If Darksiders is to be believed, the end of the world is signaled not by a blinding and burning flash of nuclear energy, but rather by the arrival of furious winged angels and heavily armored arbiters of doom. In this unoriginal but uproarious amalgam of borrowed game mechanics, you play as War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War is not the most engaging hero, but that's of little consequence in a game more concerned with brutal and flashy combat than zesty storytelling. You ride an otherworldly steed while fighting off a ravenous worm, carve up colorful demons with various blades, and navigate through a number of tricky but satisfying environmental puzzles. The PC version of this entertaining romp didn't receive the star treatment you would have wanted for a port released almost nine months after its initial console release. But while it doesn't boast the expected graphical bells and whistles, it runs well, looks good, and keeps the pace moving by mixing up the action and constantly introducing new ways to triumph over your foes. If you've been hankering for blistering combat and melodramatic boss fights, Darksiders is a great way to enjoy the end times.
Darksiders comes to the PC from consoles unchanged. Therefore, you hit the ground running, destroying rampaging fiends by slicing them with your gigantic sword, throwing vehicles at them, and morphing into a giant flaming form capable of swatting demons about like flies. You also discover one of the game's simple but savory joys: the manner in which locking on to an enemy zooms the camera in and the viewing area narrows to give the action a widescreen, cinematic flair. This is an especially effective touch when you perform one of the game's barbaric finishing moves, a possibility when you have whittled down an enemy's health and the appropriate prompt appears above its head. All this, while a colossal beast marches through a crumbling city suffering from the torment of a battle between the armies of heaven and hell. It's a grand and entertaining opening that sets the stage for an enjoyable adventure stuffed with vibrant swordplay, as well as rousing cutscenes in which hammy actors compete to discover who can chew the most scenery.
It doesn't take long for the story to devolve into absurdity. War doesn't have the cavalier charm of Devil May Cry's Dante or the smoldering gravitas of God of War's Kratos--easy comparisons to make, given the combat's similarity to those two action classics. The tale is too simple and predictable to get you invested in his fate, but there's a sincerity to the self-conscious dialogue and its robust delivery that gives the proceedings a whimsical appeal. That appeal is furthered by the game's muscular character models, grotesque monsters, and swelling soundtrack. Rivers of lava give off a vivid glow, and corroding cliffs rise above you, all part of a vision that indeed seems to look to the book of Revelation as its primary inspiration. While the cutscenes look a bit too pixelated in comparison to the action's sharper look, Darksiders' striking art style makes it easy to look at--though distracting screen tearing will have you rushing to turn on V-sync in the visual options. Unfortunately, you won't find many other options there, outside of screen brightness. If the game has trouble keeping up with your PC, you won't be able to turn any settings down; conversely, if you want to clean up some of the aliasing and blurry textures, you are out of luck.
Once the combat draws you in, however, you probably aren't going to worry too much about Darksiders' noticeable console roots. The executions are violent and satisfying, and the cinematic lock-on adds extra thrills, but battles are more than just fun to look at: they are fun to play. War's primary weapon has a good sense of weight, making even the simple skirmishes of the first hour a blast. In time, your repertoire of moves and special skills evolves immensely. You purchase new combos, slot in enhancements, and can even use an additional weapon--a scythe that feels even more ponderous than its counterpart. Add to these options a horse to summon, flight sequences, and a spinning blade to toss, and you have a game loaded with combat variety. You execute flying beasts in a rewarding sequence of consecutive leaps, shoot beams of energy at descending hosts of angels, and lock wits with a number of exciting bosses. There is a clear sense of growth that comes from gaining combat upgrades and new skills, and the game follows suit by introducing you to stronger and more agile enemies.
On the flip side, this "everything but the kitchen sink" approach betrays Darksiders' clear appropriation of other games' signature mechanics and makes for some unwieldy controls by the time you reach the final hours. The combat recalls that of several beloved action games, but the ransacking doesn't end there. By the time you earn a device that more than evokes Valve Software's classic Portal, it's hard not to imagine a development team talking about how cool these other things in other games were, and throwing in everything they could to see what would stick. Yet there's clear expertise in the way these ideas are gradually stirred into this admittedly heavy mixture. No one feature is relied on for too long, and diverse enemy patterns make every move a useful one. The feature creep is more noticeable in the increasingly elaborate controls. Certain moves require a surprising number of button or key presses, and you eventually spend more than enough time in the game's cumbersome menus swapping items and skills about. You may also experience occasions in which your jumps don't register the way you expect, and War goes plummeting into a yawning abyss or a pool of scorching lava, among other platforming and climbing peculiarities.
In addition to its other inspirations, Darksiders echoes the modern Legend of Zelda games, both in the way the world is structured and in the prevalence of extended puzzle sequences. The world is amazingly large, and once you explore certain key areas, you can travel to them quickly through the game's network of wormholes. You access this network by visiting Vulgrim, a delightfully snide rascal with a sneering voice and an ever-increasing array of moves and goodies to purchase. Once you're done dealing with this dastardly demon, it's off to the next mass of monsters--and to the next substantial puzzle that stands between you and the next explorable area. Most of these puzzles are excellent and challenging in just the right way, requiring both a bit of thought and clever use of your weapons and the environment. Progressing may involve using your throwing blade to light sequences of torches in order to ignite a bomb, moving around statues and activating crystals, and plastering portals on crucial surfaces. A long puzzle sequence near the end halts the pace more than it should have, but overall, the environmental dilemmas are a nice respite from the constant rush of gushing ogres.
You can play Darksiders with a keyboard and mouse, but the combo-heavy action is best experienced with a controller, as you may expect for a game that looks to console standards as its primary inspiration. But while developer Vigil Games purloined most of its ideas from other games, it chose from the best of the best and mixed them into a package overloaded with variety and sensory pleasures. That overload manifests itself in Darksiders' convoluted controls, but the game introduces new mechanics so evenly that they won't often interfere with your demon-dicing satisfaction. The platform deserved more tender loving care in the way of graphics options (and a little additional content in the way of Devil May Cry 4 and Jade Empire wouldn't have hurt). Nevertheless, a great game is a great game, and Darksiders is a fun, flashy, and altogether entertaining look at the final clash between the pearly gates' platoons and the legions of the damned.