Over the past few years I've noticed, along with other old-man stuff, that I've grown increasingly more intolerant towards certain mechanics or designs that games use. It started with the tendency of Halo games to make you replay a level backwards or put you through ever-increasing waves of enemies - for no reason other than to lengthen the experience of the game. Back-tracking is one of my pet hates and I feel it’s a hangover from ages past – a dinosaur of design that should be put in its coffin and buried six feet under.
My gradual career shift from gardening to videogame writing has meant I’m obliged to finish games I write a review for – that’s why this isn’t a review of Darksiders and more an explanation as to why my heart is filled with such bitter hatred towards it. Fortunately for me and fortunately for Darksiders I didn’t get a copy for review and I couldn't imagine a more excruciating assignment than making my way through this game. Maybe I should review it, maybe I should man-up and just get over my biased hate and figure out why it’s been given such glowing reviews from IGN and Giant Bomb.
But in many ways I don’t want to be constructive and fair. Darksiders gave me such a negative reaction that I want to try and figure why I had such a negative reaction to it. And the reason for this, I believe, comes on several levels. One is the art-style (or lack thereof), one is the gameplay and the other is the insistence of reviewers to compare it to Zelda and God of War.
Firstly, the game's presentation. There’s a certain visual style/quality that some games have that causes a negative reaction from me. From the very start I found the graphics to have a certain sheen, a metallic look and feel that felt totally wrong to me. It reminded me of Prototype and Legendary. I never felt my character in Prototype was connected to the world and the movement style and presentation just felt a little...off.
The same visual cues seem to be present too – there’s something about both those games that hurts my eyes. Not in an allegorical or metaphysical sense but it practically makes my eyes hurt to look at the screen. Not because of overly vibrant colours but because the palette feels so flat. The colours all have the same grey or metallic hue that makes the world feel utterly dull and unwelcoming to be in. It’s a bizarre paradox but if the world had more grime, more dirt and greater sense of ruin and disaster then it might be more appealing to me.
The other comparison to Legendary is the fantastical array of creatures and demons that now inhabit the earth. In both games the depiction of these creatures is nothing I can fault technically. They are both creative, with Darksiders obviously having the greater degree of fidelity and detail of the two. But I simply can't 'get into' these creatures at all. I don't like fighting them because they're so outlandish and generic at the same time; they are completely typical Demonic designs. Fire, horns, forked tongues and deep rumbling voices are all used in a text-book way that leaves no room for originality.
I know how ridiculous that must sound, especially after my gushing review of Bayonetta which features some very unique heavenly/demonic entities. The main difference in this instance is Bayonetta's art style. Many will call its creatures over-the-top or fantastical, but the truth is that they work within Bayonetta's world by actually being quite understated. They are taken from classical architecture and the stone-gargoyle or angelic reliefs give the creatures an air of austerity and sadness to them. This the polar opposite to those in Darksiders which takes the classic demon interpretation and slaps fire, claws and blood all over it. That's probably the best explanation I could give about my aversion to the visual style of Darksiders - it's not particularly clear but I'm still figuring out why I dislike it so much.
So onto the gameplay and back to my origianl point about backtracking within Halo. In the short period I played Darksiders the repetition had just started to creep in and it's clear from what I've heard that the game only increases this mechanic as time goes on. Simply put - I hate it. The arbitrary nature of having to go back to a previous point in order to progress feels wrong to me. In an open-world game like GTA, Red Faction or The Saboteur it makes perfect sense to revisit the same areas or go back through a level. But when it’s a game that is built to be linear then I don’t' want any sort of - collect that, take it there, go back to that portal/door/dog kennel - in order to move forward.
Darksiders also has a difficulty curve problem and the first few levels after the prologue are just far too awkward when it comes to combat. Unblockable attacks by some of the mini-bosses or the huge sweeping blows that they make are simply inexcusable in a game like this, especially when it’s within the first hour.
The final part of my tri-force (oh the lols) of hatred aimed at Darksiders comes from the reviews I’ve read. This isn't some conspiracy-laden accusation that many tin-hatted fools on the internet like to make, but I honestly struggle with understanding some of the viewpoints offered by many reviewers. Nearly every review I've read has drawn comparisons between this game and a multitude of others. Some say the combat is taken from God of War and the structure from Legend of Zelda. Well, I guess it’s time for real internet honesty here and I admit that I've only played about eight hours of Phantom Hourglass and not a single second of any other Zelda. I've only just started playing God of War as I came from an exclusively Amiga and PC background when growing up. Whether or not this invalidates my opinion I'm not sure but the combat to me feels awfully un-like God of War so far. It feels heavy and unresponsive with a very limited number of moves from the start and clunky system of blocking or counterattacking that frequently left my dead rather than alive.
As for the Zelda comparison - I'm frankly at a loss. Irritating companion, tedious repetitive gameplay with arbitrary quests that require X amount of X to progress for no legitimate reason why? I know enough about Zelda to realise that Darksiders lifts gameplay conventions from Nintendo’s flagship series. But my problem is... why is this a good thing? These conventions appear to work because of Zelda’s endearing nature, the archetypes Link and Zelda represent and the history of the world the series has created. Transferring those mechanics into this setting highlights how antique they are and that modern games can’t rely on old methods to make them into ‘classics’
I know I’m in the minority with Darksiders. I know most people who see it through to its conclusion come back saying it’s a fantastic game and that it out-Zelda’s Zelda with its climatic end and dramatic narrative. But those three and a half hours felt more dull and painful than Shellshock 2 or the entirety of Lord of the Rings: Conquest. Just like the praise and accolades that Prototype and Crysis received on their releases, Darksiders will forever remain a mystery to me.