Review: Darksiders 2 / Developer: Vigil Games / Publisher: THQ / Platform: Xbox, PS3, PC, Wii U / Release Date: Out Now (Wii U TBC)
Ask a member of the general gaming public about 2010's Darksiders and you probably won't get much of a response. As a brand new title coming out in early January it was already going to struggle, seeing as we're living in an era where Triple-A billion-dollar franchises rule the gaming universe and everyone was still playing the copy of Modern Warfare 2 they'd got for Christmas a couple of weeks ago. Despite being released to much critical acclaim it managed to miss out on all of the year-end awards and ended up being pretty much forgotten about. Seriously, how many people have ever told you Darksiders is amazing? One, at the most. And that was probably me just now. Because it is.
Surprise of all surprises in June 2011 then, when THQ's announcement of a sequel confirmed their decision that Darksiders was going to become a new mega-franchise. Three or four people wet themselves with joy, and the rest of the world went about their business as usual. Fast forward to August 2012, and Darksiders 2 has arrived. It's dark alright, but not in the way you might have wanted.
It's still a good old fashioned hack n' slash open-world action/adventure game with all the puzzles and collectables and stuff you'd expect from something like this, only now they've tried to add a bit of depth by also giving us one of the lightest and most flimsy RPG elements ever created. Do you want to use this weapon or wear this armour? Here look, these numbers are green so it means it's better than what you've already got. Oh no, these numbers are red so that means it's worse. Honestly, that's as much thinking as you're going to need to do on the role-playing side of things.
What else might you have wanted from Darksiders 2? Wonderfully awesome powers, perhaps? They're here, but they're just so uninspired that it almost beggars belief. Summon a ghoulish helper to fight alongside you for a bit? Spent 150-odd hours doing that in Skyrim a few months ago. Do you want to mash "X" to do some fancy moves and splatter some blood all over the place? God Of War's got nicer combos that look like they hurt more. Maybe you wanted to run up some walls, jump onto some poles, shuffle slowly around them and then jump off again? Prince Of Persia that, mate. Enjoy missing jumps and falling off something really high and having to spend ages doing it all over again because your character didn't quite respond to the buttons you definitely totally absolutely pressed? You've already got an Assassin's Creed game or two on your shelf, surely?
Even just trying to play the game can be a bit of a mystery. Once you get inside a dungeon, you'll spend a fair bit of time without a quest marker on your map, instead relying on "hints" from Dust, your little bird helper who flies around supposedly hovering around the general area you need to be heading for. Get to the nearest door and ask for another hint though, and quite often he'll tell you to go back where you've just come from. Your guess is as good as ours on that one, really. And once you get about eight hours into the game, the freezing starts. Just solved that puzzle you've spent half an hour trying to get your head around? Hopefully you've remembered what you've just done, because you may well have to go back and start again. Right from the beginning of the dungeon.
Fair enough if Darksiders 2 isn't afraid to wear its "influences" on its sleeve, but the point is that the whole thing comes off as a poor imitation. It doesn't even manage to improve on any of the slightly rubbish and already overused stuff that it's trying to emulate, but then there's a possible question over whether that thought even crossed the developer's minds in the first place.
If ever a game was much much much much less than the sum of its parts, Darksiders 2 is it. It feels a bit like they had a meeting where they put together a list of all the biggest-selling action/fantasy button-mashers of the last ten years, then wrote another list of the main gameplay features of all those games, then tried to squeeze every last one of them into something all their own. But instead of creating what should have been the ultimate hybrid of a bucketload of amazing games, all they've succeeded in doing is watering everything down into a weak and shallow puddle. And not even a puddle of blood or anything cool like that. Just a regular puddle. It might be in with a chance of winning the "best puddle of the year" award though.
(not one, because at least it isn't MorphX)