Lest we forget, THQ stands for Toy Headquarters. Sounds wholesome, doesn't it? Goodness knows what's happened, then, because over the last few months I've popped elbows and head-locked people to asphyxiation, dropped hundreds of tons of masonry on the men and women of Mars, witnessed the launch of a pair of new franchises that consist primarily of dropping fools using massive assault rifles, and chainsawing and nuking my enemies in the name of a soul-harvesting god-emperor respectively, and all in the name of THQ. Oh well, at least the kids still have Darksiders.
I joke. I like to joke in previews. Darksiders is the most gristle-gnashing, fire-breathing, man-the-f***-up violent pantomime I've run around in for years. It's a gothic slasher with Bruckheimer scale and polish, inviting a multitude of comparisons - to Prototype's obsession with combat upgrades and buffs, to Zelda/Metroid/Vania's geographical knottiness, or to Resident Evil and Devil May Cry's fondness for cut-scene pageantry. And, appropriately for a story about the end of the world in a medium where half of the 40 most popular releases any given week are primarily based on extreme violence, you play a bloke called War.
And how. In some of the deeper sections of the game, which I'm being shown today, War has a range of abilities that may condemn the instruction booklet to hardcover. Even the basic stuff could fill the internet several times over (and it has to be said the Wikipedia scribes simply aren't trying): War can lock onto enemies with left trigger and execute basic multi-tap sword attacks, and he can pop off with his handcannon, but he can also trigger optional contextual executions when prompted, rolling an otherwise-standard final blow aside in favour of canned ultradeath.
For instance, by leaping into the air and compressing his broad sword through his enemy's head and deep into the neck cavity, or by stamping on an incoming sword blow and cutting his enemy in half at the waist, or by taking a massive golem's arms off at the bicep one by one, before ripping his head out of its socket, or, in a section towards the end of the demo, by disemboweling a giant sandworm by scoring a deep gash the length of its body. (They did say I'd get a vertical slice.) Given all the geysering entrails, blood fountains, fire-breathing and putrid, fleshy apocalypse interior-decoration elsewhere, the only letdown was the lack of guts exploding outward from their cylindrical deathwrap.
But wait, that's just the initial melee combat layer. Thanks to Vulgrim, the 'shop demon' as he's hereby to be known, you can unlock innumerable new attacks with awesome names like Harpoon Tackle, Tremor Punch and Air Grinder; special, chargeable 'wrath powers' that allow you to summon demons, or spikes from the floor, or wreathe yourself in flame; not to mention various passive buffs - 10 per cent of all damage fed back as health, that sort of thing - and of course potions to go along with the health chests you open by punching them . Plus you can buy more weapons. The currency for all this stuff, gathered from enemies as they fall, is souls. Obviously.
In-game, of course, there's your chargeable chaos form, which transforms you into a massive megademon, rather than a mere seven-foot Horseman of the Apocalypse. Oh yes, you've got a horse, too, recovered in a battle early on against a black-and-red-suited mini-boss, who makes the mistake of saying you're short, which he probably regrets later when you chop him down just above the knees and then... actually, I can't remember, but it was either crushing his head with your bare hands or driving your sword into chest. One of those. Your recaptured horse, Ruin, can be deployed or mothballed on a moment's notice at the touch of a pair of buttons, any time anywhere, even mid-combo, and allows you to gallop around windmilling people with your sword from the sanctuary of height and comfort.