There's one puzzle which is more frustrating than challenging.
The internet has ruined challenges in video games. Any time you get stuck in a video game these days, you type 'Scribblenauts FAQ' into Google and suddenly you're blazing through the game. Don't do this with Darksiders. Instead remember that if you can't make the jump you're trying - press the Right Trigger.
The jumping puzzle in the last dungeon of the game is probably the only puzzle which stops being satisfyingly challenging and steps into the boundaries of being frustrating - which really sums up the entire Darksiders experience. In the entire 17 hours of the game - through dungeons and boss fights, jumping puzzles and portal puzzles and more than a dozen moments which had the lazy in me wishing I could grab a how-to from the internet I was only annoyed at a puzzle once. And only for a moment.
And then the game just went back to being awesome again. Darksiders is an easy sell to any fan of video games - it's God of War meets Zelda, with a dash of Portal (you'll see what I mean when you play) and some Soul Reaver thrown in for good measure. It's like a good rap album - sampling parts of a dozen or more games and remixing the whole thing into something unbelievably special.
The gameplay can be broken up into two parts - the God of War-esque fighting and the Legend of Zelda-esque dungeon crawling. The God of War elements are well crafted, promoting the quick change of weapons for combos involving not just the massive Chaoseater sword but Death's Harvester (a scythe, duh) and the Tremor Gauntlets (earthquake gloves) as well. You're able to chain up huge, colourful combos very early in the game - as you progress through you unlock more devastating combos by spending 'souls' at Vulgrim, a creepy demon who trades souls for stuff.
The enemies follow the typical trope of action RPGs - you'll fight just one of them in something of a sub-boss fight at the start of the game before being thrown up against a group of them later on. Most of the regular enemies posed greater threats than the boss fights - there are a handful of enemies for which I always had my "Chaos form" ready, and the developers regularly stagger out their appearance to increase the challenge further.
Chaos form is War's big screw off 'kill everything' form - a giant demon like beast which kills almost everything in a swing or two. Fighting in Chaos form is a stark contrast to the fighting in the rest of the game - War is better as a finesse fighter, utilising (abusing) his speed to out-manoeuvre enemies. Out-manoeuvring and out-thinking enemies is encouraged with the use of your equipment in combat as well - on top of his three main weapons, War can use Mercy (a pistol with infinite ammo), the Crossblade (the boomerang, but shaped like a cross), the grappling gun and the portal gun in combat.
This is because, more than most games, combat in Darksiders involves a healthy dose of puzzle solving - towards the end of the game every sub-boss and boss fight would see me die at least once while I solved the puzzle of how to kill it. Many puzzles will kill you a couple of times while you experiment with ways to solve them - a great checkpoint system though gives you ample opportunity to beat them. The game still punishes you - usually removing a sliver of health - but not enough to discourage real experiment. There are a number of puzzles in the game which have more than one solution - often none of them immediately obvious.
The various dungeons in the world emphasise the fantastic art style brought to the game with the recruitment of graphic novelist Joe Madureira (Uncanny X-Men, The Ultimates). From a massive desert dungeon (reminiscent of a sunnier Shadow of the Colossus) to the claustrophobic Spider Dungeon, the use of colours changes wildly as you adventure through the world. The characters are impressive as well - Azrael and Abbadon two of the best character designs in a video game for a long time. As open world games go the game is graphically impressive - this is helped by the art style as well.
Cut-scenes are all in-engine - and still measures are taken to enforce the graphic novel feel present in all the writing. Fans of the comic book medium will inherently recognise frames as they play through the game, and machinima trickery gives you the impression of moving your eyes across a page as you watch the story unfold.
The story is a classic comic book plot - the anti-hero protagonist is betrayed early on, and you're pushed to find out who and why. It's set during the apocalypse, and War (one of the four horsemen) is framed for starting the party early. Stripped of his powers he has to find out how it all happened. Interestingly it's far too late to actually save humanity when you play the game - the damage has been done - so your only motivation is revenge. It draws heavily on the Book of Revelations from the Bible - leading to the plots biggest downfall, as a twist is spoiled for most Sunday School attendees.
What gives this otherwise typical story life are the characters and the acting within - except for Vulgrim every character in the game is brilliantly portrayed. My gripe with Vulgrim is that he is perhaps too creepy - my girlfriend called it the first time when she noted that he sounds like a paedophile. The voice acting from everyone else is fantastic - instead of your typical American Accent the major characters all speak in contemporary radio English. However - and this might get me shot - I feel Mark Hamill's voice acting might be a little one dimensional, with his Watcher being a Joker without any laughter in his voice.
Darksiders is an absolute must have game, and the best possible way to start off gaming in 2010. In a year where almost every anticipated game is a sequel, Vigil Games has delivered a brand new IP the only way possible - flawlessly. The combination of action and puzzling is so perfectly calculated it screams 'gamer' - there's a gamer at Vigil with some power and s/he knows exactly what we want in a game.
When I finally completed this slash-em-up title, I accessed the stats menu and I grinned cruelly to myself as I noticed that I had spilled roughly 4085 gallons of demon and angel blood throughout the course of my 20 hour playthrough. That's right, Darksiders's other main component besides all its puzzle solving and boss hunting is its God of War reminiscent combat action, which, like GoW, is full of the glorious blood and QTE sequences you'd expect in a AAA game like this. So be prepared people: there will be blood.
Even though the blood effects are somewhat bland and hardly elaborate, it is still satisfying to see one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse rip the wings off a massive bat demon called Tiamat (an early boss in the game). And when you see the amount of maroon coloured blood gushing out of the helpless demon's two newly formed crevices, you know the developers have rewarded you for your troubles and you get a new-found satisfaction.
With that said, War isn't doing this for unconventional sport - he's doing this out of an act of vengeance as he tries to find the one responsible for the destruction of man too early and the fact that he was framed for it in the process. So, as the tableau of vengeance goes, you'll be scouring the terraformed earth in search of this mysterious traitor and bring him to justice - but there's a catch. You'll have to travel to all the world's dungeons first and route out the bosses. Here is where the true fun lies in Darksiders.
Exploration has done many wonders for games in the distant past and Darksiders is no different from the rest of them. To travel to the multifaceted dungeons you'll first have to locate the wide expansive regions they are situated in. To help you identify these zones there is a handy demon merchant called Vulgrim who will happily transport you to all the world's destinations through the use of mystic serpent holes that cuts a lot of time by usually just traveling on foot.
Along with his generous if somewhat awkward help, Vulgrim will also sell you various new combo attacks along with health, weapons and intriguing elemental abilities. Of course, with a game like this you can't just say 'hey mate, I'll give you $10 for that uber flashy upgrade for my Chaoseater'. No, it doesn't work like that, instead you will be forced to trade in souls that can be acquired by slaughtering helpless demons, environments and just about anything else that has the slightest dislike towards you; which is probably just about anything that isn't a Horseman of the Apocalypse, unfortunately.
War's foes aren't only demons, but also angels as they believe you are the traitor in this treacherous plot. Here they are armed to the teeth with giant swords and laser cannons called Redeemers - very similar to the repeating laser cannons in Halo 3. With this power, the angels can be exceptionally deadly opponents with the added layer of flight maneuverability to aid them in their Godly destruction.
On the other hand, demons are a savage bunch of warriors compared to the army of light. They're diversity includes common foot soldiers, venom vomiting humpbacks and all the way to winged ravaged beasts. Since their attack style can mimic yours at times, you'll be forced to be a little more creative in terms of how you approach these devious combatants and the way you finish them off. So you'll have to improvise and use your weapons to the best of their abilities which spans from the mystical to the modern.
The Chaoseater is by far the most War's favourite weapon of choice as he kind of perceives it as a trusty sidekick that will willingly allow its piercing head to stab into any of its partnerís enemies. I know this sounds oddly strange but I feel that War has a unique connection to his benevolent blade. Next up are other unique gear such as the Tremor Gauntlets, Abyssal Chain, Voidwalker (a facsimile of the portal gun) and Death's Harvester to name just a few of War's bad-ass arsenal.
These items become handy apparatuses to use as you'll discover that all the puzzles throughout the course of the game require some level of intellect and a clear focused mind to solve. Just don't expect to finish them within a minute or two as some of these puzzles can take up to a good ten or fifteen minutes to figure out even the most mundane way of completing them. Often at times this can be very aggravating and at times I felt like rage-quitting because of a few puzzles that killed me while attempting them.
With Zelda in mind, everything about Darksiders's puzzles has drawn massive inspiration from the bestselling RPG from things like having to travel kilometres to find the next boss and the added name tag of each boss appearing on the bottom of the screen when you encounter said foe.
To aid in your quest about halfway through the game is the option to call upon your legendary steed Ruin, a phantom horse that would give the Black Stallion a run for its money in terms of its speed and temperamentally. But Ruin is no ordinary horse, he is War's personal (giant dog?) pet and when mounted by the horseman, Ruin can become a hellish beast that will gladly charge at his master's foes. Also, he can act as a good 'get-away' plan in case you need to find haven from indomitable creatures of light and dark.
With the combat clearly taking inspiration from games such as Dynasty Warriors and God of War, it is evident Vigil Games has strove to make Darksiders a new genre of its own, albeit with the crossover of puzzle solving thrown into the mix. With the inclusion of a fantasy world and rich varied colours, I can see that this game will gain prominence among fans throughout the comic book community and likewise among Hollywood as plans are reportedly being made to create Darksiders into a feature film.
Since I was enjoying the game too much, I barely had any time to notice major issues with the game but I did stumble upon instances where I'd encountered occasional screen-tearing. Fortunately, Vigil has heard the cries of gamers who are suffering this problem and "promise" to deliver a patch soon.
Vigil Games have undergone an amazing effort to create a truly comic-esque world and judging by the various locations throughout the game world, you can really see they tried to make a first impression for themselves within the games industry and the ability to create a game of two colliding genres.