There’s no big tie-in to goose the hype machine behind Darksiders (unless you consider the book of Revelation a viable marketing tool). No movie or TV series, no action figures (although do bring them on), no graphic novel, no nothing. What they do have is one of the most visually refined, immersive and altogether robust video game experiences available on any system. But will it be enough? THQ isn’t exactly the first name in premature human obliteration and I’m not sure releasing it on the same day as Bayonetta is such a hot idea (granted they’re radically different games, but they still appeal to the same audience), but considering the theme (4th and goal for humanity at mid-field and the quarterback is toast), inherent street cred Joe Mad brings to the table, and what are sure to be glistening reviews from any outlet worth its URL, I say “hell yeah.” If a game this altogether spectacular can’t find a few hundred thousand homes maybe the end really is nigh. Show me a gamer that can resist playing the middle man in the war to end all wars between heaven and hell, and I’ll show you someone who just bought Clone Wars: Republic Heroes for the bleeding edge visuals and ace writing.
Joe Madureira (aka Joe Mad) came up like so many of us during the 16- to 64-bit era, back when home consoles were life-altering miracle machines that transformed our dreary lives into colorful parallax dreamscapes. There were no flat screens, no HD, no internet, no chat apps… not an iPhone was stirring; just pure unfiltered analog magic courtesy of your friendly neighborhood predominantly Japanese video game developer. Back then gameplay, music, and graphics were everything. If you made a game that looked, sounded and played great, you sold a ton of copies, period. So that’s what Vigil Games, co-founded by Joe and fellow game designer David Adams have done—made a great game. If rules still apply, it’s all downhill from here.
If you’re familiar with Joe’s work, liken Darksiders to Battle Chasers, the original comic book series he jettisoned Uncanny X-Men to create. Like Todd McFarlane’s Spawn in 1992, when Battle Chasers debuted in ’98 it was the ultimate comic, especially for people not into “comics” because it looked and read more like a great video game than a cheesy man-in-tights soap opera. I’ve yet to meet a gamer who knows of it that doesn’t wish it were a video game; a scenario that suddenly doesn’t seem all that farfetched. In the meantime, what Joe brought to Battle Chasers, Vigil bring to Darksiders, with the same palpable proficiency, dedication and love of craft. The difference being where Joe was criticized for only producing two to three issues of Battle Chasers each year (which, considering the level of detail and color is admirable) game development is a much slower burn, conducive to the creative process. Within minutes playing Darksiders, you know that you’re in the presence of greatness; not just great gameplay but truly magnificent character design. It isn’t until you enter the Twilight Cathedral that you realize you’re basically playing a giant Zelda, but by then it’s just icing on the mother of all cakes, and that’s only the half of it.
The quest at hand is one of dire consequence, as War, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, heeds the call and descends upon the Earth for the End War that will determine the fate of the three kingdoms: Heaven, Hell, and Man. But something has gone terribly awry. The other Horseman are nowhere to be found and War is in a weakened state. As he meets his apparent end at the hand of Straga (literally), all is made clear (or is it?) as the Charred Council—guardians of the pact between Heaven and Hell protected by the seven seals—reel him back in. Heaven and Hell were clearly at war on Earth, but the call did not go out; the seventh seal had not been broken. Although War swears otherwise, he is charged with the premature end of days for mankind, and must pay the price. Of his own accord he asks that he be returned to Earth in his weakened state as punishment, to find out who is responsible, or to die trying, to which the council agrees, on the condition he’s chaperoned by one of their own. And so back to Earth we go, bound to The Watcher (played with Joker-like zeal by Mark Hamil), armed with the Chaoseater and hell bent on getting some answers.
They say time flies when you’re having fun. Well, apparently it flies a lot faster when you’re meeting with the Charred Council, because upon War’s return a century has passed. The Earth is but a barren wasteland of its former self and humanity is long gone. Never trust a centuries-old talking rock I guess. Only Vulgrim, War’s designated shopkeeper, and the armies of the Destroyer remain; the Destroyer himself is held up in a massive tower protected by four guardians. Only by defeating the four “Chosen” and presenting their hearts to Samael, the fallen archangel commonly referred to as the Angel of Death, can War gain access to the tower where his final destiny awaits. And so it begins.
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