Darksiders is an action-adventure that takes inspiration from several different video game sources, culling concepts like Portal's portal gun or the basic lock-on style shooting from Panzer Dragoon and placing them into game that most directly resembles the structure of a modern Legend of Zelda game that comes complete with a boomerang, a hookshot, and a horse that helps you get around more easily. It's interesting because the elements that come from other games are overt, core parts of the game, rather than subtle bites of a more-famous franchise. Despite the way that Darksiders makes you think of some other game at every turn, it doesn't feel like some copycat piece of trash. Instead, all this "borrowing" results in a game that, at times, feels a whole lot like Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series. And it's done well enough that folks looking for a Zelda-style adventure won't be disappointed.
That's not to say that Darksiders deals in fairies, elves, and bright colors. You play as War, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. At the outset, War is called into action in the middle of a raging battle between Heaven and Hell. But the rest of the horsemen are nowhere to be found. War rides alone as humanity is decimated, and somehow the whole mess gets pinned on him. With Heaven's warriors and Hell's demons out to get him, War sets out to figure out how the armies were called into battle and, eventually, clear his name of any wrongdoing. The story lurches a bit in spots, especially near the beginning of the game, but as more and more blanks get filled in, Darksiders' narrative gets stronger and stronger, culminating in a conclusion that answers all of the questions asked during the previous 15 hours while also setting things up for what would probably make for a pretty cool sequel.
The structure of Darksiders has War traveling across larger overworld-type areas on his way to temple-like areas, which offer various types of puzzle solving, new items, and big boss battles. Along the way, you'll experience plenty of combat. Darksiders has a fairly well-developed combat system that'll certainly reward you for just mashing buttons, but you can exchange the game's currency (souls, naturally) for additional attacks and weapons. The extra moves let you execute dash attacks, pop-up attacks that set up lengthy air combos, and so on. It's not entirely unlike God of War or Devil May Cry, if I may cram yet another game name or two into this review. The combat ends up feeling really satisfying as you get better and better at the additional moves, but the defensive end of the fighting, which lets you block, counter, and dash all by using the right bumper in various ways, doesn't feel as responsive as it should, making it tough to act with precision when you're being swarmed by angry demons.
As the game sends you off in the direction of big boss battles, you'll occasionally encounter dungeon-like areas, which offer new ways to impede your progress. Some are merely combat challenges, which trap you in specific areas until you've defeated all of the enemies. Others are puzzle-oriented, so you'll move some blocks around to reach higher areas or employ some of your additional gear to light torches, swing from one hookshot target to the next, or trigger items that slow time for a brief period, which allows you to quickly run across a worm-infested area without getting swallowed whole. You'll acquire new items in these areas which will invariably pay off when facing the boss of that spot. The bosses, predictably, adhere to the rule of threes... you know, just like that Nintendo series we were talking about earlier?
Darksiders has extremely thick, tough-looking characters. War stomps around the landscape and moves like a serious bad-ass, while demons and other nefarious creatures slink and creep around like the scum that they are and the angels try to fly just out of reach of War's huge sword. There's also a lot of great facial animation to be found. Samael, a demon with which you have a tenuous alliance through much of the game, is a twisted creature, but the detail in his face still manages to convey some effective emotion. The environments look a little too clean in some spots, but overall, the world is full of nice-looking variety that makes each new area a treat to see. On the technical side, the game maintains a good frame rate, but the Xbox 360 version is saddled with an aggressive amount of screen tearing that starts to get in the way as you spend more and more time with the game.
The visuals are backed up by a solid soundtrack and, for the most part, some outstanding voice acting. War maintains a slow, measured tone throughout the game that further establishes him as a guy that is not to be messed with. War's constant companion is The Watcher, an evil-sounding demon who is there to make sure that War performs his assigned task. The Watcher, voiced by Mark Hamill, sounds like a cross between Starscream and The Joker, and I found the voice to be the most grating thing about the entire game. The Watcher is designed to serve as a Navi or Midna-like character, if you'll forgive yet another direct mention of the Zelda franchise. But the "advice" he offers is never especially useful and he comes across as very repetitive.
While you can explain a lot of things about Darksiders by listing off other games that are directly referenced during the adventure, the game doesn't feel like some simple clone. If you like Nintendo's Zelda games and want to see an altered, darker take on its concepts, portions of Darksiders will absolutely blow you away.