Saturday, March 6, 2010

Review // Darksiders

I'm not a big fan of how stale the Legend of Zelda series has gotten in recent years. It's the same old story, same old dungeons, and same old progression every single time. I've been craving a Zelda game that feels fresh, that takes me somewhere new, that shakes things up. It just turns out that Darksiders is that game.

A Zelda Game Through and Through

Darksiders is like the videogame version of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup: It takes Zelda's formula and pacing and mixes it with God of War's combat, creating something new and delicious in the process. The key here is that Darksiders feels like it's paying homage to both of these games rather than just stealing from them. You can't help but smile when you've defeated a dungeon boss and there's a portal waiting to teleport you out, or when you solve a puzzle and a satisfying little jingle plays. It feels like the developers had a lot of fun making their own versions of the little touches that make Zelda feel like Zelda. More importantly, they never deviate from the tried-and-true Zelda formula:

  1. Go to a dungeon.
  2. Fight some enemies, solve some puzzles.
  3. Get a new item.
  4. Fight more enemies, solve puzzles that require the new item.
  5. Defeat the dungeon boss using the item.

But even if you've never played a Zelda game before, Darksiders is still going to feel very familiar. It borrows so liberally from so many different games that it's shocking that it doesn't end up being derivative trash. Instead, it feels like a game that doesn't hide its inspirations and is better for it. You'll use the glaive from Dark Sector like a Zelda boomerang to light torches and set off bomb plants. You'll solve mind-bending puzzles with the orange and blue portals from Portal. You'll unlock increasingly brutal combat moves to make your character feel like a hybrid between Link and Kratos.

All of these different influences fit together extremely well and makes Darksiders a pure gamer's game. It never manages to surpass any of the games it borrows from, but it doesn't really need to. Darksiders does a great job mixing all of these elements together well enough that you won't even care that you can immediately identify which game inspired each new section. In fact, seeing these elements work so well together makes the very concept of Darksiders seem like a total no-brainer.

The Legend of War

Just as surprising is how well Darksiders' story comes together. As War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you're framed for starting the apocalypse early and have to clear your name. It's a pretty typical premise, but like everything else about this game, it's executed upon well enough that a lack of originality doesn't matter. The writers never take the easy twists, instead keeping things fairly straightforward and treating the audience with a degree of respect that's definitely refreshing. Some legitimately great voice acting complements the whole experience, and the game ends on such a cool note that I actually stood up and fist pumped.

The only aspect of the entire game that I simply couldn't get on board with is the art style. Characters are wildly out of proportion and look like the artists never stopped designing them, adding more and more layers until each character looked ridiculous. I love how colorful and exaggerated the world is, but the inhabitants just look silly. In the behind the scenes extras for God of War, the designers explained that the more armor they put on Kratos, the more he lost his individualism and brutality, so they started stripping it away. Darksiders' artists would've benefitted from this philosophy.

The most impressive thing about Darksiders to me is just how good it is. Mixing so many different games together seems like a sure recipe for disaster where it tries to do everything and succeeds at nothing, but somehow Darksiders pulled it off. And in doing so, it became the Zelda game I've been craving for years.

Darksiders / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360

2 comments:

  1. I traded this game in before I finished it. I found it rather difficult, probably because I was too distracted by the other game I was playing at the time and was never able to completely get the feel for the controls and really get into the game.

    Since making that mistake, I hold onto game much longer so I can give them another try before deciding they're not for me.

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  2. The difficulty did definitely spike occasionally. Not the most polished game, but I think I was just so drawn in because of how refreshing it felt to me compared to Twilight Princess. I thought Twilight Princess played it a little too safe and was feeling kind of down on the Zelda series, so this came at the perfect time. I can totally understand how it might not click with some people though.

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