1 AM. Bubbly bong. The TV has been preaching Trinitas’ TV sermon for half an hour now. A 21st century churchman – shaved ironically, like a hipster, articulate and modernised to please the competing audience, the OTV fans. He explains how there are two types of Christians in the world: warm and hot. The difference, the priest ominously announces, is that the hot believer has verve. He loves God passionately and fights the Devil as actively as possible – through repentance, prayer and going to church on Sundays. „Only He”, the preacher moves his index finger through the air menacingly, “will get to Heaven”.
My conclusion being, assuming the crazed zealot is right, that I’m going to the Hot Rock saunas for an eternity and a bit. In Religionland, if you’re not fighting the Good Book’s enemies, you’re a heathen. In Religionland, only Tom Hanks, sporting a bird’s nest hairdo, has access to the harp garden.
From what Darksiders teaches us, not even actively fighting the Beast can save you. War, a lad with bright, neon white, eyes and white, long hair – one of four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – awakens earlier than planned. The end of the world is nigh, as the Earth gets scorched by both angels and demons, humanity forever turned into zombies and, in the most literal of senses, the planet is stomped. As punishment, the Charred Council, a sort of referee association for apocalyptic catering, sentences War to death. In order to avoid this less than pleasant fate, our hero asks for an extension long enough to discover who framed him and why.
Darksiders can be seen as a Zelda game with a religious facade – mechanics and animations similar to the ones in God of War, semi-realistic graphics cut out from the Warcraft universe (War looks very much like Arthas), a demon, Samael, visibly inspired by Darkness, the antagonist in the Ridley Scott film Legend and a story as old as the first frame-themed script ever written. Even the intro level takes up after something – God of War – as you get to use godlike superpowers for a little bit, before getting stripped to the naked mortality, before successively regaining the tools of your trade.
In other words, Darksiders doesn’t bring anything new on any level. But it’s very well glued together. Just like in the Zelda series, the world has certain open-ended elements (although progress is pretty linear and all the secret alcoves are there for stashing artefacts and weapon buffs). The puzzles have obvious solutions and the only occasional obstacle might be learning the bosses’ attack rotations. Which, to be honest, is a pretty light task.
Still, the game isn’t boring. It uses every trick in the book – 3D adaptations of Space Invaders cloaked beneath a rail flight; manly angel-bashing contests between yourself and the merry Ulthane; fighting your own dark self reference from Zelda – but you can’t really hold it against the game, as these „alternative minigames” are well designed, providing both challenge and experience through their well-rounded difficulty and substance.
Furthermore, not all of us played console-oriented action/adventures to the point of utter nausea. Considering it’s a port, the PC version of Darksiders is a fine example. And by this I also mean the technical aspect: optimisation is primo. What a console fanboy will see as old and out of fashion might ring a new tune for any PC gamer who hasn’t ventured in the ways of the console. But be warned – the only video settings that can be changed from the menu are the Vsync and resolution, though I can’t complain about the visuals.
Once you get over the lack of innovation, you start to enjoy it as a popcorn blockbuster with neat effects, a fun flow and plenty of violence to go around. The backgrounds, the models, the animations, the colour palette were all sketched by a fine, sure hand. Runes, gothic structures and other medieval elements intersect with modern streets and avenues – stoplights, commercials and skyscrapers left behind as a bitter testament of what had once been the human civilisation.
Between all of these, numerous imps and demons were conceived, none of which can stand in front of a good pummel and well-timed dashes. Almost all of the troublemaking mobs in Darksiders can be slain by the responsible use of the dash button. After stunning them and a couple (or more) hits, you can press the action button to trigger a finishing move, while for the weaker enemies, such as zombies or bats (the equivalent of the God of War harpies) the finisher can be triggered at any time (and it’s pretty refreshing to snap a zombie like a twig after fighting hordes of armoured demons).
The weapons are as useless as they are many, like in every other action/adventure we’ve seen lately. Except for the spectacle of new combos and animations, the alternative tools of destruction (to War’s default broadsword, the Chaoseater) aren’t that attractive to use, as they don’t serve any purpose or particular situation better. Sure, some of the puzzles require you to use a boomerang in order to blow up mines hanging off walls, but aside from the vague boredom that sets in after a few hours, I really don’t see any reasons why you would swap the main weapon for any other one.
The purchase system is also of the Zelda variety – blue souls you collect after you kill stuff are used as currency when buying from Vulgrim, the undead merchant who would sell his own mother for a ripe, virgin soul. Aside from new combos, he also sells Lifestone shards, which increase your maximum health pool or Runes which increase your Wrath (the stamina you use to cast special abilities). These can also be found in caves and secret chambers, as can the pieces that make up the Abyssal Amor or secondary effects attached as passive auras.
And because the game world is big enough for you to backtrack a couple of times even if you’re only running through the main mission, you’re gonna feel a bit slow at some point. That is why Ruin makes an appearance – because without the flaming stallion, every Horseman of the Apocalypse is nothing more than a Pedestrian of the Apocalypse . To speed things up even more, you can also use Vulgrim’s shop as a waypoint to all the other shops you have previously been to.