Monday, February 1, 2010

Darksiders (PS3)

I put down my controller about four or five days ago, after playing Darksiders for three days. Today, I realized that I'm never going to pick it back up. (It'll be traded in to my local RPG/gaming store in the next couple days.) I'm not going to pick it up again because Darksiders is boring.

War, the protagonist of Darksiders, is supposed to be a badass, but comes off looking like a cartoonish buffoon. His upper body is blown out of proportion, one arm is three times bigger than the other, and his head is tiny. Just looking at him, you know the name of the game will be buffoonery.

Darksiders purports itself to be an action-adventure game in the tradition of Zelda. In reality, it's more like Ocarina of Time's deformed twin. The developers pretty much lifted every possible game mechanic that they could from Zelda. Except that, in the process of stealing the idea, they some how left behind what it was that made it fun in the original form.

Sword combat in Darksiders is your basic mash-button-repeatedly approach. There are some extra controls mixed in, allowing you to produce more varied combos. But, the vast majority of combat will consist of running in close, mashing wildly on the attack button, then dodging back out of range. Each attack deals a pitifully small amount of damage, so this is destined to take quite a while.

Added into the mix is a mechanic whereby, having whittled down the enemy's life for a while, you can choose to kill them "instantly" with gory results. "Instantly" is in quotes in that last sentence because the actual instant kill animation generally takes between one and five seconds. Since there are numerous time-critical sections of the game, this lag becomes extremely obnoxious.

But combat isn't ruined by the mechanics, it's ruined by the level design. You're fighting constantly. Move fifty paces, and there's another battle. Where Zelda uses combat to spice up puzzle solving, Darksiders makes its dreary, repetitive combat the focus of the game--like Devil May Cry, but wearing sweat pants and sensible shoes. And the combat is made extremely annoying by the developers dumping masses of enemies on you at once, meaning that you'll invariably get whacked by some low-power shitheel while you're trying to avoid highly damaging attacks by the more powerful baddies in the mix.

Of course, no Zelda clone is complete without an inventory system full of interesting items. Problem is, each of the items I received in Darksiders was already in a Zelda game. And they largely act the same way. The boomerang substitute even has that multi-target lock-on power, and the ability to be set on fire by targeting a torch early in the sequence.

The level design is also derivative of Zelda. There are large "travel areas" interspersed with "dungeons". The dungeons, happily, are not exact duplicates of Zelda dungeons. But they definitely feel like they could be concepts rejected by the Zelda team for being too dull and easy. The only puzzles I've found difficult are those where the objective is poorly indicated. Not once did I have the typical Zelda moment of thinking, "I know I've gotta get up there, but Jesus, how?" [Well, okay, once... but, only because the art was so bad that I couldn't identify a boomerangCrossblade target.]

But the Zelda similarities don't stop there. What most infuriated me in Darksiders' wholesale theft was the appropriation of details. Like they couldn't come up with a better method of improving War's health than "life containers" and pieces of life containers? Many items are stored in bottles, which are purchased or acquired as separate items? There's even an item that acts like a fairy. And, you know that sound that plays in Zelda when you get something right and solve a puzzle? Yeah, Darksiders has one of those, but, like, all dark and creepy, man.

Oh, and you even have a Navi. By which I mean that you're infested with "The Watcher", a loathsome creature whose job it is make sure you complete your quest. And who pops out at regular intervals to highlight important objects and objectives. He even says, "Hey, over here!" a couple times.

But for all its theft, Darksiders didn't steal the thing that makes Zelda's complexity so enjoyable and non-frustrating: conventions. Link winds up with a zillion items and several magic spells, but you know when to use them because the game shows you the appropriate use and then sticks with it. Darksiders gives you an item, but gives no instruction (subtle or otherwise) about when it's appropriate to use the damn thing. This leads to you rubbing every item on every set piece or enemy, hoping that something will stick.

In summary, Darksiders is a blatantly shameless, boring, mildly inept, ho-hum, uninspired rip-off of Ocarina of Time. With way more blood. And none of the charm.

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