Darksiders is one of those games that really takes the "kitchen sink" idea to heart. With almost reckless abandon, the developers seemed determined to cram every adventure game staple into one package, and wrap it with over-the-top hack-n-slash craziness. And somehow, it all seems to work. Sure, Darksiders trips a little here and there, but the game pushes forward with such a breakneck pace that players soon forget that they were annoyed a few moments ago.
I'm focusing on the PC version of Darksiders this time around, although this is about as straightforward a port from the console world as one can get. For those who caught this the first time around in the console world, there's absolutely nothing new here, other than a slightly-better graphics setup and a questionable keyboard-and-mouse option. For those who missed out, however, there is a great bit of fun to be had donning the mantle of War.
It seems someone touched off the Apocalypse a bit earlier than planned, and the Universe was subsequently turned on its ear. Somehow called up prematurely, the Horsemen find themselves caught up in the entire mess, and the game's much-weakened hero, War, must take on the forces of Heaven and Hell in his quest to right some serious Wrongs. The story is actually a pretty thin one, and War himself never seems to develop much as a character. I really don't know what I was expecting, as the personification of Violence and Conflict probably doesn't have a softer side, but there just wasn't as much of a connection with the Hero as I would have liked. Still, story and plot all but go out the window once the action begins, and it's pretty much pure fun from the get-go.
From the very beginning, with his laughably oversized sword and glare-at-everything attitude, War is quite a force to be reckoned with. Combat is a large part of Darksiders, and while simple, it is also thoroughly, gorily entertaining. War begins with a few simple combat moves, generally a small combo of sword attacks. Once an enemy is sufficiently weakened, War gets the chance to pull off a special, one-button "insta-kill" move, which results in an even gorier, more profitable finishing move.
And, yes, enemies explode into a shower of currency, which this time around is the souls of the fallen. Basic blue souls are the money of the game, allowing War to purchase additional combat moves, magic abilities, and consumables. Yellow souls power up War's Wrath, the game's magic system, allowing players to unleash some impressive (and even overpowered) abilities. Finally, green souls replenish War's health, always a welcome occurrence.
As War gains abilities and new weapons, combat becomes a much more varied affair, without ever becoming too difficult. Darksiders doesn't seem to require quite the timing or finesse of some of the other hack-n-slash games out there, and players can quite easily finish the game with no more than a few basic moves in their repertoire. Eventually, War will also be able to occasionally power-up into a massive, indestructible monster-form for brief periods of time, completely turning the tide of whatever battle he's in.
Even with all the attention given to the combat side of things, Darksiders is really a game about exploration. It's here that the kitchen-sink model really takes hold. Players will gain all sorts of adventuring gear, including homing chakra, a crystal-busting gauntlet of power, the requisite grappling hook, and even a Portal-style VoidWalker gun. All of these are introduced in a very well-paced manor, basically dedicating each area as a training area for the newest toy. And for those who like the treasure hunting, many of the previous areas are riddled with hidden, inaccessible locations that must be revisited with each new power acquisition.
The environments are done very well, and offer a nice selection of puzzles and even a tolerable amount of platforming. Each area, from the devastated city-scapes to the spider-infested mansions, has a unique feel. Graphically, each of these received a bit of a facelift from the console versions, although I did notice some new slowdowns and graphical glitches that I didn't see in my console play-through. I'm also not sure how kind Darksiders would be to older gaming rigs, as my mid-to-high level box was straining at times to keep up. On the audio side of things, everything remained fairly solid, although again I noticed a few hiccups here and there.
Where Darksiders does fall a little short, however, is in the keyboard-and-mouse controls. For those without a game controller, prepare for a bit of pain. The default layout, with the "dash" button tucked uncomfortably beneath the W-A-S-D movement keys, left me with a gnarled claw of a hand in less than an hour's time. I experimented with different layouts, but never managed to find a control scheme that felt comfortable. Still, as awkward as this layout was, it made certain portions of the game almost ridiculously simple. The rail-shooter(!) portions of the game were incredibly easy when driven by the mouse, and War's ranged attacks and targeting throughout the game were a breeze. It really is a pick-your-poison proposition, but both controls are ultimately workable.
Darksiders, for all its derivative makeup, succeeds far more often than it stumbles, and as such remains a ton of fun to play. For those that already tackled the Apocalypse on one of the consoles, there's really nothing here to warrant another version. If, however, you missed the console version the first time around, here's the chance to kill a dozen-or-more hours of well-spent time.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Sure, you've seen it all somewhere before, but Darksiders manages to tie together just about every adventure-game idiom and make it all work.