This week, I’ve begun work on my Top 50 Favorite Albums list; and if you know me, then you know that I take favorites lists entirely too seriously. With my friend Brandon Tolentino taking them just as seriously, however, it’s become a fun bonding exercise, as well as fueling my already prominent obsession.
The troubling thing is that it’s hard to listen to all of the one-hundred albums which are nominated for my list while getting anything else done—or in fact doing anything else at all. A lot of my spare time revolves around watching youtube videos, which is hard to do when you’re listening to music, so a different idle activity was needed. Something which could be done without much concentration, so that I could really take in the music as well. My initial solution was, of course, Minesweeper.
I like Minesweeper a lot, but it’s not very engaging. Every game is essentially the exact same, never lasting more than five minutes, and it’s almost impossible to beat because it always comes down to a guess at some point. I can play maybe twenty minutes of Minesweeper tops before I’m sick of it, so after some of that, I went onto my friend’s Steam in search of something else to play. That’s when I noticed he got Darksiders in some kind of Humble Bundle, and I decided to give it a whirl.
At worst, Darksiders is mostly inoffensive, with a handful of truly awful parts in-between a lot of really bland parts. At best, it’s a slightly more effective mindless action game than Minesweeper. I played with the sound effects on, but not the voices or music—and I skipped the cutscenes because I don’t give a fuck.
Yahtzee’s review is a good place to get the gist of this game, though it’s strange that he claims the game isn’t as big a ripoff of God of War as it had been considered. What he really means is that the game does such a poor job ripping of God of War that it can’t be compared to it. Now, I haven’t played a GoW game in like six years, so I have no input with regards to that game’s quality, but when I started feeling nostalgic in the early levels of Darksiders, I knew something was up.
It definitely rips off GoW hardcore until around halfway through, when it suddenly starts ripping off Twilight Princess instead, as Yahtzee also mentions. It’s not obviously happening at first, but somewhere between the horseback segments and hookshot segments, it starts to get a little egregious.
I would also say that Darksiders rips off the general style of its puzzles from Zelda, and probably tries to rip off the dungeon design as well, though it’s not really successful. While I can probably say that Zelda’s puzzles are better on the whole, I wouldn’t say it’s an exponential difference—which means that there must be other reasons that Darksiders fails where Zelda succeeds. (I’ll get to that.)
The few ideas that Darksiders doesn’t directly rip off from other sources are also its worst ideas. Namely, everything involving the game’s targeting system, such as a few lengthy segments in which the player gets a huge gun and walks around annihilating enemies with it. These segments are weird in that they can be frustrating and also completely easy at the same time.
Actually, that describes the whole of this game. I wouldn’t be exaggerating much to call Darksiders one of the easiest action games that I’ve ever played. It’s a game about mashing the X button until everything’s dead. There were some fights that killed me a few times, and it was always either due to an enemy somehow stunlocking me against a wall and beating me helplessly to death, or due to me not figuring out how to fight the boss on the first go.
Darksiders has definitely read the Zelda guidebook on gimmicky boss fights, which isn’t a compliment. I’ve never liked Zelda bosses for the most part, though I’ll say that they’re a lot better than the bosses in this game simply by virtue of being in Zelda. By which I mean, that Zelda is already a well-made and structured game, with excellent mechanics and design sensibility, so if the same boss fight appears in both games, it will naturally function better in the Zelda game than it would in Darksiders.
And that’s really the core issue here. Because personally, I’ve got no problem with games ripping off ideas if they do it well. The problem is that Darksiders has ripped off all of these ideas without actually recognizing what made them engaging to begin with.
Yeah, God of War has big flashy kills and hordes of grotesque enemies, but the reason it was fun to fight them is that the combat flowed nicely and allowed for some variety. I remember in God of War having a few very unique weapons to use in combat. In Darksiders, there are two weapons that can be used by pressing Y instead of X, but these weapons have the same attack speed and damage dealing properties as the sword, so why even bother?
There are shitloads of attacks to buy, but most of them don’t do anything special, and can be weird to use. For instance, one attack is a dash stab, which requires holding forward and pressing X+RB. But then X+RB without holding forward does a really slow attack, and the game often confuses which one I’m trying to use. Moreover, it can never decide which attacks stun, or stop an enemy attack, so trying to actually use attacks strategically is impossible; not to mention pointless since mashing X is a quick road to victory.
The game has an exploration aspect that really is more in the vein of Metroid than it is in the vein of Zelda (just because Zelda is more open-ended). However, while Metroid is all about learning the layout of the world and experimenting with the mechanics to find things, Darksiders exploration is always obvious. If the player takes the time to simply look around each room, they will find everything. There are things that the player can only obtain by going back through previous areas with new items, but the game eventually makes the player go back through those places on a late-game fetch quest, so obtaining everything is a simple matter of being even remotely observant on the course of one playthrough.
Maybe the most telling thing about the game’s weak exploration is that trying to explore was the cause of 90% of my deaths. I jumped and/or fell off of countless ledges, either because the ledge I was going for wasn’t a real ledge, or because of War’s stupidly huge self obscuring my view of the edge of a platform.
But even beyond having a shallow combat system, shallow exploration, and shallow mechanics that are dragged in for each level (I won’t break them all down here, but there are a ton of “puzzles” which are really “mechanic of the room”), the game has a shallow atmosphere. It really feels like the kind of game that my cousin and I would have wanted to make at 14. It plays and looks like the result of a three-hour brainstorming session by two kids who just watched Spawn, in which a bunch of ideas were included just to include them, with no rhyme or reason to how everything works together.
In the end, I couldn’t finish Darksiders. I got about three-fourths of the way through the surprisingly lengthy game and just lost all motivation to continue. That said, I managed to play it for a lot longer than I can usually play Minesweeper, and I got a lot of albums listened to. The game’s demonic themes went well with some of the metal albums on my list, which aren’t as easy to listen to without playing action games, so that was particularly nice. All in all, I’d say the game served it’s purpose, regardless of being awful.