Darksiders • Page 2

Horse business.

None of it is actually horrendous, however, because Darksiders is deliberately colourful and cartoon-like - which comes as no surprise given that the game's creative director is one Joe Madureira, better known as a comic-book writer and artist of considerable merit. He and his colleagues deserve credit for the game's coherent, engaging aesthetic and the magnetic characters therein.

War, for instance, is a chiselled vision of action-figure doom, who dances through exotic combos and finishers with ballet-dancer choreography, and speaks with an accent and dialogue pitched carefully south of parody despite his growling delivery. Mark Hamill, meanwhile, demonstrates that last summer's Joker (and I suppose Luke Skywalker) was no fluke with his impish turn as the scheming Watcher, and others like the inexplicably Scottish giant Ulthane are hammered into smoother and slicker shape than you might expect.

Likewise, the narrative revelations in the final third and the crowd-pleasing finale are also pleasantly devoid of cliché. Darksiders may be a game where you win the ability to summon or dispense with a magical demon horse by pressing both bumpers, but it's a game built on a story rather than a scenario, with a vision that perhaps deserves the second instalment the ending elegantly requests.

With that said, the combat doesn't mature as enjoyably as the dungeon design, because at least on Normal difficulty the range of options remains a range of options, while you focus on a few successful core techniques (in my case, the harpoon dash, home-run swing and dashing evades) that work more or less throughout.

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One of the best twists in the story is the absence of a twist when you most expect it.

There are neat counters and combos galore, but even a few stylish in-line tutorial sections struggle to guide your hand in new directions as effortlessly as the game does with its puzzle design. It does eventually present a few more exotic enemies and overlong engagements, but by the time you're forced to innovate the need to do so feels out of touch with the whole, and becomes frustrating rather than liberating as it might have been earlier.

Boss and mini-boss design is an exception, at least, with some enjoyable brawls that, at their best, are more like hazardous puzzles with a bit of cannon fodder than traditional hackandslash showdowns. There's a giant enemy crab who needs to catch a train, for instance, and a recurring demon robot with a ball on a chain, whose various ends are probably best described as a triumph. Plus, you get to do one and a half boss fights on your horse, and Eurogamer is explicitly pro-horse.

It's the puzzle and exploration side of Darksiders that continually elevate it, however - in the exciting secret rooms that confer souls, maps, artefacts and components of the elusive Abyssal Armour; in the elaborate, dungeon-wide puzzles that draw from every extremity of your growing inventory of tools; and above all in the growing sense that if you're missing something then it must be right in front of you, and not something obtuse that you will resent when you eventually discover it.

The only slight criticism is that it's difficult to keep track of areas that you will need to return to with a new tool, and once the game is over your inability to quickly identify areas with secrets still to reveal may put you off the job of revisiting them for remaining treats - something that feels like a letdown in light of Arkham Asylum in particular.

Still, while on the surface of it Darksiders feels like a game with a lot of good ideas but only a few of its own, where even a brief flying section on an angelic mount owes rather a lot to Panzer Dragoon, overall the silly old story and wonderful art style give terrific heft to the universe, and the clockwork of the puzzles and game systems are precision-engineered in a manner that you come to trust implicitly. It may be a game of betrayal and redemption, but you won't feel hard done by if you choose to begin 2010 in its company.

8 /10

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About the author

Tom Bramwell

Tom Bramwell

Contributor  |  tombramwell

Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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