I was sitting eight or so rows back from the stage at the Spike TV VGAs this year. My first day on my new job and I was handed the opportunity to attend the event on a whim. I watched producer Robin Hunicke accept the award for Best Independent Game for a game I had heard of and knew people were playing, but hadn’t thought to play myself: Journey. More than anyone else on that stage that evening, I saw someone who had a deep passion for their work, someone who, in her own words, wanted to prove that “games can be something different — independent, experimental, moving, emotional, modern, inclusive”.
So, I looked up what information I could about Journey. I saw that it had nice graphics, was gaining almost universal acclaim, and had even snagged only the second Grammy nomination for a video game (the first was won by Civ IV’s Baba Yetu). Still, I was playing Far Cry 3 at the time, and was quite focused on completing it. This would prove a bit ironic.
Then the GOTY nods started coming in. Major publications like Gamespot, IGN, Revision3 all named it their favorite and it even posted #1 on Amazon’s “Top 20 of 2012”. At this point I dove right in, knowing that Journey was something different, something people were taking note of for some reason.
I must say that Journey ranks amongst the most beautifully crafted games ever made. I can entirely understand why the major journalists in the industry seem to universally praise this game. It wasn’t all about the graphics though, or the story or the music. It is loved for a much more important reason. 2012 was filled with major game releases, many of which are extremely enjoyable and memorable. However, many of them have something in common.
Think of all the games with HD or Remake in the title, how many were focused on dancing in your living room, how many were filled with newer versions of what we did last year? The fact that most of 2012’s most anticipated games were sequels is not itself the problem – though if you want a short list there was Darksiders 2, Guild Wars 2, Black Ops 2, Borderlands 2, Far Cry 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Halo 4, Dead or Alive 5 and Resident Evil 6 for a few - the problem is that there are only so many times you can fire a rifle before it gets boring, so many times you can sneak up on someone in bushes or sit in awe at explosions. In the decade since the enormous success of the original Halo, we have seen gaming move away from its more fantastic roots to the mainstream successes of over-the-top action. In its wake we have seen many imaginative series fall by the wayside - just look at the current state of the Sonic franchise – to be replaced with modern gaming icons like Nathan Drake and Niko Bellic.
Gaming is still as imaginative as it has ever been, don’t get me wrong. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have wonderful games like Bastion, El Shaddai, Braid, Limbo or Okami. The ability to explore these new colorful worlds is still there, as it is really what gaming has always been about. However, Journey does something very special, something right off the bat that Limbo comes closest to achieving for a new gaming generation but doesn’t quite accomplish.
How many of you can remember the first time you picked up a controller and played Super Mario Bros? How many of you can remember asking “What do I do?” and the answer being simply “Go right.” You didn’t know why you were going right, you just knew you had to get there. You knew you had to overcome the obstacles in the way and figure things out as you went. Journey is the first game I have played since the inception of 3D gaming to give me this same feeling of wonder, this feeling of being dropped into a game world raw, unready, unprepared. We don’t have a backstory to fall to for understanding, or an intricate sequence of events to give us hints about our hero. We have the character and the world – the rest, you must discover.
In a modern gaming world filled with tutorials and handholding, lessons and training, to be suddenly stripped of all that and have the pure essence of gaming itself distilled, controlled in our hands once again, that has become a sadly rare thing. Even less common are games that you can experience in a single sitting, at least ones that are truly worth your time and money. And this is why Journey has been so acclaimed, why it has become a beacon to many a gamer beyond its beauty. Journey, to many, hearkens to when games didn’t have to rely on proven concepts, didn’t have to be focused on the profit margin or the marketing potential. Games are a place where anything is possible, especially now more than ever. If we can imagine it, it can be created.
I ended up finishing Far Cry 3 not long after I had completed Journey for the first time. After thinking about the game, despite how much I liked the gameplay itself and some of the acting, Far Cry 3 suddenly seemed so much more boring than it had just a day before. It was the realization that it was the fourth or fifth time I’d beaten a game in as many months which was a shooter, that even characterization can only take a game so far – looking at you Handsome Jack and Vaas – and that a drastic change may be needed in gaming.
I still look forward to playing the next Bioshock, the next Elder Scrolls or Metroid. I eagerly await the announcement of a new Mario Kart and wonder if there will ever be another game in the Chrono series. However, it is abundantly clear that the gaming world needs to take more chances, be willing to go out on a limb and do something truly crazy and imaginative. The reaction gaming journalism has had to Journey is testament to that. In 1985, Mario saved the industry by simply telling people to “go right”. Maybe Journey can do the same for a few people today by reminding us all of how great the distilled essence of gaming can be.
“You have to go that way.”
“That’s for you to find out.”
The holidays are a time that always makes me think back, think of the things that made the year what it was. We saw a Korean pop star become the hottest name in the entertainment world, a man leap from a tiny capsule and plunge towards the earth, a group of legendary comic book heroes assemble at last – there is much 2012 will be remembered for. We saw the spirit of competition at its absolute finest, from the storybook endings found in London to ten gamers fighting on the plains of Runeterra for a chance at history. We saw people rise up all over the world to have their voices heard, fight and die for their beliefs. We saw Mother Nature uproot our retrospectively fragile society across the world, and the strength of the human spirit to rebuild in the face of such destruction. We saw the human spirit at its absolute height, but sorrowfully also had to see it dashed, taken from many far too soon.
While difficult to speak of the atrocity of Sandy Hook Elementary, as a gamer and an American who has seen this type of tragedy happen far too many times in my relatively short life I feel that the Newtown, Connecticut murders are something we must not let fade to be just another statistic in the pages of a book. While I have not been there for some years, Connecticut is the place of my childhood, the location of many of my most cherished memories. It is where I was born and grew up, where I forged most of my greatest friendships. It is where most of my old friends still live. So on the morning of December 14th, when I saw every news outlet in the world suddenly speaking of massacre in such a quiet place, fear truly gripped me in a way I had not felt in, well, my entire life. Suddenly, a town not 25 miles away from the place I called home had become host to nothing short of true evil, one of the most atrocious and heart-wrenching events of my lifetime,
I sat there in my office in sunny Santa Monica, thousands of miles away from my original home, suddenly forming a list of everyone I knew growing up. I started to realize how possible it was that one of them could be directly affected, that these poor children could be the nephews, nieces, even the children of some of the people I hold most dear to me. While my friends were lucky enough to get out of this situation unharmed, the sad reality is that twenty seven people didn’t, and twenty seven families had to bury those they loved most during a time of the year usually reserved for jubilant celebration. The outpouring of support for this tiny town has been enormous and heartwarming, but it will never erase what has been done, no matter how much time may pass.
Yesterday morning, I sat on an airplane to travel for the holidays, to see my family. The plane was equipped with personal monitors and TV, and as I flipped through the channels I landed on a replay of a press meeting. Staring at me was Wayne LaPierre, a man whose name I first learned listening to the jokes of George Carlin. I had heard of his speech, mostly through staunch criticism, but I had not yet heard it myself. What I heard was a man panicked, one who would still rather point fingers of blame outwards at the media than realize the true problem is inwards. I saw a man give the exact same reaction to these deaths as was given to an equally grievous event half a lifetime ago for me, Columbine. Essentially, I saw a man blame the whole of modern entertainment.
There is much that LaPierre stated that is true –
"The truth is, that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can every possibly comprehend them."
- But there is also much he said that shows a frightening disconnect, a belief that more weapons are the answer and that the media is entirely to blame for these events. Going so far as to define the entire gaming industry as “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry” shows a true lack of understanding of not only an entire industry, but the human psyche as well. If the man who represents the most violent and powerful weapon the world has ever known cannot understand that the problems start in the mind, on the inside regardless of what movies, shows or even novels are put forth, what hope do we really have of ever preventing events like these from happening again?
Violence has been a part of us for as long as we have existed. It is one of our primal instincts, our ability to fight for the need of defense or offense, to protect or to destroy. These instincts are a part of all of us, despite our attempts to imagine that they are not. Violence has always been, and always will be, a part of our culture. It was at the core of the great stories by Homer, Alighieri, Poe and Hemingway. It was in the art of Memling, Caravaggio, Bosch and Titian. It was on our stages through Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dumas and Miller. It was on our TVs with the Stooges, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke and even Looney Toons. It is on our screens through Un Chien Andalou, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Psycho, Platoon, The Matrix. And, as we all know thanks to the constant attacks placed against them, it is in video games. This is nothing new, nor are those who speak out against such media; the only difference is now, these people have the opportunity to be broadcast, if only because they happen to shout quite loudly.
The difference doesn’t start with curbing the media. It doesn’t start with getting rid of violent video games. The way we solve this is by looking at each person as an individual, by identifying those who need help the most. Casting a net at the problem may have seemed the best, if only option in the past. But in this digital age where my phone can recommend a documentary on Discovery any random night just due to my search patters and viewing trends, we need to start using this same technology to identify those who may need a helping hand, or even just someone to talk to. The problem isn’t what we view – it’s us. And if we, as human beings, see works of fiction as more of a problem than dealing with those who’s very mental stability is a danger, then we have truly lost our grip on reality.
As I sit here comfortably watching the sun rise up over the river near my mother and father’s home, drinking a cup of coffee and typing away, I am reminded of everything I have to be thankful for - my career, my safety, my passions, these things that I take for granted and could very well be taken from me in an instant. In this year which was defined by morality and the human spirit, both in gaming and the world, remember all the things you have to be thankful for as well, and how lucky you are to have them. We live in a truly fragile but wonderful world, and without our efforts to make it a better place, it will lose much of its worth. Remember to do your part and help leave the world a better than how you found it.
In the words of Stephen Fry, a man whom I greatly admire, spend the rest of your lives being extremely good to one another.
Best wishes to all of you during these holidays.
Theres an inherent simple pleasure in Transformers games. The ability to switch up the fight from a heated footbattle to a breakneck aerial dogfight at the click of a button, in addition the fact that everything around you is so massive in scale, brings out the happy kid in me who always wanted to play a game in such a world. That became possible about two years ago with the release of Transformers: War for Cybertron, which became a bit of a sleeper hit. Fast foward to present day and its sequel, Fall of Cybertron, is released to higher fanfare and an expecting audience. But does it do enough to stand tall right in the path of a game season full of major AAA titles that threaten its chances at success?
The campaign of the story picks up in media res with the Autobots seeking to flee aboard the Ark, their last ship and last hope to escape the overwhelming forces of the Decepticons. Over the course of the campaign you will take control of numerous Transformers, from the enormous Bruticus to the stealthy Cliffjumper. Each has their own special ability to make them feel unique, but overall the characters all control the same. That is, except for each of their vehicle forms, which range from tanks to jets to even a T-Rex. The story may be throwaway for many gamers, but for true Transformers fans this new section of accepted canon to the long history of the franchise may well stand as the best piece of Transformers fiction in years (yes, including the Michael Bay films).
Right away one can notice the game has had quite a visual overhaul and looks great, making great use of the Unreal 3 engine. The mechanical world is both ravaged by war and grinding away with pure power, often playing the centerpiece of the game. More than once will the game world transform dramatically before your eyes, and the animations during such sections are impressive to say the least. Most of the transformations happen in the blink of an eye, but the way in which they are animated is surprisingly convincing. I did have a few clipping issues and broke the game on more than one occasion. In once case I found out that in jet form I could literally fly through any wall I wanted in a portion of the level, allowing me to fly high above my current section and see the path of the game literally built out before me. Also, during one multiplayer match, I rammed another character in vehicle mode and was forced below the floor of the level, dying seconds later and giving my opponent the kill. These are more funny memories than a complaint, but it concernes me that many players may be finding other, more gamebreaking bugs in the near future.
The audio work in the game is nothing short of fantastic. Every gun has a unique ping or thump to it, the music fits well throughout (even if it's not particularly memorable, except for ONE very specific song), and that classic "transform" sound has never been beter. Most importantly, the voice cast for the game has done a fantastic job with their characters, tetering that edge between nostalgic and campy that is so difficult but so appreciated. Peter Cullen returns as Optimus Prime, and while many of his lines may come across as a bit deadpan, theres no other man for the job. If you plan on picking up the game, just wait until Prime says "Justice", you'll know what I mean when you hear it. Starscream, Jetfire and Megatron stick out amongst the cast as well, each with a very strong presence thanks to their outstanding voiceovers. Put on a proper pair of headphones when playing this game and turn up the bass, you'll thank me for it later.
You'll be spending most of the game in bipedal form, so you'll be happy to know that the shooting mechanics are just as good if not better in Fall than they were in War. The variety of weapons to choose from DOES add to the overall gameplay, but the enemy types are a bit limited and the weapons are also a bit unbalanced (Megatron's cannon is freakishly good). Vehicle sections could have been more prevalent as well, but whats there is pretty fun - again, no huge leaps or bounds over the predecessor, but well polished and very functional. There are also a small handful of levels where you'll play as a truly massive Transformer wrecking your way through enemies, and while these parts were fun they were by far the clunkiest and the most difficult to control. Its a 3rd person shooter with a transformation gimmic, which might put some off from wanting to play the game, but the gameplay that is there is very very solid, if familiar.
The multiplayer may not feel all that new to anyone, but I can't deny that it is by far the best part of the game. Full scale Transformers battles are what this series is all about, and sometimes the fights online can become a real white-knuckle ordeal. You have four classes to choose from, each with their own weapons, perks and transformations, so battles can be quite varied. Sometimes, you'll round a corner to see three enormous Titans waiting to be assassinated. Other times a group of jets can come screaming down the center of the level, raining down destruction from the sky. Each match can move at a very different pace, and its a bit addicting to level up each of the classes to see just how good they can get. If theres one thing this series has done exceptionally well on with both of its installments, its the multiplayer.
This game, really, is aimed straight at Transformers fans. Theres no other goal in the game but to please them, and pleased they will be. Its a solid shooter with fantastic visuals, but the gameplay is best described as "been there, done that", especially in the shadow of its predecessor. It may not stand tall as one of the champion games of 2012, but this is a title High Moon Studios can be proud of. I'm only a mild fan of the Transformers mythos and had a great time being able to play my way through the (albeit pretty brief) campaign and then take the fight online. If you weren't considering getting this game already before it came out, chances are what it does won't be able to sway you over - At its core, it is pretty basic. That doesn't mean it isn't fun though.
I know what many of you are thinking when Sleeping Dogs is brought up. Oh great, we’ve got another Grand Theft Auto clone on our hands. With the game having had changed so many hands (and titles, originally it was meant to be released as a reboot of the True Crime series), it seemed it may be doomed to failure. And at first glance, yes, there are numerous things that Sleeping Dogs owes to its predecessors. The driving, the combat, even the HUD are all things that gamers are used to by now. However, that does not mean that this is a game to be missed. Sleeping Dogs is vibrant, brutal and thriving with activities to do, and while it may not ascend to the same heights as other games in the genre, it certainly does enough to be memorable.
You are placed into the shoes of undercover cop Wei Shen, a man on a mission from the very first moment you meet him. Wei Shen is tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee, the strongest Triad in all of Hong Kong. However, this is no ordinary infiltration: Wei Shen grew up in Hong Kong, and many members of the Sun On Yee are figures from Shen’s past. You are tasked with proving your worth while also helping the Hong Kong police take out powerful members of the Triads. Shen has his personal reasons for wanting to return, and seeing his mission flesh out has been one of the more interesting and intriguing stories I have played through in a while. Nothing is black or white in the game, and there’s a good chance you will be as interested in Shen’s tale as I was.
Visually, Hong Kong is a paradise for neon lovers, with lit signs hanging off of each building and its streets teeming with life. Food vendors are all over the city, couples walk around while on dates, and in shady corners there are groups of gangsters just waiting to get the living hell beat out of them. The character models, particularly the facial animations of the main cast, are very well done and worthy of praise. The lighting is also great, as is to be expected in a world so full of lights, but can be a bit difficult to deal with when the world is wet (and it is half of the time you play, it rains ALL THE TIME), making everything shine like it were covered with gloss. Everything looks fantastic in motion, but when you stop and look at the world at a standstill for a moment it isn’t quite as much of a marvel. When you take the scope of the game into account you can understand why everything doesn’t look amazing, but most of the time you are moving through the world so quickly that its amazing there is no pop-in or graphical errors. Hong Kong is expertly crafted and quite fun to move through.
There are two things that separate Sleeping Dogs from most other open world games. First is its heavy emphasis on hand to hand combat. It will be a while before you use guns in the game, and while the vast majority of the combat is based on pressing a single button, you’ll love the feeling you get when you take on twenty different guys at once in a fight club. Through collecting items, your hand to hand skills can grow and become more and more brutal. Shen uses the world as his weapon, kicking people into phone booths, crushing them under hanging engine blocks, even throwing them up onto giant meat hooks. Different enemy types have their strengths and weaknesses, such as brawlers being easily grabbed but blocking most attacks, and grapplers being immune to grabs but easily punched and kicked. Every now and then you’ll enter combat wielding a tire iron or a knife, and the better you do in combat the more afraid of you the enemy becomes. The combat slightly reminds me of the recent Batman games, which can only be a good thing as the current Batman series is well known for its flowing combat. There are times Shen will do things you don’t want him to, but the vast majority of the combat is both challenging and fulfilling.
Gunplay is rare for much of the game, and feels pretty much like any other third person shooter you’ve played over the past few years. Covering behind corners and using blind fire is nothing new, and the variety of guns is surprisingly small. You’ll spend a lot of time shooting from one vehicle to another, which is when the gunplay is at its best. Shooting out car tires can send cars flipping into the air and off bridges, but taking out motorcycle tires can be quite the sight as the rider can be flung straight into opposing traffic. Overall it’s the weakest part of the gameplay, but solid enough to get the job done.
The second thing that really makes the game unique is how you move about the world. Shen is a pretty good acrobat, but no Ezio. You sprint by holding down a button (X button on PS3), but that same button also activates his ability to leap across gaps or slide over a ledge. Mess it up, and Shen will stumble or barely grab a ledge, which can mean the difference between your enemies getting away or being tackled. Missions are constantly evaluating your overall skills with two meters, one for Cops and one for the Triads. The Cop meter starts full at the beginning of every mission and essentially measures how well you move around. Faltering over obstacles will lower the meter, as will taking out lamp posts, barricades or civilians while driving in missions. This makes you really pay attention to how you move around and how you drive.
It’s worth noting that you are in right-hand drive cars that drive on the left side of the street, something that will seem new to many players and a welcome return to “normalcy” for much of the world. This can make navigating difficult at first, but again, it makes you focus, and I do like that. The Triad meter measures your brutality, how well you combat against enemies in missions by using the environment and the efficiency with which you take out gangsters, starting empty and growing more as your wake of destruction grows longer. It’s a fun balance that keeps you on your toes looking for the most interesting and efficient ways to deal with the world around you.
One of the pleasant suprises of the game is the music United Front was able to obtain for the game’s radio stations. While much of the music is either ambient or Cantonese in nature, as well as the radio commercials, the game also features a wide range of songs from the likes of Queen, The Who, Mozart, Dream Theater, The Allman Brothers and Flying Lotus. It’s an amazing spectrum of music to choose from, so there is sure to be something to listen to. Much of the time the game seems to choose the right song for the right time, especially during high-energy car/motorcycle chases. The radio work helps add to the immersion of the game perhaps more than any other aspect, and is truly worth praise.
Square Enix and United Front have something going here. It’s great that this game came out before GTAV, as its chances at success are much greater now than they likely would be against such tough competition. It’s a bright world filled with shady heroes, good-hearted criminals and a good two-to-three dozen hours of gameplay. It all depends on how willing you are to grind many of the games side missions. The majority of time is spent on races (ranging from fun to frustrating) and item collecting. The story, though, is where the game is really at, making you care for characters usually branded the easy villain and cheering for a hero whose actions are often questionable at best. It is a game that takes itself very seriously; rare these days in the open world genre dominated by the insanity of GTA and Saints Row. Sleeping Dogs may not win any awards or be on the tip of gamers’ tongues a year from now, but it lays the foundation for a new series that could one day rival GTA itself. If you’re burned out by open world games, it likely won’t change your mind, but its brutal combat and colorful world was enough to keep me playing until the end.
It is somewhat hard to write about Darksiders II. Gamers yearn for originality. They look for what makes a game stand out as an individual amongst the masses, what makes it worthy of our time, patience and hard earned dollar. We remember Portal because nothing else had ever played like it. We remember Okami because nothing else had ever looked like it. We remember God of War because nothing had ever seemed so large. And now, Darksiders II arrives, much like its predecessor, as a game that at its core is wholly unoriginal, with everything from its items to its music digging into our minds and bringing forth memories of other, better known titles.
And yet, at the same time, there has never been anything like it. And there may not ever be ever again.
The sequel to 2010’s Darksiders, Darksiders II puts you in control of another of the Four Horsemen. This time around you are Death, the most powerful of the Four and a far different character than his brother War. Death seeks to bring absolution to his brother War and to acquit him of the crimes he did not commit (i.e. starting the entire Apocalypse) by reviving the whole of humanity. This is no small task, and you’ll find yourself traversing the realms of man, angel and demon to complete your task. Death carries many burdens on his shoulders, and the game is quick to remind you of this constantly. This game, too, carries a burden, the combined hopes of everyone at Vigil Games who clearly poured their all into its creation, and what they ended up with is something they can be proud of.
Visually, the world of Darksiders II is a memorable one if simply for its diversity. While the world and its characters may look a bit too Warcraft/Diablo-esque for some players, there is no denying that it is expertly crafted. It is quite sizable as well, taking you everywhere from the dry and barren Land of the Dead to the lush and green Forge Lands. You’ll have no shortage of wonders to see along the journey, including the varied and brutal assortment of enemies you’ll come across. Some of the character designs are truly striking and memorable, but the game has a tendency to use up its characters a bit too quickly. More than once does a character come along you’d expect to stay around for the journey, only for them to seemingly be forgotten soon after. Still, that doesn’t mean they aren’t fantastically designed and executed – the angel Archon and demoness Lilith stand out most of all. I only encountered a few visual hiccups in the game, the occasional stutter, but never enough to take you out of the experience.
The game’s soundtrack and vocal work do a good job of setting the mood wherever you are. The Makers, the first “race” of people you come across, are the most memorable in the game with their thick Scottish accents, but the vocals overall are extremely well done. At no point do any characters feel lifeless. The music may sound a bit too familiar for some players, but theres a reason for that – It was written by Jesper Kyd, who is quickly becoming the Hans Zimmer of gaming. He takes a few of his lessons from writing for Assassin’s Creed and Borderlands into account here, and while sometimes familiar, his music is always welcome.
It is when the gameplay of the series is discussed that the real debate begins. Darksiders was well known for taking more than a hint from other game series, and its sequel only does this moreso. The core gameplay is like a mutant combination of the exploration and dungeon crawling of a Zelda title combined with the combat of the God of War series, just as its predecessor was. The core difference this time around is the character that you are in control of. If War moved about like a golem smashing everything, Death is the wind cutting through all before him. He is much faster and more acrobatic than his brother, which is a welcome change to the series. He also has a far larger assortment of core weapons to choose from, although his twin Scythes are a constant. You can then choose from fast weapons such as arm blades, or heavy hitting maces and hammers. Much of how the game plays will depend on which weapons you prefer, as most of the other items in the game play no part in combat.
It’s worth noting how much of an impact on the game loot hunting has as well. Loot rains from the sky in this game, but like most dungeon crawlers, the vast majority of what you find will be useless. Still, it is an addition most welcome to the genre and one I hope some other studios catch on to. Some weapons can be ridiculously overpowered for your current level at times, especially new “Posessed” weapons that can become ludicrously powerful by “sacrificing” other useless loot to it. Also, I don’t believe I ever came anywhere close to filling up my inventory, so there’s no punishment in grabbing everything in sight, but this only serves to drive the player forward in search of bigger and better items.
Traversal of the world takes more than a few hints from the likes of Prince of Persia. You’ll be wall running and climbing all day long through dungeon after dungeon, waiting for the perfect time to jump from one ledge to the next. It’s all been done before, and honestly its all been done better. Death occasionally seems to ignore your button inputs and go wherever he pleases, especially when it comes to grabbing onto ledges, but for the most part it all flows well. Puzzles are a constant as well, and a few of them are a bit of a brain teaser, but any well seasoned dungeon-crawling gamer will be able to make their way through.
At this point you may be asking “Why get this game if its all been done before?” And yes, everything that Darksiders II does has been done in another game before it. More than likely, it has been done better than Darksiders II does it. But no game has ever combined so many of gaming’s go-to design choices and gameplay options into a single game that has simply worked so well together. This is a game clearly made by gamers, and as such is almost a love letter to the industry as a whole. Yes, theres a portal gun (The achievement for getting the item is even called “I Can Has Cake?”). Yes, loot is nothing new to gaming. You’ve done everything you can do in a game before here, but you’ve never been able to do it all in a single game. This is Darksiders II’s true triumph.
The game makes more than its fair share of errors, perhaps the worst of which is the assumption that you played the first game in the series. It sold fewer than 500k copies, so chances are you haven’t played it. Death’s entire journey runs in parallel to that of War in the first title, and as such is unafraid of throwing you right into the fray. Its pacing is also a little bit off and it could use a few more sidequests to add yet more diversity the journey. You may find yourself getting sick of all the favors the world seems to ask of Death, only for your journey to end quite abruptly. But then, once you jump right back into the gameplay itself, you’re instantly reminded of why this game deserves your attention.
Darksiders II is far from a perfect title but it is one that I can still wholeheartedly recommend. Vigil Games has done a fine job crafting a memorable title that deserves the support of the gaming community. I fear, however, that the series will soon go the way of Okami – A game that firmly stands its ground and tries to define itself as an idividual despite being blatantly like its brethren. With Darksiders II taking so many hints from so many other games, many will brush it off as a game to be forgotten, a copycat game looking to make a few quick bucks. Instead, it should be remembered for what it really is – A game daring enough to throw everything and the kitchen sink into a single pot, something that should never work, and yet the mix somehow coheres well. Despite all logic telling me this is a game that will soon be forgotten, it has won over my heart. It deserves our support if merely to see how the series evolves from here.