Darksiders: Wrath of War Review
A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of finishing and reviewing the best role playing game I'd played in years – PS3's Demon's Souls. As the credits rolled, I thought it would be months, maybe even years, before I played another game of the same caliber. Imagine my surprise when, in just a matter of weeks, another game came down the pike that raised the bar for action/adventure titles in the same way Demon's Souls obliterated conventions for the (arguably) flagging RPG genre.
You might think I'm referring to Sega's upcoming Bayonetta, but you'd be wrong. The game in question is THQ and Vigil's masterpiece Darksiders. There is a ton of info to discuss here, so in the interest of not coming off like a giddy teenager I'm going to take things a step at a time. Yep, you read that right – Darksiders is so damn good that without an outline, this review would probably sound more like a tween's journal entry on the hotness of the Twilight cast, rather than a serious, well thought-out look at one of the best games I've ever played.
Let's talk about the game's background first. Normally, my reviews don't look at by whom or why a game is made, but this is a special case. The Darksiders story began years ago as the brainchild of Joe Madureira, a comic book artist whose works include Uncanny X-Men, the Ultimates and Battle Chasers, among others. For more than a few years since Madureira introduced his idea for Darksiders, concept art occasionally found its way to the Internet but few believed the game would ever see the light of day. Even when screenshots and a release date were introduced, well, I was still skeptical. Now that the game is here, I can say its never felt better to be wrong.
So what's it about? Darksiders follows the story of War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The balance between good, evil and the world of man is upset when War is duped into thinking the apocalypse has come. His actions (naturally) start a war between good and evil, and his masters summarily strip him of his powers for the transgression. War's thirst for revenge puts him in league with some of Heaven's best and Hell's worst, and the adventure begins. This basic plot carries well throughout the game, but a few of the exchanges between characters get bogged down in too many names and places to remember. If you keep playing, eventually these things more or less explain themselves, but the confusing moments can be irritating. For example, you are sent to find a certain character and his weapon. It turns out the character IS the weapon (I think), and that isn't explained until well after the sequence is wrapping up. Keeping the overarching plot in mind through the baffling bits helps, but things could have been a tad simpler and easier to understand.
Let's talk about the game's presentation next. If you are familiar with Madureira's past works, it's impossible not to notice his distinctive stamp on everything from characters to dialogue to environments. If not, it won't matter; the game looks and sounds fabulous; as good or better than any other action game yet this generation. The environments are extremely detailed and always convey a post-apocalyptic feeling. The remains of the human world (buildings, cars, etc.) are blended nicely with the more supernatural aspects of what has come after the supposed end of the world, and no two areas look the same. The character designs and animations are also nothing sort of amazing. War's look and weapons are both very detailed, but the bosses and other characters really steal the show. Samael (a screen filling giant demon), Tiamat (a huge bat) and even the minor enemies are so well designed and animated that they almost jump off the screen, especially when showcased on a 1080p HD television. It's not an understatement to say the game is beautiful, but there are a few hiccups. You'll see some very minor slowdown during the game's first sequence and a few instances of screen tearing throughout the adventure, but neither is substantial enough to affect gameplay and will go unnoticed by most players.
The sound doesn't impress like the graphics do, but it is still rather good. Background music is more or less unnoticeable and a lot of areas are completely silent, but the music does swell appropriately in battles and cutscenes. The voice acting is more impressive than the orchestrated soundtrack, though. All the characters are portrayed as over the top personalities, and it fits the game well. Of particular note is Mark Hamill's character, who sounds a little too much like Batman: Arkham Asylum's Joker. It can be distracting, but his performance is good enough to allow the similarity to be brushed to the side. As with the graphics, there are a few minor issues with the sound, most obvious of which is the occasional fadeout/halt of the background music and weapon noises during battle. Thankfully, it is a rare occurrence and can't take away from the enjoyment you'll get from hacking the worst of the worst to tiny bits.