perjantai 1. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - Darksiders | PS3 | 2010

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: January 5, 2010
DEVELOPER(S): Vigil Games, Mass Media

In the last 15 years, hack 'n' slash action-adventure games have become - largely thanks to the success of the original Devil May Cry and the God of War series - what platformers were in the early 90's thanks to the success of Nintendo's Mario and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog. Every publisher needs to have one to their credit - at least nowadays they realize they've got to have a gimmick or two to survive. THQ slapped their paws on a game originally called Darksiders: Wrath of War - the debut of Vigil Games, founded by comic book artist Joe Madureira and game designer David L. Adams. Initially planned as a franchise of at least three games, Darksiders was a fair critical success, praised for its fine mixture of fine elements and an exciting post-apocalyptic setting which placed us in the boots of one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And now, four years after its release, the game lies on the operating table of the hack 'n' slash master for a requested review.

Epic of War

Liam O'Brien : War
Mark Hamill : The Watcher
Troy Baker : Abaddon / Straga / Tormented Gate
Moon Bloodgood : Uriel
Vernon Wells : Samael
Keith Szarabajka : Azrael
Phil LaMarr : Vulgrim
J.B. Blanc : Ulthane
Fred Tatasciore : The Charred Council
Lani Minella : Tiamat / Silitha

In the dawn of time, the Charred Council was created to preserve law and order between the Kingdoms of Heaven and Hell. They named four enforcers, dubbed the Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Death, Strife and Fury. In time, a third kingdom emerged - the Kingdom of Man. The council decreed that the Endwar for dominance would be settled within the third kingdom, when man was ready for it, and the Four Horsemen would arrive to punish the guilty. When the Seventh Seal is broken, the apocalypse will begin. In the present day, the armies of Heaven and Hell collide. War arrives on Earth believing he was summoned and that the Endwar has begun, but is confused by the absence of his brothers. Just after learning that the Seventh Seal was not broken and that his presence on Earth is forbidden, War is killed by the demon Straga and is taken in by the Charred Council, who accuse him of treachery and interference with the balance, which has now resulted in the utter, premature destruction of the Kingdom of Man. Pleading to the Council for a chance to investigate into the devastating trickery, War sets out to bring the ones responsible for Earth's destruction to justice.

One fine day in the city.
I went by for a fascinatingly long time knowing not one hint of what Darksiders was about. It's funny, 'cause it's got a fantastic title that you cannot say normally - it comes out in a booming movie trailer voice - it's got appealing cover art, not to mention a "10/10" sticker on it courtesy of Play US Magazine. The back cover is a story of its own - "THE HORSEMAN COMETH" - it looks fucking fantastic, seriously. I think I avoided the game on purpose, 'cause me and my friend were in the midst of an argument concerning God of War III and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which one was the better hack 'n' slash game, and we had had the same argument whenever there was a new God of War game out. He hated my favourite hack 'n' slash series in the world, and since back then he couldn't give me a good reason for it, I just automatically "hated" everything he hyped. Even when Darksiders' price tag fell to the midprice category, I avoided it 'cause my friend had recently played the demo of Dante's Inferno and he praised it, while I found the game mediocre despite having such great commercial potential, like Darksiders. He had also praised the Darksiders demo, and just knowing it was a hack 'n' slash game which my friend liked kept me away from it, I guess. But then, the price tag hit the penny category - I was trying to quit smoking at the time, so I re-invested my money for a pack of familiar and safe cigs into this unfamiliar and risky mystery. Darksiders was the first game Vigil Games worked on, and it most definitely shows. It's a very standard genre game with neat yet unremarkable gimmicks and a fistful of annoying bugs, but it's got an interesting (yet occasionally utterly incomprehensible) story and characters, tense boss fights, some really clever puzzles, and finally, all the potential for a good sequel, if Vigil Games are of the listening sort. Not one without the other, so Darksiders II is up next, but let's dissect this one first.

I've been requested a look into the Darksiders franchise for a few months due to my apparent fascination with dark, brutal hack 'n' slash action, and good stories. Sadly none of these elements really stand out when it comes to Darksiders. Before the arrival of God of War, it'd been a whole different story, and God of War is without question the strongest influence here, in terms of gameplay and a bit in terms of storytelling as well, but when it comes to darkness and brutality, and the high impact of the action, God of War swipes the much longer straw. Darksiders is presented in a comic book style, which I thought was where it hit its first snag, although I should've guessed it considering that the creative director drew X-Men for three years (what a way to tie this in to the marathon at hand). I feel somewhat cut off from the tension. The story... well, as fresh and interesting as it is to play as a God damn Horseman of the Apocalypse, some plot twists could use a bit more elaboration, especially when the lengthy dungeons keep you off from the story for hours at a time; at least a recap once in a while would be courteous. I played the game from the beginning to the end in just a couple of days of time and I still found myself to have fallen off the wagon almost completely two hours towards the end credits. It was like, "there's some demon I have to kill". Hooray, it's dead. End credits, preceded by some strange babble about how "they're coming" after my character. OK... straight into Darksiders II and to my perfect relief, it isn't a direct sequel. Maybe they'll handle things a bit differently right off the bat, 'cause this just didn't work right.

The boss fights are some of the best bits.
Darksiders was not one of the prettiest games around even when it came out, and like I already said, I'm not feeling the comic book style. The level design is quite good, the levels are quite vast in theory and practice - although there's a lot of empty space for you to waste your time on when you go on that final hunt for collectibles. The game teases you from the very start with passages that obviously need some upgrades which won't be up for grabs until the few final hours of the game. By that time, you'll already have grown tired of running back and forth, the dumb "fast travel" system, and you'll probably also have realized that every health and special attack upgrade you've automatically gained or found on the side during the story is perfectly enough for you to see Darksiders to the end. I got a bit carried away from the subject there, I guess, but the bottom line when it comes to the visuals is that I've seen prettier games and games that look generally more "interesting" than Darksiders.

It sounds all right, though. Good enough music to meet genre demands, better voice acting; Mark Hamill pulls the Joker gag as the Watcher, who's like War's reverse guardian angel, and provides us with tips throughout the game. Hamill's replacement as the Joker in the Batman series, Troy Baker, also makes a notable appearance as three different characters. The gorgeous Moon Bloodgood who you might remember from Terminator: Salvation or the short-lived sci-fi show Journeyman appears as one angry bitch from Heaven, Vernon Wells of Commando and Mad Max 2 cult fame impresses as the demon Samael, Keith Szarabajka makes a key appearance near the end of the game, Phil LaMarr plays the part of the demon merchant Vulgrim - sounds almost identical to Mark Hamill's performance, though - and Fred Tatasciore once again turns up whenever there's a search for some monstrous, booming, effect-laden voice. The most memorable thing about War himself is that he sounds like an asshole, but I guess that's the thing with Liam O'Brien's characters.

Enough jibjab, Darksiders is a very standard third-person hack 'n' slash game with some very mild Metroidvania element that indeed doesn't really present itself 'til the very end; there's one certain upgrade to War's arsenal that reveals (the paths to) most secrets of the game. But, everyone's got to have a gimmick and I guess that Darksiders' gimmick is the level design which is just as influenced by The Legend of Zelda than it is by any other hack 'n' slash. The dungeons in the game are lengthy puzzle-ridden labyrinths. The puzzles are very good, at that, though occasionally one single puzzle is rubbed in your face a bit too heavily. It's like "ooh, this idea is so fantastic that we need to repeat it a few times". You either need to solve the exact same puzzle from a different entry point several times, or an extremely similar puzzle with some light variable three or four times at ten minute intervals. I guess I'll stick this on the beginner's tab - let's be fair, there have been worse debut offerings than Darksiders. Much worse - if your mind's set on beating Darksiders, and you're not expecting miracles on perfect par with your genre favourites, you will very likely enjoy this game.

Of course there's a godmode, what'd you
By the end of the game, War has a very big and confusing arsenal of weapons, gadgets and sort of magic attacks. Any control scheme in the world is not enough for all of their management at once, so you can decide on favourites and assign them to hot keys yourself, which is kinda cool. When it comes to regular combat, War's sword "Chaoseater" is the only invaluable item in your inventory; all those secondary weapons are just junk, but in Darksiders' defense for once, so were the secondary weapons in the first two God of War games. Besides, you need projectile weapons for certain semi-regular enemies, and nearly every weapon and gadget in the game to effectively beat down certain bosses. The boss fights are excellent throughout the line, what's funny though is that the first real boss in the story - the first guardian, not the tutorial boss - is actually the hardest boss in the whole game, mostly due to how helpless your character is at that point of the game, lacking most of his core abilities and all.

War's special Wrath attacks are few in numbers, and even fewer in terms of true benefit. I actually used just two out of four during the whole game. The Wrath meter is normally a bitch to replenish, and none of the Wrath abilities are THAT effective, good last resorts though; I saved my ass a couple of times with a well-placed special attack. Once again, all you need to beat this game on normal difficulty is Chaoseater and a series of very basic combos, and your dodge ability. If you're not planning to take this game beyond the normal-level playthrough, my advice is don't even bother with trying to learn the combos on top of the already confusing advanced control scheme. Just to show Vigil knew they were making a simple game - I guess - there are no optional trials or challenges, but a series of challenges within the storyline, that require you to use certain combat tactics and weapons against some waves of random enemies. Of course these challenges are quite damn easy, most of them at least - something along the lines of Challenge of the Gods from God of War would've killed this game instantly, if forced upon the player.

Finally the horseman actually gets a horse.
The lengthy puzzles and the mere size of the map make you feel like the game is incredibly big and lasts forever, but it really doesn't. Many hotspots on the map are actually passages between two levels, with just enough length to be considered levels themselves. It shouldn't take longer than 20 hours to beat Darksiders to the absolute hilt, if you're interested enough to go for the collectibles; there's not too many of them. There are many secret treasure chests hidden in the world (even a recurring secret boss), yes, but a sad lot of them just contains souls to spend at Vulgrim's store, on stuff you don't really need, especially at the end of the game, or worse yet, just standard health or Wrath replenishments. Seriously. It makes you feel like the developers had the idea that people like the chase more than the catch. While that might be true in many cases, in this case it's the total opposite. If you have a chest you've seen clear as day since hour 2 of in-game time and finally get the necessary upgrade to go for it at hour 18, I'll bet you're looking for something a bit more than another bunch of souls you can get from anywhere in the world, even just by breaking background items.

Finally, what's a horseman without a horse? That's a question you might be asking yourself for way beyond the first half of the game's duration. When War's trusty steed finally does turn up, he has true purpose for one single part of one single level. Of course he makes navigation for those useless chests a little easier in other levels as well, if you're still interested in those. With all these little gimmicks and general imbalance in just about everything, I think Vigil weren't quite sure what they wanted to do, except for just another hack 'n' slash game that hits most of the right notes to please genre maniacs.

That's what it is. It's definitely not from the worst end of hack 'n' slash games, it's got a lot of potential laid wide open for the sequel to exploit, in itself it does fail to live up to nearly all of it. The developers had all that feedback to learn from, and I'm hoping that they did. In these senses, I might find myself comparing the game to the first Assassin's Creed game in the future - can't do that yet since I don't rightly know what Darksiders II contains. But I'm hoping for the best. Darksiders is a good game in itself, but somewhat generic and unbalanced, and the story doesn't play out as well as it could.

+ Terrific voiceover work
+ Good level design
+ Smart, albeit repetitive puzzles
+ Occasionally little glitchy, but generally good controls and combat mechanics
+ Entertaining boss fights

- Generic all the way
- The simplest and most default ways in combat get you a bit too far, not past the bosses though
- The indoor combat/puzzle ratio is perhaps the most standout point when it comes to imbalance
- Dull secrets
- Good characters and voiceover work alone do not make a great, captivating story, it seems
- Personally, I don't dig the bulky comic book style

< 7.3 >

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