According to The Book of Revelation, the opening of four of the seven seals would bring about the coming of the four horseman of the apocalypse to wreak havoc across all humanity, plunging us into forever darkness and death. Gloomy stuff.
Darksiders takes inspiration from this dramatic tale only something goes array and War arrives at the party alone. Except he’s not because he’s secretly followed by a fifth mystery horseman, Plagiarism, who files multiple lawsuits against Vigil Games for gross wholesale emulation before returning to the merry land of the horsemen.
Sort of. War does make it to earth companionless and after a fleeting tour as an empowered horseless horseman an angry council of er… revoke your powers for um… and then send you back because whir… and so the fate of all hmm…well there’s something you have to do and the only means of succeeding is by murdering every living thing inhabiting post-human earth.
As a third person action-adventure painted by numbers, Darksiders never strays outside the lines laid down through years of Zelda and God of War titles. Exploration, infrequent puzzles and too-frequent battles are the core components throughout and they’re as painfully proverbial as each other.
For more than half its duration, combat is relegated to the overwhelmingly simplistic; tap square to attack, tap it twice to attack twice, tap it three times to attack three times, tap it four times to attack four times. Things begin with more fever, but it’s a case of what you’ll eventually become, rather than what you are and it only makes the drastic change from omnipotent shadow of the apocalypse to feeble warrior worse. There’s a finishing move though, which depending on the enemy varies aesthetically, but it’s all so fantastically mundane, and without any of the cinematic vibrancy or depth of God of War or Bayonetta.
Which is a discredit because War has a satisfying weight about his violence and a burly elegance that is robbed early on without suitable replacement. When he does find himself fully powered battles are suddenly, relatively, enthralling. Transforming War into larger demonic form is riotous fun; disregarding the primitive block/dodge mechanic for all out Incredible Hulk style bloodshed is more in tune with the brash stupidity of the game and intermittent alterations work to similar effect; a fleeting section where War hauls an oversized gun from a demon corpse and plays angel-deathmatch shines out above the majority of encounters. But the overall lack of variation kills Darksiders off before it has a chance to get into higher gear. Enough patience pays off in the end, but reward comes at the expense of hours of forgettable fights and stale puzzling.
The world it all takes place in is large enough to promote exploration but the creatures inhabiting it are as familiar as the boomerang unlocked early on and generally put up less of a fight than a mummified corpse in handcuffs. NPC’s loiter until you’re in range, charge, attack at a leisurely pace, die and respawn once you are safely around the next corner. As much as that’s a tenant of the genre, it also means combat rarely feels like more than an inconvenience, a barricade to climb each time you make a beeline from A to B and the combat isn’t nearly entertaining enough to warrant constantly pummeling the prerequisite to unoriginal games best loved creature, the zombie, about the vacant head.
And despite its size it is often an abundantly characterless environment, a far cry from the artistic enchantment of something like The Wind Waker. It has a little in common with Prototype’s New York at times; yet manages to drastically transform from grey forgettable cityscapes to vibrant gardens within seconds. The latter, which often incorporate underwater districts, are more worthwhile to explore where the annoyances of the unresponsive jump commands or fickle flight sections are nullified somewhat by being grounded or underwater.
Darksiders is plagiaristic and nonsensical but occasionally hints at better things. What it borrows it converts into its own ridiculous mould; a story that never threatens to make sense, recognisable puzzles and combat as fundamental as breathing in and breathing out.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery Darksiders is breathing heavily over every sensation in recent memory. Far from the touted grown up Legend of Zelda, it is a game that will be forgotten long before the timeless classics that inspire it.