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Joystiq impressions: Darksiders: Wrath of War (360/PS3)

Zack Stern

Darksiders: Wrath of War won me over at a recent THQ game-preview event. I hadn't heard of the game before, but maybe I just forgot because of its premise.

"Wouldn't it be cool if we had a game where you ride around as one of the four horseman of the apocalypse, just beating the crap out of anything you encounter?" One gaming exec might say to another. The second might reply, "Sounds great. Let's make it an open world, kind of a GTA-meets-Left Behind-meets-Spawn. Also, let's give ourselves raises."

Darksiders looks like it'll pull off this eye-rolling premise with impressive style and genuine action. I wasn't given a chance to play, but after watching two live demos, I'm anticipating this early-2009 game.

Gallery: Darksiders | 32 Photos

As War, you've been sent out to cause mayhem at the end of days. But someone had their finger too close to the apocalypse button, and everything was set into motion early. Oops. Can you do-over the end of humanity?

War gets framed, and you unravel the identity of the real apocalypse-instigator through this action game. The areas I saw conveyed this end-of-time feel, with ruins of modern cities inhabited by demons, angels, and other post-human creatures. One is full of ash -- presumably human remains -- spread out like desert sand. An epic cathedral dungeon includes a lava stream and fantastic lighting effects.

Graphics rarely sell an entire game for me, but this look perfectly matches the theme. Animation is also strong, with War lumbering along, swinging a sword, or racing on top of his horse, Ruin with hooves that glow red-hot.

War uses other weapons, too, taking human or angel-owned firepower. But he can pick up light posts and swing them like a bat, toss around car husks, or otherwise use ambient objects. Some RPG elements emerge, as you can buy new weapons and powers by trading in collected souls.

Multiplayer won't be a part of "the first game," a developer told me, and while he didn't commit to a series, this new title looks like it could kick one off. The action borrows from God of War, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, and other contemporaries, but the setting feels uniquely its own. This might be the first time I thought "franchise" sounded like something good.

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