We all know the apocalypse is nigh. Surely you've heard about the Mayan
calendar coming to an end in December. Perhaps you've seen the political
ads promising Armageddon if you vote for the wrong guy. Maybe you're
stuck without air conditioning in 100-degree heat and just wish we'd get
it all over with.
In "Darksiders II" (THQ, for Xbox 360, PlayStation
3, $59.99; PC, $49.99), humanity has already been extinguished. The
question is: What next?
The protagonist is one of the Four
Horsemen of the Apocalypse - specifically, Death, who you'd think would
be a little happier about all the chaos that's been unleashed. But he's
more concerned with restoring the reputation of his brother, War, who
was unjustly blamed for the global massacre in 2010's "Darksiders."
of Death's penance involves freeing millions of human souls from limbo.
But there are hundreds of demons standing in his way, as well as one
primal force, Corruption, who's wreaking havoc across Heaven, Hell and a
now zombie-infested Earth.
Despite the Biblical underpinnings,
you don't need a religious studies degree to enjoy "Darksiders II,"
which unashamedly draws inspiration from the Book of Revelation and
gallops away with it. (On a horse named Despair, no less.) And despite
the grim subject matter, it's almost gleeful, with vivid character
design, lively animation and a wicked sense of humor.
"Darksiders" was unfairly dismissed by some critics as a "Legend of
Zelda" clone, thanks to its emphasis on puzzle-filled dungeons. They're
still a huge part of the sequel - if anything, developer Vigil Games has
doubled down on them - and they're still delightful. Filled with
devious traps and devices, these three-dimensional mazes demand brains
as well as reflexes to survive, and there are a few puzzles that will
make you feel really smart when you solve them.
So the "Zelda"
influence remains, but "Darksiders II" incorporates elements of at least
a dozen other games, including "Prince of Persia," ''God of War,"
''Shadow of the Colossus," ''Portal," ''Ratchet & Clank" and even
"Call of Duty." It's like a greatest-hits anthology of the last decade
in video-game design. And as a whole, it's more rewarding than the
latest installments in most of the above-mentioned franchises.
has also beefed up the role-playing elements, so every monster Death
kills contributes to the evolution of his powers. You can upgrade skills
in two categories: Harbinger, which boosts Death's offensive might, and
Necromancer, which lets him summon ghouls and crows to peck away at his
enemies. Every kill also contributes to a meter; when that fills up,
Death can briefly transform into an all-powerful Reaper.
primary weapon is a scythe that splits in two during combat. He's always
equipped with a backup as well - perhaps something slow and brutal,
like an ax or hammer, or something faster but less effective, like claws
or knives. New, more powerful weapons and armor are stashed away in
every dungeon, so fans of loot-collecting epics like "Diablo" will be
satisfied. You can easily switch between weapons and call up spells
during combat, which is smooth and fast-moving.
There were some
glitches in the Xbox 360 version I played. In a few cases, Death got
stuck behind a rock or just froze altogether, and I had to reboot. But
those are minor flaws in a game as sprawling and ambitious as
"Darksiders II," the most morbidly amusing game I've played this year.
Ratings: Four stars out of four.