by Josh Butler
reviewed on X360
A review is a contract. An agreement with the developers who slaved over the product that you promise to put the same amount of effort and thought in to your appraisal of it - whether that appraisal be favorable or not. This can be daunting; as truly great games challenge your ability to genuinely do justice to their artistic merits and technical accomplishments. A select handful require sonnets, arias, and rousing speeches the likes of which only the cast of the West Wing are capable of pulling off. I dread these games.
Thank God then for The First Templar, a game so poorly constructed it hardly warrants a complete review. It is rare gems such as these that prevent us from growing complacent in our expectation of contemporary games by proving all those classic pitfalls our favorite games have learned to avoid are still there, and it does this by falling in to every one of them .
Looking back in anger
New as it is, plenty of criticism has already been leveled at The First Templar, with many accusing it of ostensibly being a last generation title. This really isn't so much a fair assessment, as it somehow manages to not do enough credit to the game or to those of the last gen. In truth, Haemimont's game is early current gen software doing its damnedest to look older. Two-dimensional fire animations ravage a barn, vicious dogs fall down dead moments before your character swings his sword, and characters bemoan several 'hideously' mutilated corpses - which look no different from every other character model.
The sword and shield combat animations are proficient - that can be safely acknowledged. The simple block/attack mechanics work as well as they did in a certain other Templar-centric action title (if only with significantly less flourish), and the aiming reticule of enemy archers allows you to deftly avoid their arrow and thereby also avoid the frustration of God of War-style barrages. Clearly more than god-like, abilities like this make some sections fantastically easy, to the point that their playability is completely disproportionate to the actual enjoyment to be gotten from them.
These touches litter The First Templar, as it regularly goes out of its way to save you the indignity of having to play it. Every collectible and health source is pointed out by the mini-map so you needn't spend too long scanning the dull, murky environments and each new scenario is quick to inform you the specific button that will solve the current situation. Experience points – one of the game's key departures from Assassin's Creed - is rewarded liberally in every battle and sometimes even just when crossing a particular threshold (more of an achievement than you might imagine given the proliferation of invisible walls).
Aside from these many nuanced faults that dawn on you over time, the most immediate complaint to announce itself to the player is the sound, which can only be described as unfinished. Levels fluctuate between melodramatically booming declarations and tinny voices that will make you wonder if one of your speakers has in fact broken (it hadn't). This incongruous volume is not only apparent within a single conversation, but often within a single line of dialogue, as a poor script is delivered half-heatedly by performers clearly not in the same room with each other, or even from one line to the next. A dramatic score that switches from heroic pomp to a melancholy lute irrespective of the current level of action tops off the mire of poor audio work.
Those who can not learn from history...
Clearly The First Templar is attempting to tell a historic epic within its narrative but Kingdom of Heaven this is not. Despite constant chatter from your supporting character and the inexplicable regularity of cutscenes involving conversing over a dead NPC, you will struggle to wring from it any understanding of the period you did not already have going in to it.
The original Assassin's Creed did not tell a story about the crusades. While surprisingly accurate in its historical context it then proceeded to tell a simple tale of murder and betrayal. If The First Templar's intention was to produce a realistic Dragon Age clone, the finished product falls pretty far off the mark. Bosses literally telegraph their attacks with a symbol over their head, and are often human men who take impossible amounts of damage long after their armor is stripped away – besides which, the clunky, medieval dialogue will regularly slip in anachronistic references to 'toff's and 'Muslim's. (coined in the 19th and 17th century respectively - Templars ceasing to be active in the 14th, meanwhile the 'first' Templars were around the 12th. There, more historical understanding than you could hope to get from this game.)
...are doomed to repeat it.
360 and PC gamers looking for a dungeon-crawling Zelda simulacrum may be able to see past the various faults and enjoy a basic historic hacker, as might those who started itching for more Templar action as soon as Altaïr was deposed. The sane among us will be best off avoiding it at all costs. With near endless content available to download for far better titles, there simply isn't a space in the market for pre-E3 shelf-filler any more. Which in many ways is a shame for smaller developers like Haemimont, who have - by all accounts - done far superior work in the past on PC franchises such as Tropico and Imperivm. I will not, however, be shedding a tear for The First Templar: a game so wilfully poor it seems somehow unworthy of a closing...
Basic hack-and-slash that is eager to lead you past its worst frustrations.
A dull, poorly-constructed 'historic' adventure that has no place among the games of today.