The week before Danny Bilson left THQ in May 2012, he still had hope. He had a plan: Darksiders 2 from Vigil. Metro: Last Light from 4AGames. Company of Heroes 2 from Relic Entertainment. Enter the Dominatrix, the standalone expansion for Saints Row the Third, from Volition. South Park: The Stick of Truth, in production at Obsidian Entertainment. Homefront 2 at Crytek UK. And then there was the unannounced stuff: the next-gen game from Turtle Rock we now know is called Evolve. Patrice Désilets' 1666 at THQ Montreal. The portfolio is long and impressive.
Console transitions can be awkward affairs at the very best of times. They're even weirder when the platform release dates don't overlap very cleanly - and when one of the machines comes with an inventive set of features.
When I sat down to chat with Danny Bilson during THQ's pre-E3 showcase event in North London earlier this month, I had no idea that, just over a week later, he would no longer be with the publisher. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but I'm convinced there was something about the way he introduced presentations on Company of Heroes 2, Metro: Last Light and Darksiders 2 to European press that morning that was, for want of a better term, off.
Remember the first half-hour of Darksiders? It largely involved hitting things. That's the kind of guy War was, after all: a hulking brute with massive hands and a gigantic sword. When the apocalypse was triggered a touch too early for his liking, he took to the streets - New York, I think - and started smacking around avenging angels, all of whom looked a bit like Transformers. He looked a bit like a Transformer too: squat, thick-limbed, and covered in complicated armour.
"Choose Your Own Death" is one of the strangest video game pitches that's been flung our way in a while. Choose Your Own Death. Okay, so I've thought about it, and I'd like to go with rollerskates, a wonky stepladder, a plate glass window, and the glinting tines of an upended garden fork, please. At my funeral, I want them to play the theme from Shaft, and everybody has to dress like they work at Burger King.
It all makes a bit more sense, though, when you discover that Death is the new protagonist for Darksiders 2. He's taking over from his brother War in a sequel that fits neatly inside the timeline of the original. Think of it as Back to the Future 2, but with a rock-fisted demon in place of Thomas F. Wilson. War has been accused of kicking off the Apocalypse early, and he's out to clear his name: that's Darksiders. Meanwhile, Death thinks War is his kind of people, so, as another of the famous four horsemen, he sets off on his own parallel adventure to see if he can help his brother out. That's Darksiders 2.
As for the element of choice, this comes from a slight change of emphasis. In Darksiders 2, you'll be able to shape Death a little as the game progresses, selecting which armour you want him to wear as you pick paths through his skill trees, while juggling his load out of weapons and magic attacks. It's a mix-and-match approach that mirrors that of the developer, Vigil Games, which built the original Darksiders, in part, from its favourite pieces of the Zelda and God of War series, taking the dungeons-and-gadgets structure of the former, and the pointy melee combat of the latter. For Darksiders 2, all of that stuff remains in place, but the team is throwing in some new inspirations as well.
There's a surreal edge to Darksiders 2, only part of which is down to the story and setting. The words of the Vigil developer demoing the game to us disappear into our consciousness like coins sent clattering down a well.