by jdarksun, reviewed on
M for Mature
Rage bubbling within me like a demon howling for release, I draw back the sword called Souldrinker, and slice savagely at the Vampire Knight barring my passage. Cursed blade meets cursed flesh, cutting through gorget and dealing a fatal blow. Struck free from its confines, the Vampire Knight's head is severed in a brief shower of blood...
Rated M for Mature, Dark Messiah: Might and Magic earns its rating through brutal violence, sexual innuendo, and some brief nudity. It deserves its rating; and if you are a First Person Action fan aged 17 or up, it deserves your attention. Unfortunately, it also deserves some time alone to work out some bugs and optimization issues.
Simultaneously released over Valve's Steam and in stores, Arkane Studio's Dark Messiah will almost assuredly leave quite an impression on those who play it - that impression just might not be good. As a big fan of Steam, I had Dark Messiah pre-loaded prior to its release. After it was unlocked, I fired it up for the first time, rushing through the tutorial the demo familiarized me with. Launching into Chapter 1, my ears were assaulted with horrible static. Surely, something that glaring couldn't have slipped passed Quality Assurance? And yet, in the Steam version, it did - validating the download was required before all material was properly loaded on my computer. Despite the gorgeous engine and gameplay that had already intrigued me, this was not a good first impression.
Of course, my issues didn't stop with aural impediments. During the hook of Chapter 1, a Cyclops smashes its way through the front gate of Stonehelm - and it brought my computer, stuttering, to its knees. Unsatisfied with this performance, I wound up having to add a command line option to the Dark Messiah shortcut. I also had to tweak the system settings, which was somewhat unusual for a game using the Source engine. Fortunately, lowering texture settings also dramatically increased the abysmal loading times of this game.
Starting to get sick of all the negative stuff yet? So was I. Luckily, this was the extent of bugs I faced. Once I had everything properly loaded and tweaked, I was rapidly immersed. The story of Dark Messiah is not particularly original or gripping, but it is told in such a way that you can't help but be immersed - from reacting to the siege of Stonehelm, to chasing a ghoul over rooftops... and down into the deepest bowels of the lair of a hideously large spider and lich's tombs. It is all presented in a first person format - even the cut scenes are from 'your' perspective. When 'you' speak, it sounds like it is coming from you. The graphics aren't anything to sneeze at, either - they are rich enough (even lowered to account for the seemingly unoptomized engine) that they add to the atmosphere and stylized enough to avoid the Uncanny Valley.
The effects in Dark Messiah are rather nice, if an odd blend of overstated and underutilized. Poison causes everything to go a sickly shade of green - which is important, considering how much it hurts you. But a fire spell produces a little baseball sized fire projection which will impact you in its own sweet time. Ice can freeze a target, lightning dance over a foe, but telekinesis has no visceral feel to it. The main character shows no effort in lifting a statue, but can't pull a chest towards him or pick up armor from afar. Swords can whip off limbs as if they were made of wet paper, the adrenaline kill of a staff causes an enemy's neck to break with a satisfying snap, and daggers can be flung into the backs of foes limping to get away... but arrows don't feel if they have any force behind them.
Some of the levels seem a little uninspired. Especially towards the end of the game, the wall textures seem repetitive and the map layouts make less sense. You don't really get the feeling that you are exploring a Necromancer's fortress so much as... well, completing a level in a First Person Action game. The other environments - especially the level taking place on a cliff side - tend towards the other direction, feeling more natural if not perfectly believable. It is for this reason that it might be tough to play through the game more than once - you might wind up wanting to skip some of it.
No Pros and Cons at this time