Darksiders (Xbox 360)
If you've ever harbored a deep desire to play God of War with a main character that looks like he could be worshipped as a mythological being in Gears of War, then Darksiders is your game. You're War, he of the Four Horsemen, but incarnated in stereotypical action-game style: betrayed, stripped of power, consumed with a desire to Set Things Right. (I'm sensing a theme here; cue the Marx Brothers and "We're Going to War.") The adventure of Darksiders is simplistic and derivative, but not without an easygoing, pulpy charm.
Darksiders kicks in with a tried-and-true structure: We're introduced to War with all his powers intact, then see him stripped of status, the better to justify a long adventure. It's built in the pure Metroidvania style, where you'll revisit newly opened areas of the map after finding new gadgets and weapons.
But I want to propose a new moniker: the Pawn Shop Adventure, based on the idea that games in this vein are essentially like being thrown out of your girlfriend's house, then having to visit shops around town to regain all your crap.
The bat with big boobs is Tiamat. Good on Darksiders for making that not sound sexy.
Storytelling isn't quite the game's strong suit. Think of this as an alternate Biblical history, where a battle between angelic and demonic forces is refereed by the Four Horsemen. When a longstanding truce is broken, War rides in to judge the winner. But something is wrong; the battle should not have been allowed to commence, and War is cast down as the unjust instigator.
Most of the characters speak in ponderous, heavy tones, as if to imply that this is all terribly important. Many have voices that would make great death-metal singers. (With names drawn from the darker corners of the Bible, you can also kill hours guessing which character names have inspired metal bands.) The weight of the dialogue matches the overly bulky character models; and while a bit comical for War, the steroid-heavy designs at least seem appropriate for the chunkier demons.
Despite a relatively dense movement list, combat is routine. It's easy enough to get through Darksiders by spamming the attack button and, once you get a tasty secondary option like the scythe, adding a couple alternate attacks for good measure. As War stalks toward his goals you'll get plenty of different tools. For the most part, though, you'll rely upon War's trusty sword. The game's controls are a bit too inelegant to put a broad arsenal to proper use; there isn't the sense of fine-tuned movement and response found in God of War.
Though he falls into the "hit the shiny spots" school of mini-boss design, there's something so lovable about the Jailer.
As the game goes on it does build a bit of its own momentum, and feels less like a deliberate God of War knockoff and more of an incidental one. Filled with simplistic combat and point-to-point running about, the first couple hours are dreary and made me want to ditch the game. Eventually, however, the gadgets and abilities start to pile on. These don't work so well in combat, but add a lot to exploration. Take the large throwing star, which is slow and relatively ineffectual in combat, but a useful tool for activating bombs and switches. The better moments of the game are where it favors environmental puzzles rather than dogpile fights. The solutions are rarely challenging, but are still satisfying to see in action.
Getting caught up in Darksiders is easy, once you're through the introductory hours. It looks great, though if you squint many of the environments could easily be mistaken for settings in Devil May Cry and other third-person action games. Many of the larger beasts are some of the more fun blobs of flesh seen in a fantasy action game in a while. I love seeing a demon like the Jailer, which is a small green guy encased in a massive lump of a troll. Like much of the game, the battle with him is hardly original. But like the best moments of Darksiders, it feels totally appropriate to a cartoonish, lurid battle between good and evil.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.