Friday, April 1, 2011
Shiny guys and doomsday and puzzles and all that: Darksiders in review
As someone who luvs God of War and Zelda, I expected to be disappointed by Darksiders. I watched this review long before I played the game, and as usual Yahtzee wasn't pleased.
But when is he ever? I shall approach reviewing this game with the delightful, unjaded perspective of a recent gamer who has played little else (also, this is the first game I finished on my xbox. Huzzah!)
I was thoroughly entertained, obviously enough to play it for 28 hours and see it through to the end. Sure, it has flaws, but it's playable. I will discuss the elements separately, divided by goods and bads.
Awesome: Interesting characters (except for War, the...uh..."main" one...WTF?), large concepts, and I couldn't tell when it was going to end because the big bad was pretty mysterious. It made me think about it, which is more than I can say for most video game stories.
Flawsome: The actual tasks of the game have almost nothing to do with the story. At least in God of War when Kratos was sludging through dungeon after dungeon, he was trying to get somewhere. In this game, the fetch-quests for this piece of a sword and that heart of a demon seem pretty arbitrary compared to the friggen apocalypse that's going on. There also didn't seem to be much evidence of the Good versus Evil conflict that is apparently happening. You fight mostly various kinds of demons, and occasionally one type of angel. They aren't given equal representation. All in all, the bits that make the story intriguing are severely handicapped by the need to make it "gamey." Little sidequests and puzzles seem pretty silly compared to big almighty doom.
Awesome: I played on Easy because I'm a pussy, and it was pretty...well...easy. I rarely actually died in combat. Smash X for the little guys, and find the weak point with whatever new item you have with the big bosses. Not much frustration there. Plus the finishing kills are WAY better integrated here than in God of War. I'm being totally sincere, I used the finishing moves more often than not, whereas in GoW they were too quicktime-eventy/cutsceney and a pain in the ass.
Flawsome: There are a bajillion combos that I never used and a bajillion weapon add-ons that I couldn't see the point of, and anything besides the main sword and main attack seemed superfluous. This = boring fights. The boss fights, with their obvious Zelda-like focus on finding the weak point with the item, seemed more like small-scale puzzles. It would have been better to have more medium sized enemies that take actual combat skill to kill. Also, why the hell have magic if it's gonna be completely lame? At least in GoW the magic spells were badass, like earthquakes and huge electric shocks and shit. Something that isn't visceral for the player, like an indirect spell, needs to be attractive in its own right.
Awesome: The environment and the puzzle elements are put together in a smooth fashion, so it's not quite so obvious when you enter a room that Block A must slide into Slot B to light up Pathway C. Some items actually seem like scenery until you get the right item to activate them and start spotting them everywhere.
Flawsome: It's not so much an homage to Zelda as it is a copy. I feel like many of the puzzles would have been much harder had I not already played through Ocarina of Time and Windwaker. The puzzley bits were put together with not much original artistry, so at times the only reason I couldn't figure something out was because it didn't make any practical sense.
Awesome: I abhor cutscenes, but these were fairly watchable. I never found myself itching for a skip button. They stayed on topic and visually stimulating, and were well integrated with gameplay. A scene starts when you approach someone and ends when you begin fighting. This is very unlike something like Final Fantasy X, which interrupts your walk through the bland desert with ten minutes of androgynous staring contests and pithy dialogue, and then sticks you right back into the desert. In this game the cutscenes aren't fluffy, they either tell something about the story or make something happen in actual gameplay.
Flawsome: Bad accents, War is a bland/annoying grumpypants, yadda yadda. Plus I felt sometimes as if the game was trying to convince me that it was badass. Like "oooh look at me with my swearing and violence and frowning and Bruce Willisy one-liners."
Awesome: The map is actually super helpful and descriptive, you can explore everywhere, teleporting is free, and the flotsam and jetsam of the apocalypse are useful - broken down cars can be tossed and lightposts can be used as bludgeoning devices. It actually looks post-Judgment day; chasms of lava or water occasionally appear, huge demon claws burst through the earth, and every building is a ruin. Everything is made out of something familiar: a dungeon used to be a train station, hospital, library, etc. Pretty.
Flawsome: It gets a little repetitive. There are only ten or so unique areas, and you get really used to them if you travel by foot and explore and look for items a lot. SPOILER ALERT: You eventually get a horse (your own demony, firey Epona) but it's very late in the game and only useful in about two areas, otherwise it's hard to control or not an option. There is one special gate that you can only access with the horse. One.
That happened a lot. There were a lot of elements that were only used once, so it all seemed very slapdash, as if they were trying to include a little of everything. It's also a little glitchy. You can see a shiny outline of the objects that only appear in Shadow vision, which is helpful but lame.
Awesome: Nice detailed maps, no fluff in the menus, everything has a clear and obvious place. Combat is pretty easy and the jump mechanics are decent. I actually like the wings in this game better than the GoW wings - they are more reliable and floaty. The HUD has a nice combination of a life bar and actual lives, like Zelda with the fractions of hearts only more readable. The Magic (Wrath) bar is less useful, but that's okay because so is the magic. Ha!
Flawsome: For all the 50 options, the controls are hectic. Literally every button is used, and there's still not enough for all your spells and items. In order to use the sawblade thing (*cough* boomerang *cough*), you have to hit the d-pad button to select it, aim by clicking down the right stick, select multiple targets with the left trigger, and fire with the right trigger after holding it down. That's four buttons! By that time your targets have moved out of range or hit you, which loses the target. Very aggravating.
So how does Darksiders hold up against Mommy Zelda and Daddy God of War? Ultimately, if you want to play those games then play those games. If you want to play a combination of the two but are prepared to accept shortcomings, then play Darksiders. There are a few things it even does better. It's not fair to constantly hold it up against those two. I don't think the players should be obsessing over it, and I don't think the makers should have been obsessing over it either. So many of the useless/crappy elements could have been eliminated, but I suspect they were added purely because Zelda or GoW had them.