Often when something works, and works well, it will have imitators and copycats come out of the woodwork and try to capitalize on the splash made by the original. This is especially true in the media world and in video games. The hottest trend right now is an oldie but goodie: the portrayal of the possibility of a coming apocalypse, an Armageddon. There are different spins put on it from heaven vs. hell, man vs. the supernatural, or some seemingly omnipotent being needing to be stopped from wreaking havoc, but in the end it all comes down to the same basic concept. In the first quarter of 2010, we have three such games coming out with this basic theme: God of War 3, Dante's Inferno and Darksiders with the original God of War series being the base concept.
Just because all these games may be similar in theme and execution, does not mean that they all can't be good. In fact, sometimes the imitators will surpass the original and blow the concept out of the water. The first of these three games released, Darksiders, might do just that.
Darksiders begins with hell on Earth erupting as the balance between heaven, hell, and Earth has been disrupted and Armageddon has been triggered early. You play as War, one of the four mythical horsemen who mark the coming of the end of days, and immediately know something is awry as your fellow horsemen have not appeared. As you move through city streets, trying to find the source of the disruption as angels and demons alike fight overhead, you come upon Straga, one of the most powerful demons to emerge from hell and watch as one of the leaders of the angels, Abaddon, is swallowed up like an appetizer for the things to come. You fight the demon, but like Abaddon, fall to the unparalleled might of this hellish monstrosity.
A century then passes as hell has consumed the Earth and the human race has been wiped out. You have been imprisoned for all this time in the depths of hell by The Council, an ancient race of beings whose sole purpose is to maintain the balance that you have been blamed for disrupting. Finally, the Council relents to your pleas to send you back to clear your name. They concede, but they pair you with a high level demon called a Watcher (played brilliantly by Mark Hamill), to make sure you will do the Council's bidding, and find out how, and more importantly, who caused the end of days before it was destined to.
Thus begins the story of Darksiders, a tale of redemption as you unravel a conspiracy that could invoke the wrath of a god.
Even with the overplayed theme, Darksiders is brilliantly executed. A combination of The Legend of Zelda and God of War series, the game is packed with both original characters, like Vulgrim the Soul Merchant, with whom you exchange the souls of your fallen foes for new weapons and fighting techniques, and those based in scripture like Azrael, the Angel of Death. Add in tons of actions sequences involving some epic boss battles and an ending that will leave you anticipating the impending sequel is more than enough for me to label this as the first must have game of 2010 (not that there is a lot competition right now).
The graphics are beautiful, from deserts where the sand is comprised of the ashes of six billion dead humans, to lush jungles that have reclaimed the cities that once dominated the landscape. Every creature has exquisite detail to them, from the scars on War's face to the talons of the giant bats that litter the twisted remains of the world.
Along with great looks, the game sounds very good. The music, although rather generic, helps set the atmosphere beautifully and the voice acting is top notch, highlighted by Mark Hamill who seemed to channel shades of the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series into the masochistic Watcher and Moon Bloodgood as Uriel, the angel who takes over heaven's ranks after the fall of Abaddon.
I also liked the fact how, aside from the opening and closing movies, the game really focuses more on the action, the fighting, and the platforming and avoids unnecessarily long cut scenes to forward the plot. Possibly this was a move to avoid too many comparisons to the style of games this is clearly based off of since the game play easily can draw a lot of parallels to more well-established franchises.
The gore and fighting mechanics are very similar to that of God of War with only a handful of buttons really being needed to mash your way across your typical desert, water, jungle, and fire areas. This goes along nicely with the "me against the world" theme from that franchise.
More parallels can be seen in the items you acquire over the course of the game since almost all of them have appeared in The Legend of Zelda at some point or another. The abyssal chain is exactly like the hook shot, your horse Ruin is reminiscent of Epona, the Crossblade is just like the boomerang, etc. So, the game play isn't anything you haven't seen before and lacks any real originality. Along with this, there are a few glitches as the game progresses and can be very frustrating when you fall into a bottomless pit when the game glitches mid-jump.
Still though, there is a reason why people love The Legend of Zelda and it was nice to see a game with hard puzzles and tremendous temples. The outside world wasn't as epic as I would have liked, considering the entire Earth was supposed to be wiped out. It doesn't seem like you're traveling more than through the five NYC boroughs.
The game should take you 15-20 hours to completely beat, but there isn't much to bring you back for a second play through. If there were any collectibles or achievements you missed the first time through they could bring you back for a little while, but otherwise this is a one and done.
Even with the aforementioned lack of originality, this game is a lot of fun and does a great job drawing you into the post-apocalyptic world. I enjoyed the game so much that I stood up and clapped at the end of the final cinematic and with the amount of games I have to play; it takes a lot to elicit that kind of a response from me anymore. Kudos to Vigil Games and THQ. Simply put, this is a great game. Darksiders is available now for Xbox 360 and PS3 and is the first must have game of the New Year.
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