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January 11, 2010
Darksiders - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
7/1/2010THQTHQVigil Games1None
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Darksiders from Vigil Games is out now.
Every now and then a game comes along that redefines a genre; games like GTA3, Modern Warfare and God of War. Inevitably these games spawn a series of similar, if ultimately inferior copies, until finally another game comes along that re-redefines the genre. In Darksiders, comic-book guy Joe Madureira (of X-Men fame) has tried to find the middle-ground - it does not try to re-redefine the action game genre, and despite owing a lot to the God of War series, it seeks to stand alone in its own right. Has he and the team at Vigil Games succeeded?

Darksiders begins by giving you a brief history of the Charred Council and the role of the Four Horsemen within it. Basically the Horsemen are duty-bound to come to earth and kill any living thing found on its surface once the seven seals have been broken. The game begins at this exact moment in time, with War, the first Horseman of the Apocalypse, turning up on earth to wipe out all living creatures. During the course of this destruction he realises something is wrong his brothers, the other three Horsemen, are nowhere to be seen. Not only that, but the armies of heaven are resisting his attempts to bring the Charred Council's natural justice to earth, claiming that the seven seals have not been broken.

At this point a particularly nasty demon seizes and crushes War, who finally realises he has been betrayed. War's subsequent reunion with the Charred Council does not go much better than most family reunions, with the Council threatening to punish War severely, and War begging for a chance to clear his name and seek vengeance on his betrayer. The council reluctantly accedes to War's wishes, but they do not entirely trust him so they attach a Watcher to him, thus ensuring that War does the council's bidding upon his return to earth.

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Visually Darksiders is very impressive.
Darksiders is an open-world action (read hack and slash) game with plenty of puzzles thrown in. There's no multi-player option, or online play this is strictly a one player game throughout. The controls are surprisingly complex for an action game, with every single button on the controller, except for L3, having a purpose. The majority of attacking moves are limited to the square button, with directions, bumpers and timing affecting the specific move War will perform. After pummelling an enemy to within an inch of their life, a button-icon will appear above their head, and by pressing this button War will perform a particularly violent finishing move. When fighting multiple enemies performing these finishing moves makes War invulnerable for the duration of the finishing moves' animation, which makes them very useful for conserving health as well as polishing enemies off.

In battle one of War's greatest weapons, especially early on and on the hardest difficulty setting, is his pace. With a press of any direction and R1 War will quickly dash a short distance, often allowing you to get behind an enemy and evade their attacks. For the brave out there, War can also counter-attack when standing still by pressing R1, though the timing is quite hard to master, making this a bit more risk than reward for most players. War will also acquire long-range weapons as the game progresses, with targeting and shooting done with the L2 and R2 bumpers. Targeting thrown objects such as bombs is a two-part process, started by hitting the R3 button, which gives you a slightly different view of proceedings, and finished by using the right-analog to aim. Holding L2 will target a specific enemy and ensure all of your attacks are directed at this opponent.

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Boss battles are massively epic!
Your reward for killing enemies is one of three types of souls green for health, blue for currency and yellow for wrath. The blue souls can be exchanged for new weapons, new moves for your current weapons, items such as health and wrath restoratives and new wrath abilities with a demon named Vulgrim who you'll come across from time to time. The wrath abilities are powerful special attacks which can range from calling spikes out of the ground to skewer nearby enemies, to putting a sickness on your enemies who lose health over time as a result.

One thing Darksiders does well is balance fighting and puzzles; just as you are starting to tire of endless fights, there will be one or more puzzles to solve, and just as you start to feel the burden of stretching your gray matter there will be enemies to fight to let off some steam. The puzzles themselves are taxing enough to feel rewarding, and at the same time are intuitive enough to never take you completely out of your comfort zone. There will be times where you must stop and think about how to accomplish the task, but this is as it should be. Another excellent part about the puzzles is that everything you need to complete them is right there there is never a need to backtrack for a specific item to solve a puzzle, and therefore you can be confident that all you need are your wits about you in order to progress.

Another aspect that Darksiders handles well is the distribution of weapons and gadgets. In most areas leading up to a boss fight, War will stumble across or be given a new weapon or gadget that will help him in his fight with said bosses. The weapons and gadgets range from a seemingly innocuous horn, to a deadly cross-blade (think ninja-star with boomerang properties), to a gun or a grappling hook. Some of these will aid your progress through the game as well as against upcoming bosses, whilst others are needed for boss fights (and to provide some variety in battle). And the boss fights are entertaining too, due in no small part to the fact that going in all guns blazing will rarely work. Rather you need to use your gray matter to devise the most health-effective approach, whilst also incorporating any recently acquired weapons or gadgets. Even when you think you know what is required, bosses are good enough to cause plenty of headaches, forcing you into multiple rematches.

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Another Darksiders (PS3) screenshot.
Darksiders is a lot of fun, but like every game it has its share of faults. The first problem is the somewhat unresponsive controls in specific situations. War refuses to jump from close to an edge, forcing you to jump from further away than you'd like. If you do try to jump from close to an edge, nothing happens and War will walk straight off instead. Also, when targeting a specific enemy, a simple flick of the right analog stick is supposed to swap between enemies this does not work, or does not work effectively enough in crowded battles, and the auto-target AI is horrible, often refusing to target your nearest opponent. Another issue with targeting is that if you do decide to target a specific enemy, any dash done in their general direction will head straight at them, rather than behind or to the side as planned. This forces the player to release targeting when they want to dash, which in turn changes the camera angle slightly, often severely hampering your attempts to see what is going on.

Another issue is that War's abilities are limited by your run-ins with Vulgrim as it is from him that War has access to new or more powerful moves for your weapons. I came across Vulgrim within an hour of starting the game, but didn't have the souls to buy anything useful the next time I saw him was roughly five hours into the game. For at least half of that time I was significantly underpowered, but after I used all my souls on new and powerful moves next time I came across him, enemies were like lambs to the slaughter; for a while at least.

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About to use the sword.
Disappointingly given Darksiders was developed by someone with a comic book pedigree; the story goes largely AWOL after its intriguing intro. For the vast majority of the game you run errands for a demon "fetch me this War; then I will help you". It's hardly riveting stuff, and there's no doubt it starts to wear on you by the fourth such quest, some ten hours into the game. There's also a lack of innovation and originality to the game it is fun, but at the same time you get the feeling you've done all this before somewhere else. The lack of an engaging storyline to distract you only enhances this feeling.

One area Darksiders will not disappoint is in the graphics department. Despite the apocalyptic setting, everything in the game is bright and colourful. This should come as no surprise given the history of the man behind the game, but even so it is quite refreshing to see colours other than brown, gray and black being employed. The game oozes its own visual style, and it is consistent throughout. All of the characters have a distinctive look about them, whilst even run of the mill enemies are interesting to gawk at (before they are savagely cut to pieces). Every character and enemy is well animated and moves in a believable way, be they walking, running, jumping, flying or a mixture of them all. The areas War visits are varied, from post-apocalyptic earth, to the desert to the drowned lands, to a spider's lair, and even bland-sounding areas like the desert are quite colourful.

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War is talking to another demonic being.
The sound is another area Darksiders handles very well; combat is loud, as it should be when one of the Four Horsemen fights demons and heavens armies. The sound effects are all entirely appropriate and fit the action well. The voice-acting is a notch above decent, Vulgrim's voice is sly and oily, Samael the demon has a suitably gruff voice, whilst the angels sound clear and affronted. The Watcher you're stuck with is voiced by the same person who did the Joker's voice in Arkham Asylum, which is a bit odd for anyone who has played that recently. War is ok, but there were times he sounded a lot like Pierce Brosnan to me, which is not what I want from a kick-ass member of the Four Horsemen.

Darksiders is a quality game, expertly combining hack-and-slash action with rewarding puzzles. Despite the fact that the control scheme is overly complex (using every button on the controller barring L3), the story wanes after a bright start and a distinct lack of originality, none of these issues stops Darksiders from being a lot of fun. If you're a fan of action games then this is one title you should definitely check out.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSCharacters are stylish and move fluidly, whilst the environments are bright and colourful locations despite the apocalyptic setting. No sign of screen-tearing here either.
SOUNDThe music is great, the sound effects are pumping, whilst the voice-acting is a tick above decent. Crank the stereo for this one.
GAMEPLAYThe complex and occasionally unresponsive controls takes a few points off, but otherwise action and problem-solving are combined wonderfully.
VALUENo multi-player or online play, but the story is fifteen hours long and invites replay.
OVERALLDarksiders is an entertaining action game in the mold of God of War. Vigil Games gets the balance between action and puzzles almost perfect, but the lack of an engaging story and originality stops it from being a classic.

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