Review: Darksiders (PC)

Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda games are beloved the world wide, for their childlike sense of fantasy, a palpable feeling of wonder and magic, and some solid adventure gaming that combines platforming with action-oriented combat and puzzle-solving.

True to Nintendo’s somewhat limiting form, the Zelda games mostly border on the cutesy, with bright, cel-shaded graphics, annoyingly cute sprites (in most games), and light themes that fit well within the five-year-old’s worldview.

Some of us have said, “Hey, Nintendo… how about an adult game for once?”

Nintendo does not care, however, because pudgy plumbers, obscure monster-hunting quasi-card games and go-kart racing games are somehow acceptable substitutes.

So Vigil Games and THQ had to pick up the slack. Who are “Vigil Games,” you ask? Vigil is an Austin, Texas-based company. That is right, once again, Texas is superior to everywhere else, especially Canada, Britain, and Australia.

The answer that Vigil and THQ have provided is Darksiders. “But Lane,” observant readers will say, “Darksiders came out well over a year ago on consoles. Why are you reviewing such an old game?”

The answer, Observant Reader, is that THQ has recently released it for PCs, and it is available on Lusipurr.com’s digital delivery platform of choice, Steam.

Natch, after I received my latest paycheck, I went shopping and picked it up. And, true to form, I am here to provide my thoughts.

Presentation

The most striking feature of the game is its graphical presentation and soundtrack. This is a well put-together game, plain and simple. Even on my modest system, it runs well with the graphics turned up. The comic-book like graphics are reminiscent of the better parts of Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn series (e.g., not the movie), and the soundtrack is appropriately epic and dark. This is probably due to creative director Joe Madureira’s influence. I am not a huge comic book fan, but even I know who Madureira is.

The fact that Vigil has been chosen to develop the Warhammer 40K MMO makes me happy, because Madureira really “gets” good game art. He strays away from the faux-realistic motif adopted by my other favorite game studios like Bioware or Ubisoft, but do not quite overindulge in the cartoony-ness of a Blizzard or Nintendo. The result is a pleasing fictional world, beautifully realized, that adds to the atmosphere.

Gameplay

Darksiders is a Satanic Legend of Zelda game. If Shigeru Miyamoto made a deal with Ol’ Scratch to ever produce a game down at dem crossroads, this is the game that would result. The Spawn influence is clear, with lots of horned and scaly-skinned demons, skeleton monsters, and bat-winged horrors populating the post-apocalyptic landscape.

War? What is it good for?

War is a happy apocalyptic figure.

Most of the game consists in short treks over the overworked, fighting various weak monsters before receiving a task to go to a specified dungeon to retrieve an item guarded by a powerful boss. There are puzzles to solve along the way that lead to items that will increase protagonist War’s (as in the War, the Rider on the Red Horse, the Herald of the Apocalypse, Horseman extraordinaire, et cetera and so on) health and magic power, just like pieces of heart. Each dungeon consists of a short trek to a mini-boss guarding a map, then a mini-boss guarding a specific treasure item that will be necessary to solve the remaining puzzles to unlock the final boss.

Whatever. Sure it is wildly derivative, but at least it is derivative of the best. The puzzles are inventive and pose a little bit of a challenge, the intermittent fighting adds a nice touch of action-oriented gaming, and the weapons and combat are gorgeous.

War has a set number of power-ups, weapon enchants, and “Wrath” powers that he can use to enhance fighting. Most fights continue until an on-screen prompt appears that lets War execute a finishing move. This are all well-animated and, er, certainly creative in their execution. Mrs. Lane was sickened while watching my gory victory over the first boss. Yes, the game is that cool.

A demon merchant provides intermittent power-ups, for a price, which are apparently the lost souls of children. This provides a nice segue to…

The Story

The game begins with the end of the world (the plot thickens!). All the characters from John of Patmos’ Revelation are there, the angel Apollyon that guards the Abyss; Uriel, the enforcer of Heaven; Samael, the Devourer… and some big bad ass called “The Destroyer” (yes, yes, I know that eschatologically this is the epithet applied to Apollyon, but let us not mix too much theology with our gaming, hmmm?). The Destroyer has apparently pre-empted the plan for the Apocalypse, and only War showed up for the party because the Seventh Seal was not broken.

This leads to War’s bosses (a conveniently neutral third party in the God-Lucifer Wars) to strip War of his powers and send him out back in to the world to change himself. Except it has been a cool couple of centuries when the Fallen have had free reign of Earth, leaving it a tortured wasteland much like the bleakness that is Lusipurr’s soul after dealing with the lot of us for a few years.

War has to find a way to get at the Destroyer, but like Ganondorf, the Destroyer hangs out in a well-guarded fortress that will only unlock once a certain pre-determined amount of powerful objects are retrieved. Enter our ol’ fallen angel buddy Samael, who, according to Talmudic angelic lore, is one serious badass in the hierarchy of the Fallen. Samael will help War… if…

Yep, War has to perform a number of tasks! Well, we have to fill out the game somehow, right?

Again, the story is really rather derivative, but its execution is done well enough that it does not truly detract from the gameplay experience.

Technical Issues

The worst thing I can say about the game is that it suffers from a number of embarrassing technical issues. Fortunately, they can be worked around, but they are niggling nonetheless.

First, the game’s control scheme is really limited. Keyboard controls will be entirely inaccessible if a gamepad of any sort is plugged in. This includes my Logitech DualShock-clone controller and my Logitech G13. This is fine; I want to play the game with my gamepad, but… only the Xbox Controller for PC is recognized by the game.

I hate the Xbox controller. It is far too fat and both analog sticks belong toward the center. Plus, it would be another $40, $40 I do not want to spend on Microsoft.

Samael, the Venom of God

It is nice to see the Big-Horn-Guy from Legend is getting work at his age.

Thankfully, elite hackers on the Innartubes have created an emulator that will trick any computer system in to thinking a gamepad is an Xbox 360 controller (big shout-out to the people on the Steam forums that pointed me to this solution!).

After installing the emulator (with the easy set-up instructions) and programming the buttons to my liking, I was ready to go. This is a simple-enough workaround, but really, Vigil/THQ should have included a control-mapping feature in the game options. Patch it soon, please!

Other annoying issues that crop up during the game include glitches that make the game unplayable, such as objects registering as being picked up when they actually are not, or, in worst cases, game crashes that result in lost progress. The autosave does not save very often, so wise players would be advised to save their game often.

The Final Verdict

Technical issues and considerable lack of originality aside, Darksiders is a hell of a game. And with that pun, I am going to sign off, before my readers come looking for me with pitchforks and torches.

13 comments on “Review: Darksiders (PC)”

  1. I’ll see about picking this up. I saw a quicklook of it on the 360 and was intrigued. Plus I’ve already got a wired 360 controller with the attrocious d-pad and misplaced left analog stick.

    Now to go find my pitchfork and torch.

  2. There’s a server link down between me and Blizzard’s servers right now. I should be learning how to raid in the post-patch 4.0.1 world, but no… I’m stuck listening to everyone else have fun in Vent.

  3. …good art? I’ll admit the environments are nice but the characters all look like action figures. War in particular is horribly overdrawn. he looks absurd.

  4. I don’t by that. if the game were marketed towards kids I’d be more forgiving but this ain’t. if someone ate a bunch of pots and pans and then vomited on a christmas sweater you’d have something that looks pretty much like war.

    in games especially one needs to design the silhouette, color palette, and then once those things are done you worry about the incidental details. this joe dude seems to have completely backwards engineered every character. War is nothin but incidental details.

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