Wednesday, 10 April 2013


Post-Launch Review
Darksiders (PC)
Developer: Vigil Games
Released: January 2010 (consoles) / September 2010 (PC)


A third-person action-adventure game, Darksiders stars War, one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. The Endwar is triggered and War descends to Earth to wade into the battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell. But he and all the others were deceived - the seventh seal was not broken, and the apocalypse should not have happened. As the only horseman present during the battle, War is blamed for the destruction of humanity before its time. He returns to a dead and overrun Earth, seeking answers and revenge.

At Launch

Darksiders received positive reviews, averaging about 83%. Critics were impressed with the story and setting, the voice acting, and the combat. Many reviewers noticed strong inspiration from the Legend of Zelda, Devil May Cry, and God of War series - some feeling that the mix was fun, others felt that it displayed a lack of innovation and borderline plagiarism.

Post Launch

A quick search revealed no updates on Steam or Google. The PC version, despite releasing 8 months later, contains no new features or significant differences to the console version.

The Good

There's a pretty epic story going on here. Last week I said I wasn't a huge fan of The Darkness II's extensive supernatural elements. The implementation in Darksiders is much more to my preference. It takes Christian mythology and politicizes it, which is really interesting. There are factions in both Heaven and Hell that don't quite align with the official policy, and disagreements within each side, and that's the source of the conflict in the game. And there's the Charred Council (which I think is made up for the game but I'm not sure) who set and enforce the laws and treaties between Heaven and Hell. The Horsemen work for the Council and are also bound by their laws.
The ending is also pretty epic, teasing some potentially insane future games.
Art Direction
Darksiders goes for a look that's more animated or comic-book than realistic, and it works well. Both the visual style and the subject matter allow the game to get away with some unusual proportions on a lot of characters - War in particular, whose physique is very Hulk-like. There's plenty of colour for a post-apocalyptic setting, with different environments distinct through the use of different palettes. And all the flashy effects and colours during combat are awesome.
Over the course of the game, War can wield three core weapons - sword, scythe, and tremor gauntlets. You've also got a few secondary/utility options, including a block and counter and some situational weapons. There are special powers, a super-strong transformation, and slot bonuses for the three main weapons. And on top of all that, you can unlock various moves and combos as well. There are a lot of options and a lot of flexibility in how to approach combat, and it also happens to look great. Each weapon has different-coloured effects, and each slot item alters the weapon's appearance. 
So basically, combat is awesome and flashy and can adapt to many different styles. It's a well-built action-heavy system.
Voice Acting
This game has fantastic top-notch voice acting. War's voice always seems somewhat calm but you can hear his anger beneath the surface. The Watcher is voiced by Mark Hamill, who's always awesome. The secondary characters all show an impressive level of nuance and range. If only the cutscenes worked properly (see below).

The Neutral

Legend of Zelda
By coincidence, I just happened to be replaying Darksiders alongside Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. It makes the inspiration and similarities blatantly obvious. Overworld/dungeon structure? Check. Quest structure of "collect X things from dungeons"? Check. New item in each dungeon, required to clear dungeon? Check. Hookshot, boomerang, hammer, bombs, horse, pieces of heart/heart containers... the only thing missing is a magical instrument. Oh, and just for good measure, there's a portal gun, complete with orange/blue portals.
Whether this heavy and clear inspiration is good or bad depends on how you feel about Zelda. I'm a big fan of the Zelda series, so it's fine by me, especially since the combat is far more exciting, action-oriented, and flashy than (most) Zelda games. It does bother me a little bit, though, since I'm constantly pulling back and going, "There's Zelda mechanic X and design element Y".
I hear Darksiders also contains elements of Devil May Cry and God of War, but I haven't played those yet.

The Bad

Out-Of-Sync Cutscenes
For some reason the audio and video components of the cutscenes are stored separately and synced up when played. What this means is that if the video slows or skips for any reason, the audio gets out of sync, playing ahead of the video. It's incredibly irritating, and it's a widespread problem. I've seen a lot of fixes (most involving changing graphics card and Windows Media Player settings) but none of the fixes work for everyone. I was able to improve my sync a little bit but it's still off, and gets worse the longer the cutscene.
Cutscene Video Quality
File this under "weird stuff" - to me at least, the game engine looks better than the rendered cutscenes. The cutscenes often look fuzzy or lower-resolution than the actual gameplay, and as I mentioned above, there's skipping that isn't present during gameplay.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
Darksiders is a strong game that leans maybe a little too heavily on its influences. The experience is hurt by the technical problems in the cutscenes - I could still follow what was happening, but it was irritating to keep track of who is supposed to be talking when. Aside from that problem, the art direction, voice acting, and story are very good, combat is fun, and there's a good balance of fighting, exploration, and puzzles. Great game, and I'm looking forward to finally playing Darksiders II for next week's review. 

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