The Darksiders games have always taken their thematic cues from several different gaming franchises as they play out their story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Looking back over the series, you’ll find gameplay resembling everything from Zelda-like adventuring to Prince of Persia wall-running to the heavy-hitting deadliness of a Dark Souls title.
So, the fact that the new Darksiders Genesis tosses aside the grand scale of previous games and now presents itself as an action-RPG seen from a bird’s-eye, three-quarters perspective isn’t necessarily a big surprise. That approach does, however, make the game a little easier to swallow in a certain sense. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
As you might guess from the word Genesis in the title, this game functions as something of a prequel to the franchise canon. That said, it’s still essentially the same kill-everything war between heaven and hell, albeit with a new twist or two, of course. But despite the game’s Revelation-inspired storyline, gamers shouldn’t expect anything even close to biblical truth here.
In this game’s twisted end-of-days narrative, there’s a blowout brewing between the forces of good and evil. But there’s no heavenly God in the mix. Instead there’s a powerful group of shadowy figures called The Council that works to keep an all-important balance between those opposing forces. However, even good and evil are pretty interchangeable here when it comes to who’s hacking who and whose soul is being devoured.
Meanwhile, the wily and devious Lucifer—the fallen ruler of hell—is plotting something dastardly. Specifically, he’s making a series of deals with some nasty archdemons in an effort to consolidate their power and to throw the balance of existence out the proverbial fiery window. So the Council sends out two of the famous harbingers of doom—the Horseman War and his always quipping brother Strife—to kill a few gazillion demons and set things aright.
Gameplay wise, Darksiders Genesis is pretty much all about killing myriad creatures in gun-blazing or sword-slashing battle, sucking up souls for currency and upgrades, doing a bit of platform-jumping and working out some occasional Tomb Raider-lite environmental puzzles. You can play solo, and swap between the two Horseman brothers, or grab a pal and bash hellish things together in co-op mode.
Horseman Strife dual wields guns with infinite bullets; he can also find and use some alternate-but-limited ammo types that zap and blast with deadly power. Strife excels at ranged shots and dashing in and out of cover.
War on the other hand is all up-close, hack-with-a-magical-sword melee. He’s nearly powerless at a distance, but he has the advantage of being able to block and parry an opposing monstrosity’s attacks. That defense can keep him upright when Strife has met his match with some fiery fiend. Speaking of which, if one of the two playable characters “dies,” he can be revived by a co-op pal or he becomes available again after a short break.
One decidedly non-biblical aspect of this game is the fact that the “good” guys have no problem making deals with demonic entities at every turn in order to do their job more effectively. In fact, most of the game consists of quests that the Horsemen perform for one demon or another, such as killing other demons, fallen angels and wicked humans as well as gathering souls for the baddies’ slavering consumption.
It all plays into this title’s attempt to transform a serious heaven-and-hell tale into an underworld-roaming adventure which unspools with a silly, almost self-aware quip always at the ready. The Horseman War is perpetually hulking and grave, for instance; in contrast, Strife is more of a let’s-stop-for-a-drink kind of dude who’s just out to have a comedic, rollicking good time while he’s blasting away at demonic thingies and sucking up souls.
Even though Genesis’ modern, wisecracking style can sometimes feel odd in a supposedly “divine” tale of war, it’s all a part of the slap-happy nonsense of this game. And it lets the gamemakers open the dialogue door to abuses of God’s name, s-words and splashes of other crudities, such as uses of “h—,” “d–n,” “a–” and “b–tard.”
The top-down perspective I mentioned does lessen the goriness of this latest T-rated Darksiders. But that visual approach only partially mitigates the problem here; as you might expect, gameplay is still violent by design. As the Horsemen gain power and weaponry, and as they learn a demon-granted ability to unleash their rage, you still see creatures executed in vicious (if scaled down) explosions of gore and goop. Still-frame illustrations also show some characters from a more up-close-and-bloody angle as well.
Oh, and though the sexual side of things never crosses into, say, God of War territory, players will encounter some demonic females who reveal quite a bit of skin and cleavage, too.
Yep, this new entry in the Darksiders franchise does indeed offer a fresh perspective on a kill-a-demon tale with its roots loosely planted in the stuff of the Bible. But it’s a whole lot of corrupted souls, quips with a demon, hack-’n’-slash sort of stuff. And certainly nothing worthy of your next Bible study.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.