If we made a game, we'd definitely base it on Revelations. "And there went forth a horse that was Red," booms the Darksiders THQ Gamers Day trailer. Yeah. "And power was given to him that sat thereon, to take peace from the Earth." Yeah. "And there was given unto him a great sword." Yeah. And a funny suit, as you will know if you watched to the end of the fairly nondescript teaser. If anything, he's a bit like George Clooney in Batman.
Still, when you think about it - or, rather, when you look at this table on Wikipedia - the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are brilliant videogame fodder. Each has a different coloured horse, each has special powers, each has a stupid name. Vigil Games, creating third-person action-adventure Darksiders: Wrath of War, evidently arrived at the view that the Pestilence, Famine and Death were a bit boring, though, so this one's about War, who rides a red horse, has a sword, and does "War" and "Violence".
He certainly does. His sword, which looks a bit like the top of a Super Star Destroyer, can be used to duff up enemies in traditional alternating slash combos, uppercuts and juggles, interspersed with Devil May Cry-style projectile attacks from fiery weapons and guns borrowed from the fictional bit of a post-apocalyptic Earth you start the game on. Unwilling to be constrained by the vagaries of guns and ammo, War can also pluck just about anything from the environment and, ungh, weaponise it - school buses, lamp posts, you name it. "A badger." You can't use a badger. In the absence of a proper hands-on - sadly Vigil kept firm hold of the 360 demo's pad - the subtleties of the combat system weren't immediately apparent, but there was very obviously a lot of flexibility, and a combo meter to keep up with your brutalising.
The game is apparently split between an unidentified American-looking city, full of skyscrapers with chunks torn out of them and skewed at odd angles on the horizon, and the Abyss, which is supposed to be Hell-like. We saw the former - a gathering of deserted and decrepit streets under a dark sky, where War was able to batter various emaciated humanoid demons. Vigil explained that the world was home to a lot of scripted encounters, and on cue a hulking red boss with talon-like claws and massive, Gizmo-out-of-Gremlins fuzzy ears (or possibly horns) leapt forth from a nearby rooftop, slashing away at War and roaring through his Rancor mouth (we do hope Lucas is getting royalties), until War leapt up, chopped his arms off at the elbows and smacked him in the head. All this killing helps War harvest souls, which he needs to spend on upgrades. Just like in the Bible.
We were then shown a "dungeon" - one of several, which generally last 90 minutes, that allow you to earn extra kit, like a grapple hook, and culminate in a boss fight. If the city we saw is the hub, these are the levels, accessible in an order determined by the abilities you've already unlocked, and this one saw War slashing people to death in and around the pews of a giant Cathedral (don't tell the C of E, kids), as an angel fought a massive, dragon-like demon up the chancel end on the other side of a river of bubbling lava. Just like in the Bible (wait, I've done that one). The angel/demon fight illustrated two things: the likely outcome of the dungeon, given that, as we know from the theatre, you don't put a giant dragon-like demon on the mantelpiece in Act 1 unless it's going to come up in Act 3; and the background to the game, which takes place in a post-apocalypse where the forces of good and evil are still going at it all over the place because of the End of Days came off half-cocked and needs some clearing up.
Our Vigil guide pointed out that as well as unlockable special abilities, the game would include "a lot of puzzle-solving", although there wasn't much evidence of this in our demo. A bit of Internetting suggests that figuring out boss encounters will involve the odd lateral thought - ringing a giant bell in a tower to cripple a naughty bat, for example - but the closest we saw was the giant desert-like area outside the city where you couldn't venture without dying. Until, to solve the puzzle, you got hold of your famous red horse again.
Said famous red horse, Ruin, is anything but restrictive, and can be summoned and dismissed pretty much anywhere. You could jump off a rooftop and "air mount" it, for example. It has its own special abilities you can unlock, and you can swing your sword and fire chainguns and so on from its back. In the case of our desert, its main use was in evading the giant Dune-like sandworm with the Sarlacc pit mouth (seriously, is anyone at LucasFilm reading this?), which needed to be attacked from horseback and eventually have its belly slit rather gorily. The other good bit about riding around in the desert was the big blue enemies with fiery arms, which run like gorillas and can be leapt on and ridden around as weapons.
That was all THQ was able to show us, as it turned out, but not a bad thing to end on. War's expansive quest will ultimately take him through a range of environments and dungeons as he tries to recover his various Revelationary powers, and find out what happened to the other Horsemen, and although the Gamers Day code was still some way away from completion, with lots of frame-rate issues, there was a firmish sense of how the final game will be structured and play out - and both should appeal to fans of God of War, Devil May Cry, and other action-adventure games with violent tempers.
Darksiders: Wrath of War should be released on PS3 and Xbox 360 in early 2009.