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Darksiders PC Review

By Jeff Buckland, 9/30/2010

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If you are the type to believe that most games are just shameless copies of other, better games, then it'd be easy to call Darksiders, after a few minutes playing, a copy of God of War. In those minutes, it's easy to see: tough, gruff, stern protagonist kills forces that gods send at him with an arsenal of medieval weapons, melee combos, fantasy spells, and ranged attacks, with most of the focus on high-flying melee combos. Hell, there are even the same orbs for health, rage, and currency that spew out of every monster's body (albeit colored differently).

But it's not fair to call Darksiders a direct copy of God of War. Sure, it cribs from Sony's groundbreaking action series, but only in snagging the game mechanics that we are familiar with and love so much, ones that work so well that I don't see the point in going back to old beat-em-up mechanics anytime soon. And while Darksiders already saw success on consoles inside of the last year, I think it's safe to say that this smooth-running PC version is objectively the best one available, assuming you have a half-decent PC and an Xbox 360 controller you can use.

The story in Darksiders follows War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a heaven-and-hell tale loosely adapted from a range of mythologies and religions. War is tricked into essentially starting Judgement Day on Earth, bringing forth the apocalypse before it's time. As a punishment, he's sent out to find The Destroyer, some kind of super-demon that is likely to have pulled a fast one on everybody.

It gets more interesting than that, though, and the cast of characters you'll meet are an interesting, unique bunch. And while War doesn't quite have the charisma and intensity of Kratos, he's still a fine protagonist. What I think is missing the most with him, though, is the lack of a history. All we know is that he's a Horseman, and presumably has been for a very, very long time. Oh, and he wants revenge. That's it. Compare that to the God of War introduction with Kratos attempting suicide by jumping off a cliff (and eventually finding out what happened with his family), and we see that the much more simplistic story behind War just starts the game off on the wrong foot.

If you can get past the bland introduction and formulaic tutorial level (and, of course, the rather standard loss of War's powers after the intro, forcing him to regain them by collecting and spending souls), the story starts to pick up quickly. Luckily, while War is pretty much built with enough muscle under his armor to startle a character in Gears of War, he's also nimble, and his quick dodge move allows you to put together excellent strings of attacks, get out of the way of some huge enemy swings and area-of-effect powers, and keep the action fast and fun.

Unfortunately, the combo system is pretty unforgiving here, and your combo counter resets after something like one second without scoring a hit. This means that some of the stronger moves are guaranteed to kill your combo, so if you're the type of player who's always looking for high combos, these powerful attacks are only useful specific situations. Instead, the more standard attacks become your bread and butter - even though you might have flashier moves available to use.

There are plenty of things that make up for this, though, including the ability to buy plenty of new abilities and the chance to equip gear that allows you to customize War somewhat. We're not talking about diving so far into the RPG pool to have branching trees worth of talent points or craftable armor or anything, but it is nice to see an action game go just beyond the notion of spending points for the fourth hit in what was previously a three-attack combo. There are some sections that break up the hack-and-slash monotony by way of a rail shooter, like the classic Panzer Dragoon games. These sections are a little annoying sometimes, but otherwise they are nice after an hour or two of smashing zombies, skeletons, and demons in the face.

As a game that mostly takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth, you'll find that there are a hell of a lot of cathedrals, art-deco lobbies, and graveyards littered everywhere. It's a solid mix that may seem conspicuously overdone, and it vaguely evokes a heaven-meets-hell feel right on Earth, but it never gets too intense or overbearing. And the apocalypse didn't give us quite the hell-on-earth level of, say, the movie Constantine, but we're not just talking about rubble and building ruins like we saw in Fallout 3, either.

One thing you'll notice, though, is that the game and its characters simply don't care that humanity has been wiped out; they're much more concerned with whoever it was that tipped the balance and brought the war between the two sides to Earth. You might find it annoying that humans are that unimportant in this game, or you might find it refreshing to see a game where puny humans aren't idolized or even really respected at all by demigods, angels, and demons.

The PC version of Darksiders plays great on fairly modest hardware, offering up sharp, smooth visuals if you can handle 1080p-level screen resolutions. The mouse-and-keyboard controls are awkward unless you get just the right setup going - the game asks you to hold specific keys to focus on a monster or fire out special abilities, so they'll need to be keys you're not using for movement, which can be a pain depending on your setup. But if that's not good enough, then the good old Xbox 360 controller works perfectly, right out of the box. Then there's the silky smooth 60fps speeds that you can achieve on any half-decent gaming PC as well as sharper 1080p-and-higher resolutions you can run at.

What doesn't seem to have changed is the level of detail. The texture quality's the same as on consoles and there aren't any improved special effects added, but that's alright - you won't even notice once you start smashing Darksiders' demons, zombies, and big, ugly bosses around.

If you missed Darksiders the first time or if you just stick only to PC gaming, then this one's worth a shot. It's a Steamworks-integrated game that's $40 on Steam right now, but I did see that as of this writing, it's significantly cheaper on GoGamer. If you're looking for a fun, satisfying demon-stomping romp, you can do a hell of a lot worse than picking up Darksiders, and the PC version is the best way to play if you've got the setup to support it.

Overall: 8 out of 10



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