E3 2012: Derivative Darksiders II lacks polish

Given how much I enjoyed the original Darksiders, I hate what I’m about to say: Based on the demo I just played, Darksiders II is going to need an unrealistically large amount of polish in an intensely short amount of time to be ready for its August release date.

In fairness, pre-release hiccups are common at events like E3, and it’s entirely possible that what I experienced was just a really unfortunate cluster of issues localized to my particular machine, but they don’t pay me to make excuses for developers. I get paid to be honest with you readers, and the honest truth is that right now Darksiders II is kind of a mess.

Throughout the 30-minute demo, which portrayed the opening section of the game, its framerate was all over the place, though never at a level that we would expect from a high-profile, nearly complete action title. It seemed to fluctuate totally at random, regardless of what was happening on screen, and would often dip well below 30 frames per second, then just as quickly jump back up, and dip back down again. In most other genres this could be tolerable to an extent, but in a game like Darksiders II it actively caused me to miss jumps and mis-time attacks.

Likewise, the camera isn’t what you would call “helpful,” especially if you take the game’s advice and click the left trigger to focus on the  nearest enemy. This was an issue in the original Darksiders, but somehow it seems even worse in the sequel. Eventually I had to revert to simple, manual camera control, which is viable, but far from ideal when you’re tasked by the game’s controls with depressing multiple buttons and directions at a moment’s notice.

Oh, and the game crashed. Completely. A white screen akin to the background of the game’s Options menu appeared and the entire thing just refused to acknowledge my existence. Luckily I was right next to the end of the demo anyway, but that kind of catastrophic failure doesn’t really inspire confidence in me.

It should be noted that the Darksiders II development team does have time to fix these issues, but given that the title hits shelves in August, it seems that the complications of publishing a major game would only give them about a month to a month and a half to correct the game’s flaws. I just don’t know if that’s enough time to amend the problems I saw.

On the upside, Darksiders II should be a familiar, entertaining experience for those who enjoyed the first game, at least from a pure gameplay perspective. It still shamelessly lifts ideas from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and mashes them up with God of War-style action tropes, but now the game also features an equipment system that will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played any of Blizzard’s Diablo games, right down to the color-coded gear. Is it derivative? Absolutely. Is it fun? Absolutely.

Likewise, the new game’s aesthetics are gorgeous. Again, that’s massively marred by its technical issues, but if you were to only view still screens of the game, you’d be justifiably impressed by what the art team has created. Let’s hope that THQ won’t have to rely on that kind of sleight of hand to sell what is currently an objectively flawed title.

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