Darksiders: Wrath of War Review

Lee Abrahams

In the past January was one of those months that had a distinctly unappealing air to it if you were a gamer. Usually an empty void in terms of quality titles, it would be a shock if you had even a couple of average games to come to grips with, let alone anything of real quality. This year is different as a number of big guns have landed to provide some impressive post-Christmas fare, and long may it continue. Darksiders is a game that has more substance than style and may well suffer in comparison to bigger titles, however, beneath the gruff exterior beats a heart of unadulterated gaming joy.

How to tell a good zombie – just squeeze... whoops.

Developers Vigil Games may well be an unknown quantity at this point in time, but that will not stay the case for very long. It is clear that they have been influenced by a number of stellar titles, not least of which is the Zelda series. It may be hard to imagine that underneath the bloody combat, if you look a bit closer at some of the equipment on offer, canny puzzles and boss fights that rely more on brains than brawn, it all becomes clear. The combat side of things is also like a lighter version of Devil May Cry, though without the frustrating difficulty and mind boggling array of moves.

You play War (the anthropomorphic representation, rather than the ongoing global event), a key part of the world's most popular quartet - no not the Beatles. As one of the Four Horseman his role is to usher in the end of the world at a preset time, at which point every member of the three kingdoms of Heaven, Hell and Humanity will be judged. You can imagine the pickle he finds himself in when, against his wishes, he is summoned at the incorrect juncture and gets the blame for effectively starting a war that wipes out the human race. It could happen to anyone right? War does however get the chance to atone in the only way he knows how – by smashing the life out of those responsible. As far as stories go it is pretty flimsy, but it is all the excuse you need to go on a rampage, with a few puzzles thrown in.

As part of your fall from grace you find yourself stripped of all your former weapons and powers, though you do get a fun introductory mission during the ongoing apocalypse where you can unleash all manner of fury. After that though you will have to regain your powers the hard way. In order to get close to the source of your rage you will required to strike a deal with some rebel demons, namely Vulgrim, who acts as your devious merchant, and Samael, who promises to grant you access to the Black Throne where the Destroyer - your nemesis - spends his days. To get there you will have to track down the chief lieutenants and part them from their still beating hearts. As you do.

All the best heroes have giant swords.

Along the way you will have to engage in some fisticuffs with angels and demons, not to mention the zombified remains of humanity. You will also have to use a variety of implements to solve various puzzles and snag treasure. The former part plays out very smoothly indeed, as you eventually build up an arsenal of three main weapons and a bunch of long distance equipment. You can use a number of combos, dodge attacks and even turn into a rather angry molten beast should you deal enough damage. With a variety of extra moves on offer it becomes easy to dish out a lot of damage, and you can even level up your weapons and enhance them with various effects. You also have a variety of special moves that you need ‘wrath’ to utilise. If anything though, the combat does tend to be a little too easy, even on the hardest difficulty, and you can soon trap your foes using the same few moves if you repeat them quickly enough. It does not damage the game too much as the variety of foes is enough to keep you on your toes, but it does take away some of the sheen.

Aside from combat you will also be taxing your brains, as you will have to platform your way around a variety of dungeons to reach your targets for destruction. You will also find various gadgets such as the Crossblade and Tremor Gauntlet that will help you on your way. It is nice to see a game that can genuinely stump you for a few minutes about how to proceed, until you find the answer and wonder how you ever got so stuck. Nothing here is too tricky but at least there is a good breadth of challenges to tax the old grey matter and it breaks up the combat superbly so that neither aspect wears too thin. In fact, the balance is almost perfectly planned out.

The world itself is neatly laid out and you can eventually hop between locations via Vulgrim, or use your trusty steed, Ruin, to get around. The items you find also let you go back to previously visited locales for a spot of treasure hunting. This can yield some artefacts for trade, extra moves and upgrades to your health or wrath bars. You can also dig out an awesome suit of armour or sword to unleash the true potential of our surly anti-hero. With deserted cityscapes, graveyards, flooded caverns and an epic desert, it is all suitably grand in scope though it does get tiresome to have to trudge back and forth amongst the same areas time and time again. There is also a bit of screen tearing going on should you move the camera a bit too fast, not to mention some dubious clipping and collision detection at times. Like the game's other minor flaws it is nothing too off putting, but it is noticeable at times.

BAM – right in the kisser!

The voice work on show is actually fairly decent and while the characters are not exactly working off a Hollywood script, it does a good enough job of providing a suitable level of drama and no small amount of humour too. The same cannot be said of the soundtrack which never really hits the heights you would expect and can often feel anonymous at times. Overall though, the look and feel of the game is spot on, whilst never really challenging the big boys.

Achievement wise the game is nothing special, though the list is still fairly decent despite that. You can snag all of the points in one playthrough, assuming you start on the hardest difficulty, which is nice as we all love stackable achievements. You will snag the majority of your points just by playing through the game and grabbing the various abilities on offer, as well as dispatching all of the bosses. On top of that you have a bunch of collectables to find, but at least this time around they actually provide you with health, wrath and money, so they're not just tagged on for longevity. Add in a few random combat tasks and you are pretty much done. Solid, but lacking in originality.

This game is a major surprise package, and may well fare better than some of the more illustrious titles in the coming months and deservedly so. It may lack a certain level of polish, but for sheer fun you will be hard pressed to do much better, as the combat and puzzles are spot on and hark back to the classic Zelda games. The story does let things down a bit and the graphics are ragged in places, but as a slice of entertainment, this does a damn fine job. Between this and Bayonetta, what a great start to the year we have had.

Commendable - if not a little over-the-top - voice acting, but the music is only so-so and kind of gets lost in the midst of all the action.

Decent, but hardly stellar. There are some clipping and screen tearing issues at times too which is hardly ideal.

Bags of fun, and with just enough action and puzzles to make this feel like the classic Zelda games of old. Things never get repetitive either thanks to the paced introduction of new items and abilities.

A top notch action game that only really falls down due to some rough edges and the fact it is far too easy. Still you will be transfixed while it lasts.

Not a bad list, but one that is fairly linear and offers up little in terms of surprises. A straightforward and enjoyable one thousand points.

This game is a pleasant surprise and will keep you hooked while it lasts. Sure the story may be pure hokum, but the gameplay is rock solid. This is Zelda for a more mature audience and is yet another great January release – who'da thunk it?

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