Darksiders

a review of Darksiders
a videogame developed by Vigil Games
and published by THQ
for Microsoft Windows, the microsoft xbox, the onlive game system and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by Samuel Kite

1 star

Bottom line: Darksiders is “particularly zelda.”

There’s no such thing as zelda. There was Zelda, and, collectively, there are the Zeldas, but there is no platonic ‘zelda’, floating in a philosophical soft boiled egg.

 

Adventure, for the Atari 2600 was a real game that actually existed. Before Metroid made the unknown exciting, before the SNES guaranteed that games worked as advertised, and before Joust brought the full chicken lifecycle to gaming, there was a sword, some keys, and an angry chicken fetus. In that game, which wasn’t zelda, there was only one enemy, and the sword was a tool to make its presence trivial when the player was doing the first task in the game, which was looking for keys and doors. When performing the second task, bringing a key to a door, or a chalice to the gold castle, there was no distraction, with the possible exception of being eaten by a chicken fetus, or abducted by a bat. The point, here, is that, once you knew what you were trying to do, you got to do it, and you either failed or succeeded at doing that. Every new screen was not an excuse to waste time.

Adventure, despite being somewhat impenetrable, was, for its time, a remarkably straight forward experience. Back in those days, there really wasn’t enough memory to make something confusing. If anything, a game was hard to figure out because it lacked the detail to explain a simple concept, or was completely arbitrary because its creators had an utter lack of respect for the medium and/or ability to empathize. Adventure’s only deviation from its pure purpose was the inclusion of the first ‘easter egg’, since Higinbotham engraved a picture of his penis on the inner hatch cover of his oscilloscope (arguably, still making it the first digital video game easter egg, and certainly the first nonpornographic one).

Zelda is not a game in the spirit of Adventure, even though it contains bats, swords, keys, castles, and, eventually, chickens. Its main deviation from Adventure is that the vast majority of the player participation part is in trying to discover what they are supposed to be doing, and where things are. Zelda, if anything, and possibly somewhat ironically, is the console’s best attempt at the Adventure genre, as beaten to death by Roberta Williams et al. You start on a screen, there is a hole. You navigate into the hole. You are given a thing. The thing is used to stab. Never are you given the kind of information you might logically need to progress, such as ‘someone sells a candle, it shoots the fire, senor leenk, perhaps some booshes will burn?’ No, that never happens. What you have, instead, is a world built with layer after layer of proudly standing contradictions. If a set of statues appear to be inert, then, eventually, on some screen, one of them will start to move if you stand near it. Presumably, when it moves, it reveals stairs, though, I can’t recall if every statue that came alive was guarding stairs or if it was just a couple of them, and therefore, the other stood as a kind of weak and ambiguous hint that, if you want a statue to move, it might. If, from that, you learn that, sometimes, stairs may be hiding under something that is not stairs, then you are smarter than me. The first time you had access to a bomb it seemed like an awkard weapon. How would you know that the 4th tile from the left on some clifface could be a door?

We now make assumptions about bombs and walls, and, granted, in those days, there was a lexicon of bizarre icons that we documented as we explored the NES. Balloons could be worth points, they could also be fragile. If you had a balloon, then you needed to protect it. If the enemy had a balloon, it was a weak point. If a balloon was unattended, you need to capture it. The entry for balloon in the encyclopedia of gaming was one of the easier, less obtuse examples, and it was still somewhat of a mystery. The entry for bomb took up page after page, and ranged from a specific key that opened a very particular place, to a dangerous thing not to be touched, to a tool that could backfire on you, to any number of other uses. In wrecking crew, bombs not only didn’t break anything, they interfered with your attempts to break things. Bombs could even be worth points and have no function at all. A bomb, really, could be anything. It’s not that the Zeldas bomb is internally inconsistent, just that, now, we know what bombs are for. They’re for feeding to triceratops, and widening cracks. A bomb, now, is defined to within an inch of its life in the mythology of the zelda context, which, as mentioned before, does not really exist.

Sometimes when zelda is invoked, the intention seems to be to mention the first Zelda. But there never was a first zelda experience. While it seemed immediately interesting, trying to get anywhere in the game was something no normal child could realistically be expected to do, unless they were utterly bored out of their mind, with nothing else, whatsoever, as an alternative as a game or a form of play. Saying Zelda is a deep and amazing game to the 9 year old who first tried to play it is like the Youtube comment telling someone that Resident Evil is called ‘Biohazard in Japan, idiot.’ Being a dick for no reason aside, how the hell would he know that? This first Zelda experience is not zelda, as we understand it. Only with years of hearing Zeldas stories and reading Zeldas research papers, do we understand the context that makes the original game what it is. To the person playing it, even today, it is an Adventure game with obscure puzzles that strain patience and desire to the breaking point.

The Adventures of Link, which is probably my second favorite imaginary zelda game, is almost self-explanatory in its utter inability to live up to the concept of zelda. Filled with side scrolling sections, which could legitimately be said to have tight controls and a few interesting fights, it flies in the face of the diligent Zeldas fan’s love of a game which treats combat as delay or puzzle extension. In fact, if anything, Adventures of Link is the first Castlevania, as we now understand the term. Crucially, this is the only game not to be zelda, which includes random encounters, in the true sense of an unplanned enemy presence. Every other game which isn’t zelda, includes the monster as an obstacle very much on purpose for the specific reason of delaying you in some way. Here, killing a monster is its own reward, for a very brief period.

Link to the past, of all the games which aren’t zelda, comes the closest to living up to the imaginary ideal of the franchise. This is due chiefly to the fact that it is full of human readable hints, and, as a consequence, is my favorite. The cracks in the walls are here, at last, to at least suggest that something ought to be bombed, though, tragically, you still need to have been trained in playing Zeldas to know that a bomb is for making those cracks into doors. Crucially, and perhaps more importantly, there are singular characters throughout the world who pantomime activities which you may need to perform, giving the novice half a chance (their utter silence in many cases being more communicative than the words of the old red men in Zelda). Furthermore, there is only one kind of crack that really results in a door, and many types of cracks which are simply a form of decoration. On the other hand, there’s a book on a shelf that you can ram into with the running boots, and that seems like it almost makes sense, though, in strict terms of Zeldas logic, you would think that you’d need the ladder from the first game, and, if any of these games were really zelda, there would still be a ladder. What really keeps this from being zelda, is that fact that the vast majority of the bosses can be defeated in nearly any way you like, so long as you do not die. In a few special cases, you must have, say, bombs to blow up an armored shield, or, at the very end, magic to light some lanterns, but more typically, while there is a weapon that might work really well, it’s up to you to defeat the boss however you see fit, in a most unzeldalike fashion.

Shadow of the Colossus, moreso than any other modern game, carries forward the experience of Adventure. That game focuses on a world in which there is some task which is clear, and discovery of what you’re doing and where you’re going are completely secondary to aggressive act of being on an adventure, with substantially fewer chicken fetoei. Your tools are as much environmental as task oriented. The bow, really, is a key you drag to the door of a Colossus in order to get to the truly important work of dragging its sequestered next key, or golden chalice, to the suspicious lady who seems to want you to crack open the face of god and drink the black ichor which pours forth. She’s probably just misunderstood. You don’t know what it’s like to be popular, etc.

Zeldas distinguish themselves as time goes by, more and moreso, by their attempts to attain zeldadom, via the vehicle of elemental themed fortresses. Several games which aren’t Zeldas, but are, perhaps, zeldas, have come much closer by throttling this particular embryonic cock within an inch of its life, and Darksiders is no exception.

I like the Legacy of Kain series, because I think people are monsters, and monsters make convincing people, especially in comparison to whatever Dante or Nero are, and because it transformed itself, midstream, from a convincing attempt at a zelda, to something much more like Adventure. The first game in the series stars Kain, the fairly uninteresting wet dream of protoTwilightian Anne Ricism. His mission is first to die while being attacked by thieves (which is the perfectly zelda counterintuitive introduction to a game; play a sequence, eat a brick of shit, then realize that was totally supposed to happen), and then to wander hither and yon attacking skeletons who’s presence is as inexplicable as it is inevitable. Within just one franchise iteration, the main character got substantially less slishy (this comes from a sound effect), and, while substantially more sad, was at least a lot more obvious. In Soul Reaver, the whole ‘you’re dead now, lol’ part happens in cinematic. The level design is still a bit of a funnel, as befits something that thinks it’s zelda, but much more straight forward in pacing. In fact, it’s close to being Tomb Raider, which is Adventure, if Adventure took place in Pitfall. Soul Reaver’s main adherence to zelda is in the intricate challenge in differentiating Things and Stuff.

For the many many many genre entrants in the no man’s land between zelda and the Adventure genre, the greatest challenge to the player is in the distinction between a Thing, which has a game-operable purpose, and Stuff, which decorates the environment, and constitutes some unknowable quantity of level artist’s tears. When trying to interpret the lexicon of a given attempt at zelda, the biggest problem to overcome is how, like all games, everywhere, it is not zelda. Being not zelda, the lexicon of operands is always different. Ever since Ocarina of Time we have climbable surfaces, but any time you look into a fancy pit-trap-which-is-not-a-pit-trap or lava-which-is-not-lava, you have to start over. In games which try to have clever sequences, the chance to learn can be so small that you never know what you need to apply to make something work. For instance, in Force Unleashed, which is not zelda, you occasionally have to destroy something ‘important’ by dragging it out of a hole in the wall, or toppling some sort of *thing* somewhere, that will deactivate a force field. Given that the force is everywhere (it surrounds us, penetrates us, bites our cheeks, and kneads our buttocks), absolutely everything should be flung somewhere. That’s just science. When I play that game, if something can be thrown, it will be thrown, and at the unhappiest possible stormtrooper. Luckily, this means that I am constantly looking for Things to throw, and when a Thing turns out to be playing double duty as a door key *and* certain doom for a man just trying to earn a living in this man’s empire, my bases are covered by my destructive behavior. However, in earlier games, like say, Jedi Knight, if something needed to be destroyed (programmatically verb A) or force-wanged (programmatically verbs B, C, D, and sometimes A), it was anybody’s guess, because the world was Thing-poor and Stuff-Rich. So many droids littered the floors, but they were not there to do anything other than tell you, frequently, and as strenuously as possible within the confines of a Pentium I: “THIS IS STAR WARS, ASSHOLE–ARE YOU HAVING FUN YET?”

Soul Reaver challenges the player to determine what matters and what does not, like the classic Goblins games. They educate you, somewhat, by encouraging you to murder vampire-polygons in a variety of exciting ways. Vampires melt in water, burn in sunlight, and can be stabbed. With this education, you find out that water is a pit, and sunlight is lava. Because the game begins in the spirit world, which you exit, only to find the entrance to the starting area sealed, you learn that, when in doubt, switching into the Spirit world may change something’s shape drastically (and, if it does, you should probably be standing on it when it does). That’s fairly straight forward, and (not) nearly not at all like zelda (at all). As the series progresses, it becomes even more not like zelda (xylitol), becoming like, Zelda and then, later, just becoming an action game with the typical series of obstacles and a few branches. The crucial part about the Legacy of Kain series is that it is *not* trying to confuse you on purpose. If you see someplace you cannot go, then it is a door that needs a key, not a what the fuck am I looking at that needs a magical weapon effect that no human on earth could ever predict it could possibly need (such as a magic candle, boomerang, or rod of whatever).

Deliberately causing human suffering is a feature of entertainment, and seems somehow integral to fully experiencing life. There is a reality TV show called ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’ which showcases the efforts of a hideous spider creature to breed our shallowest humanity together, to preserve future generations from existential angst. When she speaks, it is with the voices of all the shrieking children who died in fires set on Christmas. The longer you listen to her, the wider the crack is opened deep inside you, through which pours what makes us human, like the light shining under your bedroom door at night. She hates her clients, because they are all more successful than her fiance, and she hates the blonde pack animals she wrangles for them, because they are all more attractive and personally pleasant than she is. Her life seems to consist of a eugenics revenge upon a society which has spurned her, even as she attempts to fit in with that society. There are at least 4 assumptions inherent in this show and her aims. The first assumption is that marriage means something and is important. The second assumption is that the aforementioned value of marriage is inherent, and not instrumental in forging a bond of love or some other thing; this is a business, and you’ve got to straighten up and put yourself out there, girl (and no sex! If you have sex or talk about sex, then you’re trash, and he’ll think you’re trash, and he’ll never marry you, and you’ll be alone, and blonde, forever). The 3rd assumption seems to be that true love is expressed by marriage, so, really, what you’re doing is getting someone to love you. The 4th assumption, then, has to be that you can make someone love you and you can make yourself love someone else (as long as they have money).

As I say, she is a monster.

But there’s some underlying behavior, there, which you can’t sensibly reject. For instance, many people in the world deserve a chance at your love, and conceivably could be in love with you. Brain chemistry is a function of desire, and if you want something, you can convince yourself of the truth of ‘facts’ which must be true in order for your desires to come to fruition. Let’s say you want to play Football. Actually, let’s back up. Let’s say you want to have fun. One allegedly fun activity (I like it) is playing football. To do this, you need equipment, a team, and a hell of a lot of exercise and training. Subjecting the prototypical child to this (or any other organized sport) usually results in some complaints. Practice isn’t fun. Putting on and taking care of all the gear loses its charm pretty quickly, if it ever has any. When a coach yells at you to get you motivated, that is definitely not enjoyable. Even when you get to play, the risk of failure is a huge turn off.

To sport, then, requires the cognitive dissonance to come to believe that all those things are in some way fun. If you cannot derive some kind of joy from practice, and the meticulous care for and observation of the proper use of gear, and even get angry enough from your mistakes to try harder, rather than be disgusted, then you wouldn’t keep playing. In any case, you’re only doing any of this stuff to impress chicks, anyway.

A friend of mine has been dating the same woman for  about 9 years. They’ve lived together for 5 years or so, I think. They met in College, neither of them has children, they’ve both been faithful, the relationship continuous, and they are not the sort of people who believe that marriage is an evil institution, to be avoided on some sort of matter of principle. For the first 2 years, we made jokes about their eventual marriage in the way you might when you see that two people are happy together, and and are working your way through a tray of jello-shots. For the next 2 years we made jokes about their inevitable marriage the way you might when you are a little nervous that something is wrong and want to force some kind of closure so that you no longer have to suffer the uncertainty. For the next 4 years, most of the rest of our friends stopped bringing it up (girls excluded), except for me, because I have this form of mental retardation which makes me incapable of watching something stupid happen without bringing it up every five seconds. For the last year, finally catching up to the 13 year old sense of decorum that everyone else seemed to have mastered years ago, I have also shut up.

This month, he proposed.

Now, I can’t speak for  their feelings. It seemed obvious to everyone involved that they were going to have a great run together, married or not, and really, the only confusing part was what was taking so long to declare it ‘official’ in the eyes of social authority. Superficial permission seems to be the only real consequence of marriage, which, really, is about throwing a  party to force two people to believe something they may not really believe. In this case, there is probably a more solid foundation than the kind of marriage that happens on the ‘normal’ timetable of 1-2 years of courtship. My only regret is that, as I’m nearing 30, I really don’t have the better part of a decade to spend jerking some nice woman around until I can swoop in with the most sincere and meaningful proposal a person could possibly make; I’m absolutely *sure* now, dear (sorry for the wait–there was coffee and tea, did you see them?).

Marriage as an institution, though, really, is bullshit, at some level, isn’t it? Why did these people need this pressure? Why is the state, vile corpulent entity that it is, involved in any way other than to acknowledge parenthood and rights of ownership–things fulfillable in contract law on an individual basis as befits our certain existence as unique individuals, who’s pairings are an order of magnitude more diverse than our own individuality? Shouldn’t marriage as an institution only be recognized by the bastions of superstition that invented it? Really, isn’t it superstitious to think an agreement made between two people on a day meant to be filled with joy and the good wishes of positively everyone they know will last simply by virtue of the amount of joy you’re cramming down their throats? It is the rubber meeting the road in terms of the effectiveness of prayer; it’s impossible to stave off a hurricane, disease, or bad luck with it, but people, they are manipulable simply by being around them. How does this relate to playing football? How does this relate to the nonexistence of zelda? How does this relate to Darksiders?

I should make something clear. The Darksiders options menu is incredible. I was taken aback, because it has everything you need laid out at a glance, loads very quickly, and, considering that the options menu is usually a minor afterthought, is exceptional in its elegance. Its speaks to me of the presence of a highly competent interactive designer somewhere in the midst of this project. The quality of animation and character modeling is also excellent; something you can see particularly well in the teeth and tongues of the characters when cinematics take place. The lion’s share of games, regardless of technical excellence, tend to make an internal mouth which operates poorly within the constraints of a rendering engine. For instance, the edge of the lips tends to be abruptly different looking than the shading of the mouth, and the teeth, regardless of the brightness level selected, and seems to stand out oddly–rather than being naturally lit. This is usually because lips are sculpted with little or no depth, and their meeting point (the ‘mouth’) is the junction of two edges resting near one another, rather than (like a real ‘mouth’) two flat surfaces pressed together. I can’t remember the names of all the characters in the game, but they are built to be seemless, such that, if you have any interest in the art style, you will never be jarred out of your enjoyment of the world.

That said, I don’t think I’ve been as annoyed by a game, and utterly disinterested in continuing to play it in a long time.

Darksiders is zelda. Moreso than any Zeldas, which may seem odd, but really makes all kinds of sense. For starters, no Zeldas has been zelda, because the hero of zelda, Link, is the ultimate author-insertion persona for adventure. He only looks like a squat plop fighting dreidels and manhole covers because Zelda was 8 bit, and there was no proper way to showcase his badassitude. When the SNES version came out, people could forgive the cuteness, because it was visually close to the original, and the nostalgia counted for a lot (plus, it’s not zelda, anyway). When the 64 version came out, we were back to square one, in terms of graphics–the early 3d was as flawed as the 8bit 2d, and you could, once again, forgive how weird it was (plus, let’s remember, it wasn’t zelda (Hey! Listen!). Majora’s Mask came as close to being zelda as any Zeldas ever has, and it more or less involved murdering link and replacing him with a fish man or tree trunk every few seconds. When Wind Waker came out, people rebelled, because now the not zelda quality was becoming too overt. Who was this bright-eyed expressive thing? It’s not fair to force a character into the place of the author insertion persona (and that boat!). The latest Wii Zeldas is still nothing but confusion. I mean, it could have been good, only you’re wearing a weird alien (from Samurai Jack/Patapon) as a hat, and you can turn into a werewolf (this is good!), only it’s not the cool kind of werewolf from Altered Beast (awivze fwom yo gwabe), it’s just a run of the mill dog (this is bad).

War (*gack*) is a burly unsophisticated pile of teen angst with no personality whatsoever to get in the way of imagining how awesome you’re being. If that hood was green, you could have called him Link and no one would have known the difference or cared (Best reimagining since Zelda 64 – IGN). In a way, he’s more link than Link ever was because his purpose is explicit. War was made to do whatever this is, just like Link was made to do whatever this is, only he’s a person, and people come from somewhere, and every Zeldas starts with a flimsy excuse about why this kid, with no training or destiny, or anything, really, just kind of starts doing this. Because he wasn’t doing anything else.

In his one room house. Outside of town.

Near an ancient castle.

Or whatever. (Again, this makes Majora’s Mask the most zelda-like of the Zeldas, because in that one, at least, Link was this guy who already had done all this stuff in the first game–and Adventures of Link would be a close second, since that Link had been through fully 2 previous Zeldas on the NES and Gameboy, though, again, it’s impossible, because that game had pretty great combat)

The first thing I noticed about Darksiders is how incredible the characters are, and how very deep in their roles as zelda npcs they appear to be. Nothing makes any sense, and their job is to have it not make sense in a riveting way. For instance, you can collect souls. Souls are money, they’re also health, and they’re sort of experience and magic meter, too. They’re like experience because when you get enough, you go to a dude (a bro, really), and he sells you powers. Except they aren’t really powers, so much as unlockable combos or moves which involve your weapons. So I guess he’s teaching you techniques in exchange for them. So anyway, you give him these blue souls, which he eats (you eat green and yellow ones, which, if you think about it, is weird, because you’d think he’d eat red ones because he’s evil, and you have blue ones, or else, he’d eat yellow ones because they’re money-colored, and you could eat blue ones for magic, because it’s typically blue, anyway (this doesn’t qualify as a nitpick because I’m not saying this really influenced my opinion–it just occurred to me because the options menu is so great)), and in exchange for the meal, he’s willing to let you remember things you should probably already know (like, you know how you swing that sword when you’re on the ground? You could probably do that in the air, too–anyway, you could before during the obligatory tutorial first stage where you were a nearly invincible badass). He wants you to collect random sort-of-hidden crap, for which he’ll give you a soul-credit, and like every demon in the universe, helps you out by declaring what arbitrary thing you’re supposed to do next.

In terms of the environment, there are chests, which we’re familiar with (and these ones open quickly, thank god), doors which need you to Tap-Button-Repeatedly-To-Herniate-Disk in that special way that makes you feel like you’re more a part of the game than if you pressed a button once, or walked up to a door that opened automatically, or, god forbid, walked through an open archway. There’s crap everywhere which you can pick up and huck at things (this is the games strongest feature (the hucking (also the fact that trees, benches, lamp posts, and shattered cars contain souls (often more souls than a monster that seems like it devours souls for a living)))). Then there’s what you expect… Aperatures which seem like they should be open, but are blocked by blue or red crystals. Golem-like doors which sit on the side of the map which clearly leads to where you need to go. Gaps which are too far to jump, but not too far to glide. Some gaps which are too far to glide but have bizarre blue balls floating in mid air for no reason (these are glid boosts). There are also a variety of sigil encrusted things which move when you hit them.

The first Golem door you get by seems straight forward. You need to blow a door-waking up horn to get him to move, and the Bromon who hangs out by this guy offers to sell you an authentic horn of the whatevers for some souls. So you have to go off and kill some things. In the course of that exploration, you find out that, basically, there’s 3 kinds of monsters. The utterly inconsequential kind who will hit you every now and then, and are more trouble than they’re worth, the merely lameass kind who you can kill fairly easily, but take *just* too long to die, such that you are bored, and the larger attention-whore monsters, who you have to spend your time running from, dodging, and tedious X, X, X Dodging until they trigger their gruesome kill sequence (which, luckily, makes you feel a little better–I actually said ‘yeah FUCK YOU YOU PIECE OF SHIT’ the first time I killed a dragon centaur thing, because fighting it was so stupidly frustrating).

Combat in this game is like a punishment for a sinful life. None of it is ever exciting or interesting. Basically, the attack pattern of what you fight is always a choice between, Something dangerous and long range, Something dangerous and short range,  and Something not really dangerous, but still annoying. Any other approach than whack-whack-whack-dodge, is a recipe for getting screwed. Even the bosses largely behave this way. The only participation on your end, really, is to watch the monster and notice when it is about to do some *thing*.

Now, the reason I say you fight them all the same way is because of the camera and targeting, and the subtle way in which it fights you. When you are being chased by a thing, you really need to see where you’re going, because almost everything that chases you is fast and aggressive, and doesn’t want to give up. Nothing ever gets distracted in this game, either, so you don’t get to run away a little and then get your bearings. You’re always running for dear life if you run at all. If the camera faces the monster, then you can’t see where you’re going. If the camera faces away from the monster, you have no idea which way to run, really, you just have to hope for the best. For this reason, it is never a good idea to run, ever. If a monster is around, you have to fight it. Because they’re so aggressive, you rarely get a chance to fling something at the big, dangerous ones. Flinging things is for the lesser monsters, because they’re the only ones indolent and stupid enough to sit still and be hit, most of the time. By the time you get a car, trigger the throwing car interface, and target your monster (and not something else that you don’t want to target), the monster is usually already going to hit you, and then you drop your car, and can’t get away, anyway. So ultimately, you have to fight it head on to avoid all that frustrating crap. So you’re fighting it head on, and they all want to face you and charge you. This has a short wind up, and very little warning, so you basically dodge in a circle around them until they do it once or pick something slower to do (at random). Once that happens, you have to hit them, and you only have time to hit them 3 times, really, or you get stuck in combo recovery. So then you dodge, and do it over again, even if they picked something harmless to do.

The bosses are overwhelmingly similar, with the difference being that they go through charge-like phases where you have to dodge something they’re doing, and then screwing-around phases, where you have to continue the ritual of whack and dodging. When you lose, you feel like you just screwed up something simple and obvious (or were robbed by timing which is hard to get right only because it is ambiguous).

To mix this up, they give you different weapons. There is a scythe that works great for clearing out worthless minions, a sword which is generally pretty boring, a giant shurmerang (Yuffie (yuff yuff!)), a gun (you goddamned nerd (my favorite)), and a Glove which I’ll get to in a minute here. When you get a new weapon, you’re generally given some monsters to try it out on. The shurmerang becomes a prep weapon, in that, you have to charge it while you’re doing your dodging, throw it at certain special enemies to make them vulnerable, and then do your normal pattern. So it’s just another ball to juggle. This is more or less just an extension of the awkward throwing system, though, that becomes a permanent fixation.

So I said red crystals, right? And considering it’s zelda and what we know about video games, there’s only 3 ways those things can go down. One is you kill a dude and they all go away simultaneously. Two is you get a weapon that destroys red crystals (or lets you pass through). Three, the worst version, is that you kill a dude which enables the existence of temporary nearby ‘puzzle’ nodes which allow you to pick up some thing that destroys it or lets you pass through. This is the tapping-button-repeatedly foolishness taken to the next level of running a mindless errand. Red crystals take bombs. Luckily they grow from bomb plants (well, no, but sort of yes… bomb boils on walls and the floor).  The dimensions of these sophisticated Rube Goldberg tap-button-repeatedly sequences are such; you can throw a flaming bomb at the red crystal before it blows up in your hand and it will blow up the crystal. On the other hand, some bombs aren’t flaming, or aren’t in a direct line of sight. Oh god. Really? So you find out your shurmerang can go through multiple targets, and if one of those targets is a torch, and the last target is a bomb, then you can light the bomb. Fan-fucking-tastic. So now you’re searching for torches and bombs near red crystals. There’s a few permutations of this, in terms of redundancy, but this mechanism only *really* becomes even mildly interesting when you throw unactivated bombs at spots along a wall, creating a chain of potential explosions from a fire source to a crystal.

And that’s a lot of work to get something interesting out of something stupid.

The game does its best to keep me from hating it. There’s a ‘vehicle’ like sequence where you kill angels, take their angel-gatling-laser-bazookas (angels are so cool, bro), and then shoot angels with it for a while. There’s also a part, later, where you get your horse, Ruin, back, and you can horse up almost any time you want and kick ass with him. But that is after the glove, and that’s what I’m going to talk about now.

The glove is the first redundant weapon you get. You can have it out instead of your scythe, and you have to test it out against a new type of monster. In the normal video game approach, if you have a new weapon and are confronted with a new monster, then that weapon should work well on that monster, and it does not. This monster, like every other, needs you to smack it 3 times, and then dodge. Only, to be more irritating, it presents with a new kind of minor monster which occasionally flies in from off screen and knocks you down, and, on top of that, it has to be ‘killed’ twice. The killing sequence involves getting on its back and riding it around while it mindlessly kills anything in its path, but thanks to encounter design, that’s never another one of it’s kind–because they just appear one after the other out of nowhere, meaning the fight will never take less than [amount of time I want to spend] * 3.

So here’s what the glove is for. Ready?

It shatters blue crystals with a charge up move.

Oh cool, you mean I get to shatter any blue crystal whenever? Not so fast. First of all, if that were the case, why not have all blue crystals shatter instantly? That doesn’t happen. Blue crystals need you to come at them from a place where you can stand right next to them, charge up this stupid weapon which you aren’t using because it sucks (meaning you spend time in the menus to switch whenever you do this), and then they shatter. But they’re designed in such a fashion that most of the ones obstructing your path are not accessible from ‘this side’. You have to come around from the other side, and figuring that out is a huge waste of your time.

Which is what zelda is really all about at its core. Wasting your time figuring out that something is impossible to do right now. Because there’s just enough ambiguity to think you have to puzzle it out, and just enough obviousness that you know what has to happen already, you’re just trying to figure out how it has to happen.

In the area you get ruin, they start this unforgiveably elaborate series of non-puzzles where you have to shurmerang an obelisk in order to trigger bullet time, which is required to avoid being eaten by monsters, or spinning death traps. You have a limited amount of bullet time before things speed up and you die.

The ultimate frustrating moment for me was fighting a creature which rears up out of the sand while on Ruin, that has a vulnerable spot on its mouth, but basically eats you if you get near its mouth. Counterintuitively, you have to get off your horse, which is the only thing protecting you (as it is, seemingly, the same class of insta-death monster that you were using the bullet time for, earlier), and shoot it in the mouth as it comes towards you.

This is all typical of a given boss monster encounter in many games, but what makes this particularly zelda, is that the right answer is the right answer, it is simultaneously obvious and counter-intuitive, and no fun whatsoever, because your ‘solving’ of the ‘puzzle’ is purposely inevitable. The combat is not sophisticated, it is a delay on the way to opening a crystal shaped door, or a monster shaped door, and really, all that you’re along for the ride on is figuring out where to go next, only in this pinnacle of the zelda format, there is no ambiguity in that, either (other than the general ambiguity in the utterly alien landscape and the inscrutable expectations of its denizens).

There are waypoints you can return to, and when using these waypoints, you are thrown into a mini-game (hah!) like process of running along a floating platform in a limbo-like place. In this non-space, it is possible for you to fall and die.

The convenient shortcut system has the possibility of death in it.

Now that’s so zelda not even the Zeldas has thought of it yet.

–Samuel Kite

Comments

24 Responses to Darksiders

  1. Nice review. Just enough tangents to make your point. I have actually understood why exacly did you dislike this game.

  2. your reviews are always very dizzying reads, and generally enjoyable/insightful because of that. :thumbs_up: granted, i almost always feel like i may not be Actually Understanding what your getting at (even if i do), which kinda annoys me. i mean, i’ve read the review and i think i know what you mean by zelda (lowercase), but…

    …zelda isn’t Zelda isn’t zelda…

    it can be very confusing.

    (also, why is the review archive broken?)

  3. This review is so expertly-written as to evoke feelings of godliness in at least one reader (namely, me). I still disagree with the one-star rating, since I feel that Darksiders represents Excellent Stupid Mindless Fun, and therefore has earned two stars, but who cares.

    Also I have difficulty in discerning why you enjoy Football but not Darksiders, since both involving repetitive, frustrating tasks in exchange for small amounts of potential pleasure. I presume it has something to do with getting exercise and impressing chicks, two things which will certainly not come from playing Darksiders.

  4. Eh. The tangents aren’t as funny as Tim’s, and there are too many damn commas. Certain phrases like “unique individuals” feel irritating to the point of being insulting. And clarity, man, clarity – patronize us a bit. I feel my eyeballs spinning around in their sockets out of indignation when they get to the end of a paragraph and can’t work out why they bothered. The part about SotC sounded like something I could be interested in, but I don’t get it, and I refuse to read the paragraph a fourth time.

    I’ve never been able to play a Zelda game for more than about 25 minutes without getting bored and stopping (I do plan on returning to aLttP though). I know that you’re trying to avoid and poke fun at the worshipful place that Zelda occupies in the gamer subconscious, but to me it ends up looking just like another form of worship. Personally I don’t care about Zelda, and I’m waiting for something to convince me that I should do.

    The complaints I had with structure and characterization in Okami, I am told, are mostly to do with the Zelda-ishness of it. It was boring, is what it was, plainly, conservatively, boring. To me the Zelda style is like quick time events or half-assed RPG elements – a piece of bullshit that game developers will one day grow out of, bullshit which deserves no more attention than is required to say “it is bullshit”. Although maybe I need to have owned a Nintendo 64 as a child in order to understand all this.

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  6. This my favourite Sam Kite review because I feel like I actually understood it, which makes me feel smart.

    Which, according to the way Aonuma designs Zelda games, is very zelda indeed.

  7. A friend and I are playing through Majora’s Mask. His roommate, however, wanted to play Ocarina of Time, so we let him. I say, I have never been so disgusted by how much the game throws at you, the player, and how many rings you have to jump through. MM actually realizes that Zelda is somewhat about a sword and a shield, so they just give it to you at the beginning. There is a motive already present, he doesn’t have to find or buy them.

    Needless to say, I kind of fell out of my seat when I saw this review on the main page, and for more than one reason.

  8. I present to you a blooming parentheses for getting me to read a review for a game I had never even once considered to play.

    (((((@))))))—

  9. Besides the miriad of problems with this review, I can’t believe you actually consider that piece of shit Force Unleashed better than the Jedi Knight games! What’s up with that?

    Also, what’s everybody’s problem with Quicktime events? Don’t you guys have reflexes or something?

  10. quick time events are… something that happened that should no longer be necessary to do again.

    QTE feels more like the game is playing you. rather then you playing a game.

  11. The God of War 2 review explains what is quite so disgusting about QTEs with the best metaphor on this entire website. But I’ll try and say what I personally feel about them here.

    QTEs, if you look at them outside the context of game design, are completely gimped. You are watching a film, and being told to press buttons. Imagine if The Matrix had a reflex test every so often. It might make sense – hey, it might even make the film more tense, for some people. But it would be pointless and daft.

    Games challenge us – that’s about the most interesting thing they’ve been doing for the last couple of decades. In order to experience them, you have to understand them. So an effective and deep gameplay system and control scheme becomes something to aim for, something to get interested in.

    QTEs throw that out the window. Why exactly should I press X in order to see Kratos pull a giant fingernail off? I want strategy. I want significance. I want things to *feel like* what they *are*. In Spartan: Total Warrior, a crowd feels like a crowd, and the things that you have to do in order to deal with that crowd feel like the things that you have to do in order to deal with a crowd. QTEs feel like nothing. They feel like arbitrarily pressing buttons, which is what they are.

    Here’s the nasty part: remember the part about challenge. Games HAVE to be challenging, ok? If you play a game with God Mode on, it is no longer a game, and all the fantastic animation in the world won’t make it feel less tedious. The best game designers focus on that challenge, they refine it. The stupid game designers think “what is the absolute bare minimum of challenge I can provide in order to validate to the audience that they are playing a game?” And QTEs are the answer to that.

    QTEs came into fashion when they did essentially to showcase graphics. If you had a QTE on the SNES, people would realise how vacuous they were, because the SNES didn’t have the technology to show you any cool shit that you could PRETEND to be involved with. I hope that doesn’t sound nostalgic – I didn’t own a SNES. It’s an image worth calling upon though, because a couple of years from now, once God of War 1 loses the last dregs of graphical impressiveness it is still able to hold onto, everyone will realise what dross it really is – what dross it always was.

    (It is possible for something like QTEs to be good. In God Hand, QTEs happen; they’re an attack by an opponent that you have to press a button to block and counter. Tenuous defence of this: because you never initiate them, and because they take place within The Most Intense Combat System In History, they always take you by surprise, and they bottleneck all the internal strategising you are doing into “shit I have to press this button”.)

  12. I value the abstract stories games tell, a big part of this is how bit’s of a game bounce off one another to create unique situations.

    QTE generally don’t give me this.

    i’m also a big fan of “playstyle matters” games and QTE don’t really do that as they are. letting players have a style means they can express something, even if thats just that they like the white ship way more then the black one (ikaruga racist mode).

  13. @Inverse Square: I defend the majoity of God Hand’s QTEs thus:

    - Their occurrence is predictable; either through telegraphing, like the counter move used against the demons, or through the player deliberately setting up situations where they can happen, like tripping up an enemy so you can stamp on them

    - The input icon displayed is the input tied to the mechanic you would need to use to solve that situation anyway. Analog stick right (and no other direction!) to dodge a suplex, attack button to attack etc

    - If you removed the button icons they would still work as game mechanics but, and this is the most crucial point, WOULD CEASE TO BE QTES.

    The only QTEs I can think of that don’t fit this framework are the one where you punch the gorilla in the balls and the one on Shannon’s second form that involves dodging and attack and striking a weak point at the same time. Both of these feel appropriately cheap.

  14. Wait – did you just say you preferred Force Unleashed to Jedi Knight?

  15. Kinto – I agree with the above, mostly. Fuck though. I just got done playing the Vanquish demo. It’s kinda ok, inoffensive. It had two or three quicktime events though. Unabashed, indefensible, quick time events. They reflect badly on God Hand.

    (Note: Shinji Mikami made God Hand, and Vanquish. And Resi 4. Slightly weird, isn’t it?)

  16. Apparantly the game was mostly QTEs, and halfway through development he realised QTEs are total bullshit and tried to get rid of most of them. Maybe we’ll never see them in a Mikami game ever again. One can only hope.

  17. It’s been over a month so I doubt this will get back to Samuel Kite, but nonetheless I enjoy his reviews so much (moreso, perhaps, then Tim’s; I haven’t decided yet) I feel compelled to ask; is there anywhere else on the bog ol’ net that Mr. Kite drops words?

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