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THQ and Vigil Studios attempt at smashing God of War and The Legend of Zelda is a surprisingly engrossing romp...
- Brutal, satisfying combat.
- Inspired Zelda puzzles.
- 15+ hours of content.
- Combat relies on the same combos.
- Needless padding towards the end.
For a game that exhibits no shame in parading its influences, Vigil Studios debut title Darksiders hits the mark with an engaging balance between hard-hitting action and taxing puzzles. Originally touted as God of War meets The Legend of Zelda, Darksiders' illusions of grandeur would usually fly past unnoticed in the typical blast of hyperbole. Strangely, in a nutshell that description absolutely fits. A little more surprising is the fact that Darksiders actually lives up to the high expectations and quality of such influences and just about manages to forge its own identity.
The story revolves around War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse waiting for the destruction of the Seven Seals to signal the end of an uneasy truce between the kingdoms of Heaven and Hell. When the signal arrives, War steps unaccompanied into action and mistakenly brings about the end of the world of Man. Seeking revenge on those responsible for the deception and to restore his honour, War sets off to track down and take the hearts from the four members of the Chosen.
Each member of The Chosen is unsurprisingly a gigantic boss lurking at the heart of each of the game's four primary stages. Based upon a careful balance of puzzles and platforms, Darksiders creates a strong sense of exploration through the multi-layered puzzles working together like cogs in a machine. Armed with the knowledge that an item to assist further progress also lies at the heart of each stage, Darksiders draws upon the same qualities of the Zelda series with compelling and cunning design. Admittedly it never really expands beyond Zelda's boomerang and grappling hook puzzles, but the vast majority (with the exception of stage three) are of a good enough standard to make trawling through the many floors an enjoyable and absorbing experience. Just in case it needed a further classic to cite as an influence, later stages in the game even manage to draw inspiration from Valve's Portal to surprisingly good effect; you can imagine the pitch: "It's God of War meets Zelda meets Portal - what's not to love?"
Puzzles and exploration are complimented with fierce and ferocious combat that shares more in common with God of War. Pace and fluidity underpin the combat system effectively, although the relative ease on the Normal difficulty setting is an issue that means the same basic combos are sufficient to get through the majority of the battles. Despite the three primary weapons offering a fair selection of unlockable and upgradable moves, Darksiders' relative ease coupled with enemies that don't require individual strategies to overcome offers very little incentive to explore additional techniques. The same can also be said about the small selection of Wrath abilities on offer; it seems War's brutal efficiency makes other techniques at his disposal virtually pointless. Nevertheless with a protagonist like War, Vigil Studios has managed to keep the combat fresh with its powerful and dramatic nature, despite the fact it's little more than bashing a couple of buttons. A fast and responsive auto-lock system again pays homage to Zelda, which effortlessly brings combat on a wide scale down to cinematic individual battles. The God of War series has continuously managed to keep combat exhilarating and engrossing despite its hack n slash repetition. Because of the difficulty issue Darksiders doesn't quite manage to reach such heights, but somehow still manages to make itself exciting despite the game's 15+ hours length.
Vigil Studios approach also manages to keep things varied and interesting. War's selection of weapons and moves expand with experience, providing a considerable amount of depth and variety despite the aforementioned issue. Some of the guns War gets his hands upon take the game's pace to extreme levels, which provides an exciting change in the tempo of the action. Sections that put War onto of his trusted steed, Ruin, also work well, particularly because of the strengths of the auto-aim system and also providing a much needed speedier form of transport, particularly when the game throws a little padding at you towards the end. It's this change in pace that ensures the flow throughout Darksiders rarely becomes a chore, never becoming too slow and laboured with puzzles but at the same time never becoming excessively arduous by chucking too much action at you. Vigil Studios have demonstarted a keen eye for what works and managed to gett he balance virtually spot on.
A final mention must also been made of Darksiders boss battles. Again the influence comes largely from the Zelda series, embracing a circular arena style that forces you to adopt varying strategies with War's increasing arsenal of items. Like much of Darksiders it's hard to get too excited by a good bit of design that the Zelda series has been employing for the past twenty years, but it's nice to know that a satisfyingly demanding battle awaits the end of each stage.
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