The PC version of THQ's demonic hack 'em up adventure Darksiders is out today, and I've been having a bit of play. In it you thump your way through the hyperbolic story a fallen horseman of the apocalypse. With an ultimate goal of cosmic revenge, you chop many unpleasant creatures into pieces with a sword the size of an ironing board. A satisfying undertaking, you might think. And perhaps a welcome break from World War II RTS titles, too? Well, read on for some more thoughts.
Pleasingly, Darksiders get the third-person fighting process just about right. From the opening moments you are flailing around with your giant blood-thirsty blade and related magical rumpus to splendid affect. The horseman is the perfect vessel for leaping, thrashing, sundering and exploding your way through a colourful menu of enemies. Borrowing its structure from God Of War, the game then strips you of many of your powers and asks you to build the horseman back up the full strength by levelling up his various skills, collecting artefacts, and trading the souls of your defeated enemies for various moves, weapon upgrades, and other lovely things. To this end you are accompanied by a demon thing, who annoys you and offers advice, and is clearly going to die horribly at the end of the game, and you meet and murder a cast of awesome supernatural chaps, such as nightmarish demons, vast golems, and weirdo demonic bosses.
The game is often impressive to look at, despite a few blandments. It borrows heavily from the chaos and imperial imagery of the Warhammer universes, but that's probably a good thing, both because that maximalist ludicrousness is just a great palette for a supernatural biff-bonanza, and also because this same developer is making the 40k MMO, and if this is anything to judge things by, they're not going to have any trouble creating the necessary art assets to making it look suitably hyper-gothic.
So yes, combat is satisfyingly crunchy. My PC did get a bit stuttery when there was a lot of post-processing and particle stuff going on, which was a little annoying, and perhaps suggests it could do with a little more tinkering under the hood, but it was never enough to put me off. This was backed up by the proficiency of the conversion to mouse and keyboard. You end up using quite a few keys in the orbit of your WASD movement to get everything done, but the horseman can dodge, leap, double-jump (thus pleasing John) and perform a ludicrous number of special moves, many of which get unlocked over time. Not a bad port, once you've knocked the default mouse sensitivity down a bit. And the 360 pad works fine too.
Enemies range from tiny scrappy little zombie dudes through impressive giganto-bosses, with a range of various sized monstrosities through the middle. Most of the fights I played seemed brilliant judged, and there was a really sense of purpose and spectacle when you ploughed into multiple foe, your sword clipping each of them in its hugely energetic arcs. Yep, it gets the fighting right, and that's all I could ask of a game of this particular genus. I was really getting into it.
However, a couple of hours into the game I encountered a mini boss who threw a car that wasn't there at me, and then killed me repeatedly. Repeatedly. After a nice cup of tea and few of attempts to get past it, I stood up, climbed onto my chair, and shouted: “FFFFF-RAAAAARGH. NO! MORE!”
Here's why: GAME DESIGNERS! If this sequence of events appears in your game, you are doing something wrong.
Player respawns at waypoint -> two minute walk back to boss trigger -> unskippable cutscene -> annoying boss fight -> die -> repeat
I don't mind repeated attempts, but this is not okay. I'm giving up. Life is too short.