There's no shortage of authors out there who will eagerly claim that games (usually role-playing games) influenced them and their work greatly. Frequently, if you're too old to remember what to do with wooden nickels (don't take them!), it's Dungeons and Dragons that you cut your teeth on. But video games account for a lot these days, too.
With greatly unabashed sincerity, I say that video games influence my work more than is probably wise to admit to for a man hoping to be taken seriously. One, in particular, really had a lot to do with my adoration of secondary worlds, heroic adventures and putting pointy things into other fleshy things.
The Legend of Zelda.
For those of you who don't know, Zelda is pretty much the same game over and over: mute, pointy-eared hero embarks on quest to gather a variety of tools to defeat glowering, coal-skinned villain and save talkative, pointy-eared princess. This is done through a variety of interesting dungeons, giant monsters and occasionally, an entirely different universe.
This was the first game I played for my Super Nintendo back when I was 11 and I went absolutely nuts for it. I loved everything from the dungeon-delving to the puzzles to the very, very understated relationship between Link and Zelda (it's very hard to convey romance with a guy who does not utter a single word). Ever since then, I've wasted countless hours of my life on Zelda games: Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker and especially Twilight Princess.
Thus, when I heard of a post-Biblical apocalypse Zelda-themed dungeon adventure game by the name of "Darksiders," I was pretty ecstatic. I checked it out pretty thoroughly: giant monsters, gathered weapons, puzzles, dungeons and exploration of a vast and alien world.
By all rights, I should have liked this game.
As it is...it's alright.
Let's start with the gameplay: pretty good, actually. You get a variety of weapons to kill your enemies and get some nice God of War-style finishers to finish off wounded enemies (though there isn't actually a point to most of them, since killing them by a finisher or just beating them up gives you the same amount of "souls" or currency). You fight through dungeons, solve puzzles and explore an Earth that was ruined when the Apocalypse began prematurely, leaving all humanity zombie food for various demons.
And therein is the problem: there is no humanity to this game.
The story, on the surface, is kind of cool: you are War, a Horseman of the Apocalypse and servant of the Charred Council, a legislative body of omnipotent beings created to govern the war between Heaven and Hell. You were called to Earth before the Apocalypse was supposed to begin and found the war reignited. A century later, mankind is toast, angels and demons use Earth as a battlefield and you're sent to make things right.
...how? By killing a Destroyer, apparently. This is where my problems fire up.
War is a giant, muscle-bound, long-haired, violent, killing machine. His enemies are various amalgamations of fire, spikes and claws. His allies are supernatural beings that are chiefly concerned with his duty. His duty is to restore the Balance between Heaven and Hell.
And I really don't give a shit.
Because there's nothing really at stake here for me. There are no humans left, so War has nothing to really save. The Earth is already destroyed, so he can't really restore dick. War feels no fear, no pain, no sadness, so I can't really relate to him. The Destroyer is cloaked in shadow and there's no doubt that he's the enemy, so everything I'm doing is just to get closer to him and...that's it?
This game had almost everything I wanted in a Zelda game. It had tools, giant monsters, lots of fun exploration and a bunch of crazy crap happening. But it lacked one thing: vigor.
Zelda games are, without a doubt, brimming with character. The environments are unique and interesting, the characters are wild and entertaining, the boss battles are epic and Link is instantly relatable, since he's a tiny dude fighting a big, BIG challenge (for what reason, though? Because Zelda told him to so he could prop up her monarchy? I may have to write a manifesto on this later, but that's beside the point).
Darksiders has character, but it's just...eh. The environments are desolate and largely interchangeable (dust here, fire there, spikes here). The characters are entertaining, but not really likeable (demon merchants, demon princes and Mark Hammill). The boss battles are epic (but why wouldn't they be?) And War is not at all relateable because it's very, very hard to feel sympathy for a Horseman of the Goddamn Apocalypse.
They both have character. But while Zelda is the bright, cheery kid who occasionally has fits of rage where he goes around hitting chickens with a stick, Darksiders is the gloomy kid who smells like french fries and never talks to you unless he wants to show you his collection of trout skulls.
In short: fun, but not "go nuts" fun. Try it if you're hard up for Zelda or you just really like whacking zombies with parking meters.