Darksiders: Wrath of War Review (PS3)

Darksiders' set up doesn't seem particularly original from the outset, but then appearances can be deceiving as the game quickly proves within its opening few minutes. Immediately dispelling our expectations, Darksiders is actually a decent yarn set in that most yawnsome and hackneyed of videogame settings the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But here's the kicker Vigil's hack and slasher isn't nearly as unimaginative and workmanlike as you might initially think, and this is thanks in no small part to the involvement of ex-comic book artist, Joe Madueira, whose distinctive visual style pervades almost every pixel in Darksider's world.

War, killing nasty bat creature with big sword.
War, surveying huge cathedral, with big sword.

Previously subtitled Wrath of War, Darksiders is the first in a projected saga charting the trials of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse . Obviously, War is the star of Darksiders, accused of initiating a conflict between Heaven and Hell, which has left him stuck between the two, making him an enemy of pretty much anyone whose path he crosses.

What this boils down to is an airtight excuse to let rip with an enormous sword called Chaoseater, which cleaves through enemies like a knife though butter. On your travails, you'll encounter all manner of hellish minions and angels out for your blood, so you'll need to gather as many blue souls as you can from vanquished foes. These blue souls act as currency, enabling you to purchase new abilities, weapons and upgrades from Vulgrim, the game's ubiquitous vendor.

Arguably Darksiders' biggest problem is how it rations out the best abilities until later in the game, teasing you in the opening prologue with a fully-powered War who can transform into a hulking beast and tear through enemies with reckless abandon. Following your expulsion for allegedly kick-starting Armageddon early, War is then shorn of his abilities meaning that you'll spend the opening hours of the game hammering one button (as well as occasional finishers on another) until you accumulate enough souls to purchase a secondary weapon, unlocking two button combos.

Consequently, Darksiders requires a great deal of patience to get into, which could well turn off players looking for more immediate action. Its closest genre stablemate, God of War would never hold back its most enticing treats until the closing stages and Kratos has access to a whole list of complex combos from the get go.

Put in the time and persevere however, and Darksiders is an incredibly rewarding hack and slash title, worthy of inclusion alongside the likes of Devil May Cry or God of War, though it never quite reaches the same heights as either of those games. For starters, the pace is far more measured, giving you plenty of thinking time to string together combos rather than having to randomly mash face buttons.

Darksiders' combat gets gradually better as War's abilities evolve, but his slow, lumbering run during exploration segments turns the labyrinthine corridors of the Twilight Cathedral and the later catacombs and deserts a real chore to traverse. That is until you're reunited with Ruin, you're faithful, demonic steed by this point War actually feels like a devastating force, able to deal efficiently with the waves of both angelic and hellish hordes.

It's convenient too that certain weapons and items happen to surface at exactly the time they're needed, such as a horn to shift normally immovable statues blocking your progress or a cross blade that helps you to deal with flying wraith creatures otherwise out of reach. It would have been nice to have been given the tools and then allowed the freedom to work out solutions for ourself, rather than being spoonfed each component in a regimented fashion.

War, dancing, showing off big sword.
War, pensively contemplating the heavenly light. With big sword.

Still, there's plenty of depth to be found in customising weapons using the forge in your pause menu, which allows you to imbue your blades with certain enhancements such as increased damage. And there's a decent array of varied weaponry for you to unearth as you make your way through the narrative to face The Destroyer after overcoming the game's gigantic bosses with the aid of your annoying companion The Watcher, and demon buddy Samael. Darksider's story is worth following too and the vast locations always manage to convey a genuine sense of the epic, with vertiginous Gothic spires and cavernous baroque halls.

Despite a few annoyances, Darksiders still manages to coax you in with it's scale and scope, proving to be a uniquely enjoyable and involving hack and slash title well worth spending time with. If you can get past a slow start and get to the real meat of the game, then you'll eventually find Darksiders to be an immensely rewarding adventure, that will sate even the most feverish of slice and dice appetites. Until God of War III arrives at least. Until then, Darksider's is a solid enough alternative.