No, wait. It isn’t. However, it is just as exciting due to a strong lead character.
“Darksiders II” is a wonderful (but a bit buggy) action-adventure, role-playing game putting you in the starring role of Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Death is upset with how his brother, War, is being treated at the hands of the Creators for War’s role in the demise of humanity (as seen in “Darksiders”). So Death comes up with a plan to resurrect humans on Earth and prove his brother was tricked.
To do this, Death must travel to various realms, engage in quests for creatures that should be able to do these things for themselves, and struggle against physical and psychological attacks by those who want revenge.
Death looks like a mix between a heavy metal guitarist and a modernized version of Skeletor from the Masters of the Universe cartoon, but Michael Wincott is superb as his voice. He gives the Grim Reaper the right amount of attitude and gravitas while still portraying humor when needed. This blend gives Death a splendid personality that players should be able to identify with easily and enjoy throughout the game.
Combat is straightforward hack and slash with twin scythes acting as his main weapons. A single button activates the scythes while secondary weapons (axes, maces, specialty weapons) use to a second button. Fighting is a button mashing frenzy of combos and whirling weapons.
Non-player characters will offer training in the form of special attacks. Some of the attacks are simple enough to use with repeated button pushing. Others are more complicated, requiring a shoulder button push while moving the directional joystick in a certain direction and pressing another button. The effects in combat can be devastating and visceral.
Death can also unleash different types of damage depending on his weapon choices. Different damage (cold, for example) can have a greater impact on particular types of enemies (fire enemies). There are also possessed weapons that grow stronger when other gear is “sacrificed” to increase its power.
He also gains Reaper energy during combat, allowing him to transform into true form of the Grim Reaper, complete with hooded cape and huge scythe. During this mode, his damage is increased, but the transformation only lasts a few moments before he reverts to his normal self.
Because it is also a role-playing game, Death can level up by earning experience points for completing quests and slaying foes. Spending skill points for leveling up in one of two talent trees offers protection from harm or the ability to call forth allies to harm your opponents. Summoning ghouls and sending them at my foes turned out to be a very nice buy with my skill points, especially when I added fire damage, which caused them to explode when killed.
Wrath energy fuels those talents, much like mana in other RPGs for magic. This resource can be gathered from fallen foes or discovered inside bottles stored in chests. Some weapon abilities can also increase the rate of Wrath gathered from dead enemies, so pay particular attention to those bonuses if you plan to utilize your skills during combat.
Death also has two companions available during his travels, a death horse and a crow. Despair, his horse, allows him to truly become one of the Four Horsemen and cover vast distances with ease. Despair does have a “charge” ability, dealing damage to anyone in his path. Dust, his crow, helps players stay on their quest paths. By showing Death the way, Dust flies to the quest points, perches on nearby areas of interest or leads the Grim Reaper to easier ways around obstacles. The bird has no combat abilities and stays high above any fighting.
To prove his brother’s innocence, Death must traverse through different realms between heaven and hell. The different worlds offer many quests and opportunities to increase levels and loot. Despair will help you get around the landscape, but Fast Travel allows you to leave a marker in a dungeon so you can easily return when you want. Be warned: only one Fast Travel marker can be used at a time, which means traveling from dungeon to dungeon and back again is not easy.
Each realm is beautifully rendered and unique to a specific theme for that world. Character movements are fluid and natural while some facial animations can be a bit jumpy at times. The personalities of the inhabitants come through on occasion, but it is hard to empathize with them as you jump from quest to quest. Although, one character in particular earned my distain very nicely and I was glad to see Death vocalize that emotion as well.
The dungeons are concentrated battles broken up by puzzle scenarios to progress to the end boss fight. There is a lot of wall walking, rail shimmying and growth climbing to get over obstacles. Some areas require some back tracking to accomplish your mission, so find a dungeon map in one of the many chests to help you out.
However, while there are no loading screens per se, the scene will freeze while the next scene loads, causing a weird pause in the normally flowing action. This doesn’t happen for long, but it does happen more often than I’d like in an RPG game.
There is also an arena called The Crucible, which offers wave after wave of enemies. It plays out like a game show. Beat levels of foes and win a prize. You can keep it or risk it to battle more foes for potentially a bigger prize. Risk versus reward. How confident are you in your fighting skills?
For all its button-mashy fun, the game was surprisingly buggy during play. Boss battles with enemies as large as mountains would sometimes result in Death being inside the enemy before “teleporting” out, leaving me confused about which direction I was facing and what I needed to hit. Audio glitches would wipe out entire scenes of dialog. There was more than one instance when my controls ceased working and access to my skills went away. The game also completely seized up three different times on the Xbox 360 version.
“Darksiders II” tells a great story with a strong lead character and visually appealing combat. The game is expansive with some side missions and collectables to drive you beyond the main story. Puzzles will challenge your brain as much as the plethora of foes will task your button dexterity.
While your thoughts may wander to that other character with the chained swords at times, Death plays a strong role in driving the action and engaging the player to find new ways to slaughter enemies. He never tries to be a sympathetic anti-hero, but he is worth diving into – despite his resemblance to that other guy.
“Darksiders II” is available now in North America and on August 21 in Europe. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, suggestive themes, and violence. It is available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC. This review was done using a provided final copy for the Xbox 360.
“Sound Shapes” wants players to create and play in musical worlds with a blend of platforming action and digital melodies.
Created by Queasy Games as an exclusive cross-play title for the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita, players control an orb that can transform from a sticky blob (looks like a sunny-side up egg) into a speedy ball across elaborate levels. In some levels, your orb gets to pilot a flying saucer, which is cute and different. Along the way, collected coins trigger musical notes to be played during the action.
Scoring is based on quick completion of the level and the gathering of those musical coins. The only danger in the levels is anything colored red, which for me was a bit of a problem (I’m colorblind). Touch something red and you are sent back to the checkpoint – no deaths here. However, trying to navigate the level and figure out how to collect all the notes was my challenge and it was still fun.
There are 20 platforming levels (musical tracks) across 5 worlds (record albums) in the campaign mode. Beck, deadmau5, I Am Robot and Proud (2 worlds), and Jim Guthrie provide the musical targets for players. The artwork is also sublime and felt like something out of “Yellow Submarine” at times.
Playing through the campaign is only half the fun. Now, take the music and art elements from those worlds and use them to create your own musical fantasylands.
On the Vita, the touch screen helps place notes, artwork and creatures on a blank slate, meaning anything you can imagine can become a music video. Buttons and analog sticks work the magic on the PS3. Once your track is created and saved, it can be uploaded to the community and have others play and rate your work.
Creating a new level can be as quick or intricate as you choose. There are plenty of tools, creatures and musical notes to choose from with pieces of art that help craft your masterpiece. It should help spur artists, both visual and aural, to think outside their normal confines and explore what can be created.
Feel free to browse among tracks created by others. Early entries into the musical community included tracks based on other video games like “The Legend of Zelda,” “Kingdom Hearts,” and “Super Mario Bros.” And more new world are being thought of and created – all for the enjoyment of the community.
“Sound Shapes” has a little bit of something for everyone. It is an interesting platforming game with enough challenges to keep players busy. The art and music in the campaign worlds is dazzling, especially the tracks by Beck, but it is a bit short.
If you are the creative type, designing and sharing your own levels will appeal to your internal muse. Can you create something others will enjoy, and perhaps inspire some new levels based off your idea?
Either way, “Sound Shapes” is a nice blend of art and music inside a good game mechanic. It is a new idea executed well on a device in need of a shot in the arm. This will do just nicely.
“Sound Shapes” is available now for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita as a cross-save title. It is rated E for Everyone. This review was done with provided digital download code.