Game Review - by James Allen
First person shooters have classically been, well, shooters. You're provided with long-range weapons, and allowed to go to town on the bad guys. Recently, there has been a focus on close quarters, melee combat, and Blade of Darkness follows this trend. Featuring four characters that traverse throughout the land in search of disembodying enemies, we are presented with a gory and fast paced action game. Will Blade of Darkness slice and dice through the waves of foes, or end up a head on a stick?
The focus of Blade of Darkness is the single player missions. Included are four different characters with diverse attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. For instance, Tukaram is quite adept at using swords, while Zoe prefers bows and arrows. You can pick up any weapon dropped by a downed foe, but the appropriate weapon for each particular character will result in improved combat effectiveness. The single player campaign consists of several linked environments, ranging from castles to mines. Each character starts in a different location, but after the first mission, the storylines are the same. At some junctures, you are given a choice as to which location to rid of evil next. You must, however, complete all the levels, and the order is not that important. As an aside, we are given a multiplayer arena, where several combatants can engage in a gladiator-like battle royal. This isn't the focus of the game, thankfully, and you'll spend most of your time trampling though the excellent single player missions.
The sound is exactly where you would expect for a game such as this. The best feature is the range of footsteps as you traverse across different surfaces (wood, stone, etc). Plus, all of the introductions to each level are given in a pseudo-historical ballad. Most of the combat sounds involve the clashing of swords and maces, and thump of a blocked attack, and the removal of an appendage. The most annoying feature, however, is the constant grunting when you attack. Are we fighting with Monica Seles? Zoe is the worst; you'll get quite annoyed at her little yelps after just the first confrontation. Since a majority of the game is combat related, this will get on your nerves early and often. The potential high-points of the sound are offset by the aggravating groans.
The combat model in Blade of Darkness is where the game is made or broken, and it's just sufficient enough to provide an acceptable gaming experience. Each close range weapon has four attacks, modified by the arrow keys. This becomes of paramount importance in later levels, where your antagonists are quite proficient at blocking your attacks, and mounting varied assaults of their own. The most important aspect of combat is the lock-on command. Using this feature, you are always facing your opponent. Trust me, it is very unfeasible to win any encounters without executing this directive. One action that is shockingly absent from Blade of Darkness is a strafe command. This makes peering around corners to see your opposition very difficult, and sidestepping during combat a no-no. How this was overlooked is beyond me. Nevertheless, each character also has combination attacks, such as speed kill, blinding slice, or nutcracker (no Sugar Plum Fairies here). The combat model is designed to be easy to pick up, but hard to master. The AI in the game is first-rate. Although they will seem easy early in your adventures, they will become surprisingly good at waiting for the right moment to bring the hammer down. Most of the levels themselves involve such time-tested duties as unlocking doors and solving puzzles, but, thankfully, these are secondary to carving your opponent up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Blade of Darkness is challenging enough to keep most fans of close combat interested for the duration of the game.
The graphics in Blade of Darkness definitely have their moments. All of the lands you visit are rendered in fine detail, from the flickering torches to the wavy water. And all the places are believable, which goes quite a long way in relating a realistic combat setting. The detail on the characters themselves is very, very nice. You can almost pick out individual strands of hair (almost). All of the movements of the inhabitants are also fluid, and there isn't any noticeable jump from one action to another. Possibly the neatest feature of the graphics is the gory damage modeling. Routinely, you will behead or remove a limb of an adversary, and there is a sick sense of satisfaction in watching your foe falling to the ground in several pieces. I personally like that you can pick up the loser's body parts and use them as weapons (insert evil cackle here). By the way, the screenshot command in the game took some weird pictures, which is why I'm using the official shots (outside programs didn't work either, strange). Although the graphics aren't on the superior level with Alice or Giants, we aren't looking at a slouch in Blade of Darkness.
Blade of Darkness delivers a competent display of melee combat. ed with stupendous graphics and a capable combat model, the shortcomings in sound and some features (strafing, for instance) make Blade of Darkness a good, but not great, title. If you enjoy games such as this, Blade of Darkness may just be for you. Just remember to beat the enemies with their own limbs.