War! Growliest of the Four Horseman. And he’s been invoked before his time. Technically, he isn’t required to do his thing (pulling the wings off angels and the heads off demons, mostly) until the war between heaven and hell kicks off in earnest, but in a celestial wrong-number incident with results worthy of a Roland Emmerich/Joss Whedon collaboration, he gets the call.
The first level of Darksiders sees you tear through heaven and hell’s frontline troops with visceral abandon as the war explodes across a human cityscape. This sets the scene for the game at large: a third-person hack-and-slasher in the Devil May Cry/God of War mode. It borrows wholesale from these console titles, and it’s plain from the gatepost that this is a cross-platform port: the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions landed at the start of the year. As a PC game, it has some obvious shortcomings which we’ll come to, but their impact wanes when the action and the story are as arse-in-the-air crackers as this.
War has unwittingly lent his might to the armies of hell. Rookie error! He’s duly called before the Charred Council, which sits between the two factions, for the inevitable HR enquiry. He’s sent back to earth to restore the balance, and what follows is a scintillating blast of action gaming where you crash through some surprisingly large and complex environments to face The Destroyer, hell’s head honcho.
As you rend your satisfying way through countless rotters, plucking off limbs and eviscerating with the cheery abandon of a man who loves his job, you consume their souls, which serve as currency. Redeem them for character upgrades, weapon-enhancing gems and new attack-moves with the demonic shopkeeper Vulgrim, possibly the campiest, touchiest devil ever devised, as he appears at locations around the game-world.
The game does a fine job of pacing combat with competent, multi-part environmental puzzles. Some are sprawling, and involve lots of backand- forth over the same ground as you work out what goes where, or carry key items to their destinations. But just as things border on busywork, you’re thrown into some batshit new boss-fight, or plunged into a series of challenges requiring specific combat techniques.
Darksiders understands that the feedback loop of hacking and slashing should be fun. The combat is deeply, instantly gratifying, and the constant drip-feed of upgrades is a carrot-and-stick device that just keeps on giving. But the bane of the console-port is the control system. While the WASD-and-mouse basics are nicely attuned, it’s clear the combat is built around a joypad. Some of the attack combinations require alien finger-contortions, and I found myself levelling up my simpler attacks for the sake of ease.
And the camera. Most of the time it works fine, until you start using ranged weapons, when it becomes nothing less than a total ball-ache. Hit Q to go into aim-mode, and the mouse switches to control a reticule rather than overall cameramovement. There’s a sudden feeling of restriction, until the reticule hits the edge of the screen, and the whole camera whirls the view around at breakneck speed. Not so good. And yet, it’s hard not to love. With its mad boss-battles and well-penned characters, Darksiders is bombastic, pleasingly unhinged, and the combo-hose of swordplay satisfies in a really chunky way. Good show.
Even the iffy controls and eccentric camera can’t quite undo the fun of Darksiders’ potty plot and joyful combat.