, I began my quest anew and found myself drawn into a fascinating and enjoyable 16+ hour game that's got me excited even more for the sequel.

The apocalypse has broken out on Earth, aka the Kingdom of Man, and War, one off the Four Horsemen, is there to fulfill his duty. However, it turns out that the end of days was set off prematurely, and the Charred Council blames the horseman for it. Out of the seven seals that would need to be broken to kick things off, one remained intact. While the council wants to execute him to death, War asks to find the one responsible for summoning him early, declaring that he is innocent in the matter. The council accepts his request, sending him back with a companion named The Watcher to keep track of his whereabouts and actions. It turns out that a century has gone by, and to find the one he seeks, War will need to strike a deal with a demon named Samael, who craves the still-beating hearts of the Chosen.

A really great way to describe the experience of Darksiders would be to say that it feels like a combination of multiple game franchises. In my case, I would describe it as a mixture of God of War, Devil May Cry, and Portal; I've heard others also state The Legend of Zelda as a big influence on the overall design, but since I'm one of those people that has yet to play a single game from that franchise, I feel unqualified to agree. Even so, while they might say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I feel as though Darksiders is much more than a cheap imitation.

The God of War influence I spotted was in the combat. God of War's classic two-button layout, where Square is for light attacks and Triangle is for heavy attacks, fits in with the game's absolutely perfect control layout and allows War to make the battle seem more visceral and gives the player the feeling of ultimate power as one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. Heck, the Circle button is even used to display a unique  finishing move for each enemy, just like Kratos himself. Where this game decides to introduce its own spin on the formula is how instead of a heavy attack, the appropriate button will use a secondary weapon instead, allowing for varying attacks to help easily clear an area of enemies. In addition, he can access an array of extra abilities in the vein of God of War's magic, as well as access a Chaos form by filling up a gauge through battle in a similar fashion to Kratos. Despite the similarities, I feel that the combat was executed very well, with plenty of enemy variety and additional tactics to keep players on their toes and get in the zone.

On the subject of weaponry, this is where I form my Devil May Cry comparison. This is not in the actual weapons themselves, but rather the amount of weapons available. While Dante definitely isn't short on weapons in his career as a professional demon slayer, War seems equally capable at gathering an impressive arsenal. While his Chaoseater blade never leaves his side, other weapons like a Scythe and Tremor Gauntlet can be interchanged to help suit an individual's play style. He can even use a bladed boomerang or a gun with limitless ammunition when locked on, among other useful items. I enjoyed the array of weapons available and experimented with different combinations to find what would work best not only in combat, but also what would have the best application for the next part of the level.

But why Portal, you might ask? Well, in a later portion of the game, War acquires a device called the Voidwalker, which is essentially the Portal Gun, down to firing orange and blue portals on a specific surface, which appears here to be stained glass circles. The only difference is that momentum doesn't transfer between portals unless you charge the shot and you can actually fire portals through portals to extend your reach. This is essential for some of the puzzles, which is also where my connection to the franchise comes from. The puzzles in this game are very creative and can even stump you for a moment as you try to figure out exactly what you'll do. While some of the complexity made a level or two feel a little long, I still enjoyed solving them and feeling a strong sense of satisfaction upon completion.

On a technical note, I thought that Darksiders looked pretty good. The graphics may not be the best in gaming, but the detail achieved and the intricacy of the characters models had me impressed. Everything looked stylized with a carved edge and a smart angular appearance that still allowed everything to flow organically. I even saw a pretty good smoke trail from The Watcher and flow in the long hair of some of the characters.

One aspect I'll readily praise is the sound quality. The game has an amazing score that perfectly captures the feel of the events, even during the most mundane things. Voice acting is also top notch, featuring memorable performances from such names as Liam O'Brien, Phil LaMarr and Mark Hamill. I enjoyed hearing the characters interact, especially when thinking of some of their other roles, and felt that everyone sounded just right.

If there's one area the game doesn't feel right in, it would be the story. While the tale is very intriguing and original, I couldn't feel myself getting invested in the entirety of the events, part of which is due to the apocalypse not being given an appropriate scale within the context of the event. If there was a much larger scope to show the gravity of the situation and what exactly hangs in the balance, then maybe I would have cared a little bit more instead of feeling a little indifferent. Nevertheless, there are some interesting character moments and twists set that are worth seeing, plus a world that I would actually like to see more of with its depiction of mythology.

Darksiders is one of the more unique experiences that I've had in gaming. While a lot of its core concepts are indeed borrowed from other franchises, the way that Vigil Games used and combined them shows that they are not only passionate, but also creative in their ability to build upon their inspirations. Save for a couple of things, this game is one that I would readily recommend people to play if they want a well made action-adventure title to satisfy their hunger, especially since it ends with a great cliffhanger that teases a lot of potential for a sequel.

Now its time to wait a little bit and see just what they'll do with that potential.

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