by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
Hard to be a God has an impressive title and it raises your expectations about what the game has to offer. The expectations get even higher when you take a look at some of the hype that has been surrounding it. The only thing that the marketing materials seem to be confused about is the actual genre that this game represents. You see it marked down as Hack'n'Slash in one brochure and RPG in another, while other descriptions focus on the action adventure perspective with 'RPG features'. Despite the confusion, it is clear that the game tries to cater to RPG players – but does it really?
Medieval world with sci-fi gods
The basic setting of the game is a world based on Arcady and Boris Strougatsky's novel - basically a world that is stuck in an era that is a spitting image of the European Middle Ages. In this world the hero works for the Imperial Intelligence and is sent on an important mission to a city called Arkanar to rid the world of an insurgent called Arata. Unbeknownst to our hero and most other people in this medieval world, their lives are studied to some degree by Earthlings, who have already developed a high-tech existence in the galaxy. And, apparently, the name "Hard to be a God" refers to the difficulty of the Earthlings to keep from interfering with the natural evolution. The extent of their workings are revealed slowly.
You play a local hero who finds out about the Earthlings as the game progresses. This major surprise has already been spoiled in the press and marketing materials but the developers promise that the story will go beyond that revelation. Without ruining your own experience with the storyline of the game, I can say that perhaps the biggest question is if the Earthlings are the only gods for his world.
On your quest, you will encounter NPCs who will give you missions or tips, or who will barter with you. All these characters are conveniently marked with glowing balls above their heads, so that you don't have to waste time talking with anyone else. In fact, everyone else will more or less ignore you anyway. All important tips and clues are written into your in-game journal so you will not have to remember it all by heart. Definitely a good thing for the gamer, although it sometimes makes one wonder about how these major characters in RPGs are always so enthusiastic about writing memos (and can actually write).
There is no magic in this universe, but the hero will gain access to Earth technology that will serve the same purpose in the eyes of the medieval majority. However, in order to get access to this Earth technology, you will have to play the game for a long time. In essence, you will be playing the game as if you were a regular medieval fighter type.
When you start playing Hard to be a God, you immediately notice that the graphics and effects are very nicely done. You observe your hero from a 3rd person angle and you can see the shadows of clouds passing overheard on the ground. The water effects too are worth admiring and there some pretty day/night alterations to feast your eyes on as well. As you run into a thick forest, the canopy handily becomes transparent so that you can see where you are going. Unfortunately, this also makes the tree trunks transparent, which results in your hero bumping into them all the time, providing some unexpected slapstick humor to any NPCs that might be around to see it.
You can zoom closer to the character with the mouse wheel and change the viewing direction horizontally by moving the mouse. Unfortunately there is no way to control the viewing angle vertically. This has probably been done to lessen the impact on the graphics card (no need to draw far-off objects or worry about draw distances), but it is a definite lack if you have got used to perfect freedom as far as viewing angles are concerned. Furthermore, this restricts the distance that you can see to and you end up playing the game with max zoom-out in order to see as much of the surroundings as possible.
No Pros and Cons at this time