Darksiders Author: T_H_Schafer -- Posted: 2011-03-15
Developer: Vigil Games
Platform: PC (Reviewed), XBox 360, PS3
Darksiders walks an interesting line. On one side, it practically steals large pieces of inspiration from The Legend of Zelda and God of War. On the other side, it is a well done homage to those very same games. It could be argued that there isn't a scrap of originality in Darksiders, but it is also true that it's hard not to have fun with it. I believe the timing was right for Darksiders. When it came out, God of War 3 was a couple months away and a new Zelda game wasn't much more than a far off inevitability. I imagine the developers spent a lot of time thinking about when to release Darksiders. I don't think it would have been very successful if it was released right along with a new Zelda or God of War. As it stands it feels much like a big o'l nod to these games, I'm not the first to say so. So, instead of echoing many a review which has already been etched into all manner of media, I'll attempt to gloss over what gameplay mechanics Darksiders steals before I spiral down into a none-too-brief critique of those implications.
How you'll make progress in Darksiders is lifted almost perfectly from The Legend of Zelda. You'll take on a dungeon, take out a bunch of enemies, solve a puzzle or two, receive a new item and use it on the boss. It's well worn territory, and if you're at all familiar with The Legend of Zelda you'll know exactly what to do, but it is interesting to see such a simple formula that has become a staple in Nintendo's Zelda series utilized in another game. I'm kind of surprised that it hasn't happened before and even more surprised that it still works. That simple formula has been kicking around since 1986. I'm sure it has inspired countless other games though I'm not certain any other game has lifted it so completely. The thing is, Darksiders does it well. It's hard to fault it and it isn't as though this sort of thing doesn't occur elsewhere in videogames. Darksiders got a lot of reviews which pointed out where Darksiders mojo came from, and it was something I thought I needed to address too, but if you look at modern games you'd be hard pressed finding a game that didn't lend a thing from the past. Darksiders just goes the extra mile. It looks to the past, fills a big box with mechanics and sticks to that. Whether or not it should be commended for it, I'm not sure. What I do know is the game is still good, so it has that going for it.
It's also clear that Darksiders wanted to spice up the Zelda stuff, and for that they used a little God of War brand seasoning. While scraps of Zelda make up the quest structure of Darksiders, God of War is like the paste holding everything together. It seeps into the combat and gets into the storyline a fare bit too. Instead of swords at the ends of chains and what-have-you, you'll be equipped with a basic sword, a scythe and a gun, plus some other less prominent weapons. It lends much from God of War, you'll upgrade your equipment and receive new combos along the way, you'll beat up larger enemies to the best of your abilities before finishing them off with button prompt and generally make a mess of groups of enemies with the same fun kind of flourish as in God of War. As such, the combat is pretty brutal, in a fun way. It isn't as out and out brutal as God of War, but it is still brutal. Instead of gods, you've got War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and enemies consist of both angles and demons. So you've got sticky God of War combat and a mythology drenched God of War'esque story line shellacked generously over a heaping pile consisting of Legend of Zelda's mechanics.
Pacing and story are probably Darksiders most successful features. It might not sound exciting, but a game able to pull you forward without subjecting the player to boring long sabbaticals is key, in my opinion, in creating a good game. The fact that Darksiders does this via mechanics and story influences unapologetically taken from other games is something to ponder. Should it get praises for being good when its success had little to do with developer creativity and more to do with generous borrowing? I'd have to say, kinda. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and considering that, at least Darksiders seems to be bowing again and again to the likes of Zelda and God of War. My main concern while playing through Darksiders was why I was enjoying a game I had practically already played before. Setting that notion aside, however, Darksiders is a good game. And I think it is important to say good and not great. In my opinion, the great games are the ones that construct new game mechanics from raw creativity. A good game doesn't have to do that, but it is essential that it does what it does well.
Some things did strike me a bit odd as I played. First, the visuals are somewhat mixed. Some environments really pop while others are very bland. Nothing really impresses too much though the art direction and character design are done very well. Also I'd notice frequent drops in frame rate which I'm pretty sure is a result of porting the game from consoles to the PC. I didn't get to play through the console versions, but from what I've gathered they run alright. Also interesting is the game's currency which happens to be souls. Everything spews souls, even desks. Most enemies give up at least ten souls each. There are different kinds of souls also. There are souls that give you health, souls that give you mana and souls that are meant for spending only. Weirder still is how literally all destructible stuff in the environment will also give up the ghosts if you smash them. Possibly the strangest thing I've done in a videogame, which might have simply been brushed off as anything but unusual if I were a lesser and less observant man, was steering War, one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, down the sidewalk through a neat row of parking meters which upon my slightest touch would combust in a tiny explosion of coins and souls.
Long story short, Darksiders makes a good effort. It made a game borrowing some of the safest mechanics in the history of videogames and ended up with a product which is pretty good overall but in an obvious sort of way. It lacks the kind of creative leap it would need to achieve greatness but what it does it does well.