When Gauntlet became a free monthly game on PlayStation Plus, I remember having a brief disagreement with my former boss. He loved the original Gauntlet and absolutely hated the remake, and I didn't quite know why. I'd played through the entirety of the game with my partner with a classic ranged wizard/melee valkyrie combo, and we’d had a great time.
The disparity was because we’d effectively played two completely different games. One was not worth the price of entry alone, even when it was free, whereas the other was a fantastic way to spend a week, primarily because my partner and I had made our own fun. Genesis has a similar problem.
Darksiders Genesis, which is out on all consoles now and has been available for PC through Steam since December, is one of those games that improves radically with a friend. You can switch characters in solo - and you’ll need to regularly switch for various bosses or particular environmental challenges - but with how a lot of the puzzles are laid out, and the attack patterns of some boss fights in particular, it’s a far more interesting game when you're sharing the load.
Let’s get through the basics. Darksiders Genesis stars War and Strife, brothers and Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Fury was the star of previous Darksiders games, although Darksiders 1 and 2 have given cameos to Strife, War and Death at various points. Genesis is a prequel, set before the mainline Darksiders game and before the apocalypse and final battle between Heaven, Hell and the remnants of humanity stuck in between.
War features again in Darksiders Genesis - he was the protagonist in Darksiders 1 - but he’s joined this time by Strife, a brother of War with an attitude akin to Destiny’s Cayde-6. Strife’s dual pistols are genuinely meant for ranged combat, although most of Strife’s combos are based around dash-and-melee combos, with some aerial kicks and flurries for good measure. Outside of combat, Strife brings a much needed sass to proceedings, balancing out War’s unwavering stoicism and gravelly tones throughout.
You won’t spend much time on cutscenes or story in Genesis, though. Outside of the standard pattern recognition and combo chaining that comes with any aRPG, the main feature of Genesis are the fairly large maps for each level. The design is very oldschool, with different ledges, corners, nooks and crannies hiding coins, Trickster keys (which are like enormous treasure vaults, some of which have their own puzzles within) and occasionally, upgrades for War and Strife.
Genesis makes a point of using exactly the same control scheme as the other Darksiders games, but unless you’ve just played through Darksiders recently (like last month, when the remasters were available for free through the Epic Game Store) chances are you’ll find the controls a little stiff. From time to time - usually after a knockdown or because you get stuck on a random piece of the map’s geometry that doesn’t look like it should cause an issue - the controls don’t respond with the crispness or precision you’d expect from an isometric aRPG.
It’s especially annoying in solo mode during a boss fight, whenever a character dies. Whoever was benched will respawn in on the exact spot you died, but even though you have a few frames of vulnerability upon respawning, you won’t be able to move immediately. The final boss fight is especially brutal for this, courtesy of a string of AoE attacks from the second phase onwards that launch the player into the air, and do further damage should you touch any of the exploding crystal shards that spawn.
Genesis isn’t a complicated game mechanically, either. If you’re playing as Strife, most of your time will be spent firing at long range until your Hotstreak meter builds, which lets you do more damage much faster. Strife doesn’t have a block, but he does have a double dash, which is sufficient to get you out of any serious trouble throughout the majority of the game. War can block - and you’ll want to for certain fights - but his ability to dash out and charge back in with an attack is enough to deal with just about anything you’ll face. The main threat in Genesis is quantity, not quality.
Mostly, the enemies - and most of the bosses, bar the last two - pose no real threat, particularly on normal difficulty. You can make things interesting by ignoring some of the obvious prompts, like refusing to destroy a boss’s artefacts that fire off projectiles throughout the fight. And that’s all well and good, but generally you’ll spend more time hunting down the secrets in every level, or looking for extra waves of enemies so you can upgrade souls.
The biggest challenge, if anything, is the moments where the level design deliberately obscures your view. This doesn’t happen often in the first few chapters, but when the maps become more vertical, your view becomes completely obstructed. The game resolves this with bright blue silhouettes outlining your character and incoming enemies, but it’s far from ideal.
It also doesn’t help when your character gets stuck on a part of the map’s geometry that was physically impossible to see. Platforming in an isometric game with third-person camera controls never quite works, and some of the ideas ported over from older Darksiders games just feel fiddly and inaccurate when ported into the isometric 3D space.
Genesis’ biggest problem is that it’s largely monotonous, which is why playing with a friend is so essential. Many of the levels boil down to going to different sections of the map and beating a mini-boss or solving a certain puzzle, which is often gated by a mini-boss or several waves. The puzzles change slightly in co-op, making them a little more involved, and consequently more interesting. They’re no structurally different than the puzzles from the original Darksiders games, which is fine, but it might be disappointing if you were hoping for something more complex than throwing around the Darksiders’ equivalent of Link’s boomerang.
After finishing Genesis, I went back to my Switch and started downloading the latest patches for Diablo 3: Eternal Collection. My partner had talked about playing through it together early on in our relationship, and we enjoyed a fair few games together that we’d have both skipped if it was just a solo experience.
Division 1’s story, for instance, is hardly the stuff of literary legend. But when you’re wide awake at 5:00am after enduring Korean fried chicken and soju-induced intestinal torture, smashing through the streets of New York is quite the blast. Gauntlet became its own brand of fun when your partner was too busy body blocking you so they can get the last bit of gold in the level for that upgrade they so desperately need. Even the dross moments of singleplayer games become enjoyable in their own way when you have someone to share them with: I’d never recommend any human alive play CSI Miami: The Video Game alone, but it’s exceedingly funny with a group of friends and an empty Mount Franklin bottle as a stick for anyone who fucks up a puzzle.
It’s the same case for Genesis. The game is well animated, has some lovely environments and the moment-to-moment combat is visually entertaining. It won’t liven the imaginations of aRPG fans hoping for a singleplayer experience with the brutality of a Path of Exile or the grim horror of Diablo 2’s world.
There’s nothing wrong with Genesis: it’s a completely competent aRPG or twin stick shooter, depending on who you spend more time playing as. There’s moments where the game works against itself, largely because it’s an isometric aRPG that’s not totally designed around how a isometric aRPG actually handles. It’s absolutely not a Diablo game, and it's not as fluid of a game like Gauntlet. It’s still entertaining though, but the 12-hour or so campaign is vastly better with company.
You know how people describe a game as "fine", mostly to convey how a game is largely inoffensive, one that you won't totally regret spending money on but not something you'd ever recommend at full price? That's Darksiders Genesis, basically.