Anyone who has owned a Nintendo video game console in the past two decades knows how the 3D Zelda games play out. They’re extremely well crafted and they’re fun as hell, but it’s not like Nintendo has been messing with the formula a whole bunch. You go into a dungeon, you find the map and the compass, which lead you to the boomerang, which you’ll need to light torches and beat the special boomerang-susceptible boss (who might consider hiding his sole weakness a little farther away from his throne room, or, you know, just destroying it or something). We don’t play these games because they’re revolutionary. We play them because they add a fresh coat of paint and a couple of minor gimmicks to the game we loved a few years ago (and a few years before that, and a few years before that).
Judged by those standards, then, Darksiders has got to be the greatest Zelda game EVER. Of course, it wasn’t made by Nintendo — Nintendo would probably have a collective heart attack if they got anywhere near it — but the basic gameplay is the kind of homage that leaves your car completely stripped and propped up on cinder blocks. Unlike Zelda, though, Darksiders is BAD-ASS. Your character is roughly the size of the Incredible Hulk, and he totes a sword at least four feet taller than he is. When you get the special key to open a locked door, you don’t just open it. You PUNCH it with a KNIFE and BLOOD spurts everywhere (yes, out of the DOOR). Even your boomerang has four giant blades on it, and hovers, spinning for a few seconds in your enemies’ chests, eviscerating them before it comes back to you. It’s like the art director pored over even the tiniest details, saying, “I don’t know, is there any way the jumping could be more BAD-ASS? Like, every single time you land can you make a big crater in the ground or something?”
Yes. Yes you can. When the animated cut scenes pull into a tight close-up you can see that they even made his little teeth pointy. THAT’S the level of detail we’re talking about in the bad-assery here.
All of this would feel maybe just a smidge over the top if the underlying game wasn’t so much fun. You play as War (not the God of War, which is the other big-name video game property Darksiders homages blind), one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and there’s some kind of battle going on between heaven and hell that I don’t fully understand, but which means that you get to stab the crap out of both sides. And on your way to find the grappling hook or whatever it is you need at the moment, you’ll do a heck of a lot of stabbing. You can pummel your enemies until they’re weak and then press a button to do your special finishing move, which is different for each enemy type and usually involves ripping a spine out or something.
I don’t want to make it sound like the blood and gore are the attraction here. They’re simply a delightful glaze of teenage giddiness over level designs that are inventive, just challenging enough and great fun to play. All you really need to know about this game is that if Zelda (assuming she’s the kind of princess who needs a REAL man) dumped the perpetually elfin Link and hooked up with Kratos from God of War, their baby would be Darksiders.
And that baby would KICK ASS. It’s available for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and comes out for the PC September 16th.