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With a 24-hour window of uninhibited exploration of Vigil Games' debut title, Darksiders, it's safe to say we had more than a taste of what's to come when the game launches in January of the New Year. Set up as initiating the Apocalypse prematurely, it's your goal as War, one of the four Horsemen, to unravel the mystery behind your manipulation and the extinction of the Human Kingdom from the likes of the Destroyer and its hellish army.
David Adams, co-founder of Vigil, explains Darksiders as the brainchild of a few, but the product of many. Along with Marvel alum Joe Madureira, Adams pitched the game to Tim Campbell, VP of Business Development at THQ, in a desperate last-minute meeting at E3 a few years back, saying they had a team of six working on the code. While the actual number of Vigil's initiate was closer to four, Campbell was impressed not only by the pair's passion, but by the game's promise.
Campbell was only shown an early demo with little more than functioning battle mechanics in place to experience, our time with the game, on the other hand, showed us what he likely foresaw: the result of a now 100-people strong studio.
After a short prologue setting the scene to War's framing, you pick things up a century later striped of your powers but allowed an attempt at bringing your manipulator to judgment. The predicament plays especially well with War, a character whose sole purpose is to wreak blind havoc, and sets the stage for biblical battles without dogmatic themes—neither the legions of heaven nor hell are safe from Chaoseater, War's massive sword.
To accomplish his task, War seeks out help from those fallen from the Destroyer's favor: Vulgrim is an opportunist and acts as your merchant, exchanging souls for power-ups and moves; while Samael helps you gain entrance into the Destroyer's Dark Throne only after you recover hearts from his guardians in order to restore the traitorous demon's powers.
Built from the ground-up with an in-house engine, Darksiders plays reminiscently of beloved classics like Zelda and Castlevania with some Portal thrown in for good measure. With Samael's prison acting as a central point, the world expands out into a hub system becoming more accessible as you uncover new equipment throughout your journey. Each area plays out like a dungeon crawl, something not surprising considering the team's background at the MMO giant NC Soft. From the four demon battles we experienced, the build-up to them strikes a fair balance of linear progression with little need to retrace your steps.
Slicing your way through the guardians' lairs involves chaining together combos and instituting visceral finishing moves, but there are also puzzle elements and filler sequences that give the game a nice pacing. Between competing in a body count mini-game, flying a griffin Panzer Dragoon-style and solving intriguing puzzles, Darksiders showed us that its not a one-trick pony.
And as Adams made clear, they wanted to keep rewarding the player. Throughout the game you're continually given equipment to uncover and spells to unlock. Along with Ruin, your demonic horse which rises out of burning ashes beneath your feet when called forth, there are totems to find, special armor to piece together, and more powerful weapons to unearth.
Complementing strong gameplay are things like superb voice acting and comic-style art direction. Taking a cue from his Joke character, Mark Hamill adds a comedic and patronizing dynamic as War's Watcher, a guide to and overseer of War's actions.
As a studio's first go, Darksiders is positioning itself to be a compelling title even amongst the early 2010 onslaught. Though we wont hold our breath in hopes for more stable framerates in the game's public debut, there should be plenty of anticipation to jump into this saddle.