E3 07: Darksiders: Wrath of War Preview

When Vigil Games' Darksiders: Wrath of War was announced last week for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it was labeled as an original game from the mind of comic book artist Joe Madureira. As the title stands in its early state, unfortunately none of that feels true. Like Nihilistic's Conan (PS3, 360), Darksiders is clearly cut from the Gears of War mold. While the lead character in Darksiders--one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War--certainly looks different in a superficial comic book sense, the gameplay doesn't differ much from the wild combo-stringing attacks of Kratos. Using a giant sword as his weapon of choice, War trots through the standard post-apocalyptic landscape, cutting down the standard monsters and demons on his mission of standard revenge.

As in God of War, combat is based around repeated attacks and separate sequences requiring timed button presses. Whirling blade slices and a few ranged boomerang-type energy blasts are the extent of War's powers to start, although he will grow in power and change in appearance as the game progresses. The horseman does initially feature a few unique moves that set him apart, such as a teleport special that freely and instantly warps him several yards forward at any time. He can also use a sort of hookshot, which pulls items and weapons toward him. War's a big guy, so tossing these rusty cars like soccer balls and using giant discarded chainguns to spray a torrent of bullets are both easy ways of taking out foes from a distance.

The demo began in an open church-like subway station, where War was soon faced with a towering four-legged boss monster. One button press initiated a sequence that saw War leaping onto the beast in a prefabricated animation, predictably stabbing the quadruped in its giant yellow eye. After the boss backed off, flying bats and scampering rats swarmed for an attack. After a little button mashing the enemies were vanquished, and it was on to another competently-rendered, but stylistically uninteresting area. Gamers are forced to run through so many decrepit subways and run-down sewers that it's as if these games are all designed by former city engineers, expressing their yearning for pools of water and dark subterranean caverns via Gollum-like coding. With an artist leading development, I was surprised to find such bland environments.

If your suspicion is that I was bored with Darksiders, you are not far from the truth. Combat-heavy action/adventure games have always been of a predictable genre. The reason God of War succeeded was its level of polish and relatively innovative gameplay mechanics, a formula that can only be copied well to a certain extent, and then only so many times before it too becomes old hat. Even still, this is a very early build of Darksiders, and the demo reflected that--characters falling through the floor, useless (but amusing) place-holding rubber ball weapons, low framerates. Although it looks dull at this stage, Darksiders could conceivably introduce a number of interesting scenarios and conventions during the course of its storyline. Apparently War will pick up a trusty steed at some point during gameplay, enabling mounted combat, which along with his growing powers might provide enough variance to set this title apart from its competition.

Navigating the game's menu near the end of my playtime, I chose an option called "War's Thoughts," only to be met with a static text display reading, "I LIKE SWORDS." One can imagine the designers having the same basic thought as they put together Darksiders. Let's hope they begin to introduce some more interesting elements as the game nears completion in 2008.

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Download the full HD Darksiders: Wrath of War footage @ FileShack