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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Unfairly Judged: Darksiders is NOT “The Legend of Zelda”

Like War, the heavily armored Horseman of the Apocalypse in Vigil’s game “Darksiders”, I found myself caught between the factions of Heaven and Hell, not quite sure who to believe. The arguments were sounded from both sides, like Poseidon's great horn calling forth the Kraken. Those against exclaimed: “It’s too much like Zelda!!” or “It’s a God of War rip-off!!” While those for, boasted: “It’s a solid action adventure game dammit!!” or “Joe Mad is my hero, and he made the best game in the universe!!”

And as War rendered his final judgment upon those who opposed him, I too must follow suit to exclaim proudly: Darksiders is a hell of a great game, Zelda be damned. Filled to the brim with intense action, solid voice work and unique, thrilling character design, the game is a visual feast for any player longing to witness the Apocalypse up close and personal. The controls are tight, if a bit clunky at times (the dodge could have used a bit more fine tuning) but they don’t detract from the overall experience.

Joe Madureira brings his unmistakable talent to create some of the coolest digital creatures, whether you consider yourself a fan or not. Demons, Angels and everything in between look fantastic. Major kudos must be given to Vigil’s animation team. The denizens of Darksiders are beautifully animated and as a result the in-game dialog scenes are a blast to watch. It’s as if Don Bluth, in full on “Secret of Nimh” mode, were given the keys to a demonic 3D kingdom, the animations have that wonderful life to them. If you plan on playing the game, please pay special attention to Vulgrim, the demon merchant. Vulgrim is brought to live so vividly that he oozes greed and treachery. He’s a fantastic character and just one of many visually stunning beasts you’ll encounter.

The game also gives you a healthy amount of collectibles and upgrades, but they never overwhelm. I’m big on that. We don’t need everything AND the kitchen sink. The chances of me buying every single sword upgrade AND learning the textbook set of moves required to use them, is probably never going to happen. There’s a perfect balance struck in Darksiders that gives you just enough. I’m also a big fan of how Darksiders utilizes a single button prompt to finish off an enemy. We’ve all been trained by God of War to be on the edge of our seats when it comes to finishing off a baddie after a series of well timed button prompts (which takes a few tries to master, am I right friends? C’mon, be honest!) Darksiders simplifies this perfectly. When you see the “B” button (I’ve played the Xbox360 version), simply press it once, and you’re treated to a wonderfully gory in-game animation of War dispatching his foe. Personally, I loved this! Not only does it take off some of the stress when battling multiple enemies, it makes you look like what a Horseman of the Apocalypse should look like: A bad ass! When you swing the Chaoseater from monster to monster for a quick kill, It helped propel the combat forward like a steam engine. More importantly, it was FUN to do.

I’m a little unsure as to why a game that’s been compared to the Zelda series should be looked at like it’s the mutant twin we need to lock away in the attic when we have company. Since when did Legend of Zelda corner the market on dungeon exploration and puzzle solving?? Who says other IP’s can’t delve into the same territory? Darksiders is able to do this successfully while creating a world that feels expansive and fresh. It takes situations that we’re all familiar with and makes them its own. Why is that a such crime? Shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that a game like Darksiders has successfully integrated these ideas into a world worth visiting?

Personally, I celebrate the more darker territory the game mines. I’m a bit tired of hearing that a story and/or dialog may be trite because “we’ve seen this all before.” Isn’t the main crux of almost every Zelda game the quest to rescue Zelda from Gannon? I mean, c’mon Zelda, time to dummy up. I think you’ve been hanging around Princess Peach a little too long! Mario and Link are TIRED, man! In all honestly though, when it comes to story there’s A LOT we’ve ALL seen before. “Nothing is created from the void” and almost everything is inspired by something else, oftentimes successfully. At times it falls flat on its face, but at the very least you have to admire the fact that someone tried, no? I don’t think it’s fair to grab the torches and head to the Monster’s Dark Castle screaming for its head JUST because a game shares similarities with others.

You can tell that a lot of hard work went into Darksiders by folks just like us. During my time with the Darksiders I didn’t connect what I was doing at any time with game property A or game property B. I just enjoyed the experience. I simply saw that the people over at Vigil LOVE games just as much as I do. They’re gamers through and through that wanted to make something fun and epic for all of us to share, and I for one, am glad they did.

At the time of writing this, NPD posted a “behind the numbers” for January 2010 with Darksiders taking the 10th spot with 171.2K units sold. I’m happy to hear that Darksiders is selling decently, despite the overly critical response it’s gotten. It’s an original property that deserves to be expanded upon and solid sales will only help give the Darksiders team a chance to do that. As we’re all aware, a successful game affords the developers that opportunity to take those gambles that they may have wanted to do initially, but were hesitant to. Those of us who enjoyed the game will benefit as a direct result. With such a solid first outing by Vigil, I’m beyond excited to see what they’ve got in store for us in Darksiders 2!

Until then I’ll have the Chaoseater at the ready. Razor sharp, glowing red with enhancements, and hungry for the souls of the damned: Demonic and Angelic alike. The other three Horseman ready to ride by my side, weapons unsheathed and ready for battle!

Please, please, please check out this game if you haven’t already. It truly deserves your time.


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