Remember a decade ago when people were freaking out, claiming the world would end in the year 2000? They claimed our computers would malfunction, our global economy and defenses would crumble, dogs and cats would be living together...etc, etc. In that atmosphere, you'd think 2000 would've been the year for games about things holy and demonic, but it's taken ten more years for the transcendental to become trendy. All indicators point to Hell being a hot property in 2010, and while most of us have heard (repeatedly) about EA's little Hell-themed game, how many of us have the lowdown on THQ's Darksiders?
For those of you who don't know, Darksiders is an upcoming action-adventure title developed by Vigil Games, a company started by comic artist Joe Madureira and former NC Soft designer, David Adams. Four years in development, Darksiders follows the story of War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War, normally an enforcer for The Charred Council (the supernatural mediators between Heaven and Hell) has been set up and tricked into prematurely starting Armageddon. Naturally, he's called onto the carpet by the Powers That Be and punished by being stripped of his powers. His only hope of redemption? Finding out who's really responsible for Humanity's untimely demise.
Recently, I was given a few hours of quality time with Darksiders on Xbox 360, and the game looks phenomenal. Before you go thinking the game revisits that tired old story chestnut - “saving Humanity”, let me set your mind at ease. Darksiders is not about this. In fact, Humanity bites the big one in the first two minutes during an impressive intro cinematic, thus allowing you to worry about more important things—like the epic struggle between good and evil.
At game start, I (as War) was dropped into a chaotic battle scene in a near-destroyed city, and had to fight my way through the rubble-filled streets as angels and demons fought for control. Ugly demons looking like shoulder pads with legs swarmed the streets, but were easily chopped to bits by my bigass sword, Chaoseater. Combat here was easy and intuitive in a God of War kind of way, consisting mainly of timed X button presses. I could perform combos on the ground or pop enemies into the air (much like God of War) to finish a combo in the air. Dashing and dodging were easily done with a press of the RB, and impressive killing blows were also one-button-easy, affected just by pressing B near an enemy with low health.
Throughout the battle, I was guided smoothly through the environment by a series of mini-map blips and a sequence of cinematic vignettes that showcased the epic destruction happening all around me. I was taught to use War's Chaos Form by pressing RT + LB, which turned him into a huge, nasty creature able to take on equally huge, nasty creatures. Movement was just as easy and intuitive as combat, and War was surprisingly agile for a guy wearing 300 pounds of armor. Not only could he run, jump, dash and dodge, he could ledge-hang, wall-run, cross horizontal wires and climb walls using crusty looking plant-like stuff called (eww) “demonic growth”.
Having been summoned, I was surprised when Archangels confronted me and accused me of starting Armageddon early and causing Heaven to lose the battle. They explained that I was not actually summoned and that the Seven Seals had yet to be opened. It was all too clear someone had framed me, but why? Before I could ask that question, I was forced to fight a gargantuan demon named Straga who burrowed up through the street and proceeded to pound the ground, throw cars at me and tilt the entire street from side to side like a fun-house floor. With his lower half buried in bedrock though, Straga's bark was worse than his bite; I was able to take him down with a few well-tossed cars and a few well-placed sword swats to the skull.
After this epic demonic confrontation, I returned to the Charred Council to face the music. Since none of the other Horsemen were summoned, I had to own up to my premature appearance and take the blame for the fall of the Third Kingdom. The Council then offered me a slim chance at redemption, on the condition that I uncover who'd really set things in motion. Stripped of my powers and my trusty steed Ruin, I began a tutorial section that first explained the use of Wrath Powers. The Council threw me a bone and gave me back one of these, a highly-effective power called “Blade Geyser”, which skewered enemies by summoning a ring of sharp, pointy things up through the ground around me. After this I was shown how souls are used. Souls in Darksiders are gained by fighting and by opening hidden chests. They come in three flavors: blue, yellow and green. The first functions as currency, and the latter two replenish wrath (for use in Wrath Powers) and health. Before being released, I was saddled with a sarcastic demonic probation officer called “The Watcher”. Voiced by Mark Hamill, (who says his character is like “an evil Jiminy Cricket”) the Watcher was sort of a Netherworld nanny. His job? To keep me in line while providing guidance and the occasional wisecrack.
The Watcher and I headed out from the Crossroads to find Vulgrim, a demon who'd fallen out of favor with “The Destroyer” (presumably, Satan) during Armageddon. We'd heard Vulgrim was willing to act as an informant, but upon meeting him, we found out he couldn't be bullied and would only give information in exchange for a healthy collection of souls. Luckily, collecting souls turned out to be a worthwhile endeavor because in addition to telling us where to find the demon Samael, Vulgrim also became my go-to guy for upgrades. From then on, whenever my soul cup ranneth over, I went to Vulgrim for some new weapon upgrades or melee combos.
After encountering the Watcher and Vulgrim, I was prepared to meet a range of interesting and strangely humorous demonic personalities, and I wasn't disappointed. There were Transformer-like walls that turned into rock golem creatures upon being awakened, and the fallen demon Samael, with his upside-down wings, was also quite a character. I formed an uneasy alliance with Samael, promising to bring him the heart of the she-demon Tiamat and in return he gave me the power of Shadowflight, which let me glide across wide gaps on wings made of smoke.
To hunt Tiamat, I had to enter the gloomy Twilight Cathedral, which offered lots of opportunities for Prince of Persia-like navigation. Gameplay here was also again, quite God of War-ish, with lots of blood gates, looking for keys to portals, kicking doors in and solving simple environmental puzzles by moving heavy statues or rearranging artifacts. At one point, I gained a new weapon—the Crossblade—a spinning, ranged, boomerang-like weapon that looked like a huge throwing star. This weapon let me hit multiple enemies at once and could also be charged up and made to grind into enemies on impact. That was a good thing too, considering the range of enemies there were.
From the get-go I was fighting flying batlike Duskwings, phantom guards, gholens, zombies, angel soldiers and chubby flaming Fleshbursters that exploded when you killed them. All of these offered their own specific challenges, which kept combat fun and fresh. Even a couple of hours into the game, I'd experienced a lot of gameplay variety. The last action-packed sequence I had time for even let me hijack and pilot an Angelic Beast while shooting down angelic soldiers armed with guided missile launchers. Heaven, Hell, Armageddon, revenge, redemption, magic, melee combat, ranged combat, running, climbing, flying, riding—it's a lot to absorb and do and Darksiders has it all.
While Darksiders so far hasn't gotten as much attention as that other diabolical game, it's looking mighty good; good enough, that come next year, people are likely to be saying “Dante who?” Christmas is just around the corner, so hold onto those checks and gift cards, kids—Armageddon's coming to your console on January 5, 2010.