While everyone screams "God of War clone" at EA's Dante's Inferno, there hasn't been much "Zelda clone" talk about Darksiders. Perhaps its because the main character War is far removed from the innocent Link. And the demon slaughter that takes place would have scared most of Hyrule to death. Or perhaps it has helped that the developer Vigil Games have never tried to hide their inspirations.
But the most obvious reason why there hasn't been more outrage among Zelda fans is simply, because Darksiders has been flying under the radar. And this might very well change as Darksiders turns out to be a surprisingly good experience.
War is one of the four riders of the apocalypse, but he has become the victim of a plot where he sets the doomsday in motion, mankind is extincted, and a war between the powers of heaven and hell break loose. Time for payback.
And payback is best served cold with War's trusted sword Chaoseater. It's almost as big as War himself, and it's deadly enough to make demons as tall as skyscrapers take notice. The combat system offers up evasive moves, magic, punch combinations and brutal finishing moves of dazed enemies from the start, and if you know your gaming you will immediately think of God of War.
But just as quickly as you get those powers they get take away from you. Vigil Games have taken a page out of the Metroid book, and given you a whiff of War's enormous potential just to rob you of all the good stuff. But what better reason to go on an adventure where you regain your powers and weaponry at regular intervals.
Apart from the introduction Darksiders is off to a slow start, and it makes sure that you get to grips with the basic controls before the game world truly opens up. Experienced gamers will find it a bit tedious to go through side missions that teach you how to avoid attacks, but it is obvious why they are there. Without these basic you won't survive long. Because War's is without his skills the game is a very challenging, even the weakest enemies in the game can throw cars at him and withstand several cuts from the Chaoseater before they surrender their lives.
The high difficulty level makes the joy of buying or finding new weaponry all the greater. Vulgrim is a soul devouring demon merchant, who happily trades the souls of your fallen foes for new attacks, but the truly devastating instruments of death are found throughout the levels. Before you reach the end your arsenal will include a boomerang like shuriken (Crossblade), a magical scythe (Harvester), an enormous postol (Mercy) and Wrath Powers that set fire to and sucks the life our of your enemies.
With the selection of weaponry the developer has also included some RPG elements, and the weapons grow more powerful with usage. Secret emblems will also grant weapons more strength or added experience.
For every new weapon and ability it is nice to see how the developer has been able make the feel important and meaningful. Much like the games Darksiders emulate it is a given that every new ability will give you plenty of challenges focused around using it. I had a lot of fun with the portal gun (as borrowed from Valve's Portal) and the tasks involving your horse Ruin. What was surprising to me was how these challenges always felt fresh and original, while they all remain fully logical.
Using both your brain to solve puzzles and your reflexes to conquer enemies the game will take you somewhere between 12 and 16 hours to finish. But if you are a completionist there are lots of secrets and collectables and the game will last even longer. These secrets will most of be worth the time you spend searching for them, so that it feels like time well spent. It's not just collecting for the sake of collecting.
Darksiders comes a cross as a comic adventure from start to finish, and it is of course due to comic creator Joe Madueira heading up the project, but it's still a beauty to behold the distinct graphical flavour Vigil Games have given the game. The cities void of human life are full of zombies, demons and other things you will normally encounter in the genre, but there are also many larger enemies that showcase the developers aptitude for monster design.
One of the first larger enemies you will encounter is The Jailer, a colossus of muscles, teeth, with skulls and a prison with a demon in his body. Unfortunately War himself isn't as exciting when it comes to the design, but his stoic calm, insane weapons, and perhaps most notably his horse Ruin (War's Epona if you will) provide him with plenty of flair. And while the game cannot compete with the likes of say God of War III in terms of graphics, it will still wow you from time to time.
It is easy to be impressed with the amount of work put into Darksiders, but the developer's lack of experience is evident at times. The controls sometimes feel a bit iffy, especially when you are forced to aim manually with the camera. I also missed a bit of context and story in some of tasks you are given, which is really annoying since they were otherwise really well put together.
My aim problem with Darksiders, however, is the varying quality of the level design. It goes from wonderful and logical to frustrating and maze like. And it is not made better by the in-game helping hand, The Watcher, who is almost never useful and only adds to the frustration. And will it's cool that The Watcher is voiced by none other than Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, it is not a voice that makes me happy when the advise he offers is "find her so you can give her a beating!" or the likes.
I can hardly remember a game that has so blatantly ripped off its best ideas from other games, but neither can I recall a developer being so honest about it. But borrowed or not, it is clear that they have poured their heart and soul into the game, and while it may not be a game of the year candidate it will certainly keep fans of the genre happy.