It's Zelda meets God of War meets Tomb Raider meets Soul Reaver. Darksiders appeared to be another hack 'n' slash clone, developed in an attempt to appeal to the God of War fan base, but it's actually an action adventure game far more diverse, offering combat, platforming, puzzles, exploration and a whole heap of collectable items. While this huge variety makes Darksiders something of a rare breed these days, it does come at a slight cost to the quality of certain areas. Still, as a fairly old-fashioned romp through a large world, Vigil Games' post-apocalyptic adventure is something of an unexpected treat. And it's now finally available for PC gamers, albeit in a fairly by the numbers port.
War might be said to be good for absolutely nothing, but as the lead character in Darksiders he's good for an awful lot of things. As one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War is responsible for sorting out any squabbles between the armies of Heaven and Hell, working for a kind of intermediate group known as The Charred Council. When seven sacred seals are broken it signifies an apocalyptic war has broken out on Earth, and that the Horsemen must be summoned to fight the opposing soldiers.
As it turns out, an epic battle broke out, War appeared, but the seals were not broken. Upon his death in battle, War is returned to The Charred Council, where he is accused of causing the Apocalypse and sentenced to death. Pleading his innocence and pledging to find who prematurely started the apocalypse, it is decided that the warrior be sent back to Earth to prove his innocence. He's not sent alone, though, with one of the Council's keepers assigned to make sure War doesn't stray from his mission. The Watcher, voiced superbly by Mark Hamill, appears from time to time and will offer advice if you're clueless over what to do next.
Years have passed on Earth while War resided with The Charred Council, so on his return the humans have been wiped off the planet and zombie-like mutants roam the land. These creatures, alongside the various soldiers of the afterlife, pose a great threat to War as he wanders the scorched earth, so it's good that he's more than able to hold his own during a fight. While he has been stripped of most his powers by The Charred Council, in typical video game fashion his abilities and skills improve as you work through the game. Still, to begin with you're not exactly useless.
As you'd expect, War has a primary attack weapon (a massive sword) and a secondary weapon (changeable on the fly), each coming with their own range of attack moves. Combat is certainly more button mashing friendly than the hack 'n' slash genre's most revered titles, but it's not a walk in the park, either. Before too long you'll have an abundance of moves at your disposal, blocking and countering to contend with, a speedy sliding dash to evade enemies, a beast-like Chaos form to unleash and Wrath abilities (essentially magic). Although not up to the standard of something like Devil May Cry, Darksiders' combat is certainly more accessible to the masses, and more depth is revealed as tougher enemies come into play.
If there's one single aspect of the combat system that lets the side down, it's War's dodge move. The slide War performs simply isn't very good, and doesn't gel well within the fast, almost balletic combat. Where possible it's far preferable to use the block and counter attacks, although the timing of this doesn't feel as instinctive as it does in the genre heavyweights.
In terms of how the combat is handled on the PC, where keyboard and mouse is still the main way to play games, it should be no surprise that you're better off with a controller. You can play with the traditional setup, but to me it feels wrong playing a game like this by hammering down mouse buttons and moving with WASD. An Xbox 360 controller is your best option, with the game automatically adjusting in-game button icons accordingly. Played this way, it plays nigh on identically to the 360 game released at the start of the year.
The way Vigil introduces new weapons and their uses is one of Darksiders' most impressive achievements. You're never far from getting something new to play with, and the many environmental puzzles require clever use of these new items. The Crossblade, bearing more than a slight gameplay resemblance to the boomerang in Zelda and the Glave in Dark Sector, doubles as a handy projectile weapon and a way to trigger distant switches. It can also be imbued with the properties of other objects, such as flaming torches, opening up other puzzle elements.