Locusts, frogs, boils...and now THIS.
Is it a new Latin dance craze that's sweeping the nation? Something to put ointment on? Something to say "gesundheit" to? What, pray tell, is a Catechumen?
Way back a long, long time ago, Christians were being persecuted by Romans. Roman spies were sneaking around capturing Christians by the dozens. In order to keep the spies out, Christians came up with sort of a new recruit hazing policy. Those who were new to the faith had to study the Bible for one year before being accepted into the flock. These trainees were called Catechumen.
Apparently, this is something upon which a whole game can be built. And not just any game, but a first-person shooter. Are you scratching your head, because I sure was. I was also groaning and extremely confused.
But now I see the light, and it's telling me to warn you against this game. Allow me to preach the good word...
Let's ignore the Bible thumping message of Catechumen, like how collecting power-up scrolls cause actual Bible verses to pop up in the corners of the screen. Or how it simplifies a rather meaningful and complex belief of many normal people into "ZAP! You're saved!" Indeed, it's all there plus more, but that's not what's under review.
First and foremost, if Catechumen can't stand on its own as a game, then no one will even pay attention to whatever cockamamie message is being pushed. And this is one game that falls far, far short of being something fun to play.
The story is more boring than Sunday school. The game is set in Roman times right after the advent of Christianity. You play a nameless Catechumen, set forth by an angel to free your imprisoned teacher, all the while "saving" Roman minds from demon infestation. On your way into the depths of evil, you'll convert Roman soldiers, blast impish demons, and tip over lions. Every level or so, that angel will return to give you a more powerful holy sword with which to smite non-Christian things.
And that's about it.
In today's day and age, something more compelling than "drive out the demons and save your teacher" is needed. Not just needed - but commanded! I'm no Bible thumper, but the fact of the matter is that the good book is filled with tons of kick-ass stories and all kinds of drama. Why not create an actual plot of complexity and interest? In keeping with the theme, what about using a broader, more approachable allegory? Something like those Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. I mean, even the first Resident Evil had Bible verses! (Thou shalt eat braaaiiinnnsss... - Ed.)
This game engine is right out of the Old Testament. Interactivity with objects is limited to the basest form of block-pushing puzzles. The level construction is made up entirely of simple hallways and big rooms. Even the areas that are purportedly outside are actually just rooms with sky painted ceilings. Da Vinci is rolling over in his grave.
Objectives aren't explained and often times you are left to complete the most routine key/item retrieval missions ever. The gameplay philosophy hearkens back to the classic heathen Doom - but worse.
Just take a look at the enemies and AI. Roman soldiers run towards you. "Rargh! Look there! A Christian! Grrr." Oh no. But with your little spirit sword in hand, you shoot out blue bolts of pure Jesus energy. And miraculously, "Hallelujah" is shouted out, and the Roman soldiers stop to pray, and the light shines down upon them, and their lives are suddenly better, and the people rejoice. It's the funniest, kitschiest part of the game, just toeing the lines of absurdity and offensiveness.
Between the light-sourcing cast down from heaven to the many forms of the Hallelujah sound bite, it honestly feels like they've put more energy into the Hallelujahs then anything else. Why they spend that time on the actual gameplay is beyond my mortal comprehension.
Not only are the Romans after you, but so are the demons! Freaky impish things with freaky sound effects. The AI here is incredibly basic, consisting mainly of the demons running towards you in a satanic charge from hell. When you're within an enemy's range, you'll trigger its 'search and destroy' routine. You're left with a game flow that involves a lot of backing up and shooting rather than trying to skillfully maneuver and fight.
The game is visually off kilter just enough to give you this sharp pain right between the eyebrows. Objects in the distance have the wrong degree of sharpness. The rendered bitmaps are slightly blurry. And to add insult to it all, the animation is limited to stick figure movements. When you kill a lion with all that holy power, what does it do? It just tips over! I mean, making that lion stop and pray would have been better than just tipping it over. Do lions believe in Jebus?
As if things weren't weird enough, the music is terrifying. Most of the game manages to turn out some generic action game music. Other times, you'll get B-movie demon sounds, evil rumblings from left to right. And then, for no reason at all whatsoever, you'll walk into a room and be blasted by HEAVY METAL. Were the devils listening to their music before you came in and broke up their little party? Paul is dead! Paul is dead! Ahhhh! Save me, Ozzy!
Catechumen keeps on sucking. Like when I try out the game on my home computer and it simply refuses to work with my TNT card. Hath Satan wrought the demons upon my graphics card? Nay. It just speaks of the need for more testing.
The way I see it, this game falls into a special little marketing niche. Take a game with limited development and then have it approved by parent groups and organizations against violence. And just like that, you'll have something to aim right at parents who want something nonviolent and "Christian" to give their kids.
That's all fine and good. I'm not reviewing their business practices, but to take advantage of these attitudes only to sell such a weak game is just insulting.
I bet there were some really goodhearted people behind all this goodhearted fragging. And sure, it might be possible to make a decent Christian video game. As a Christian myself, that might be something to see. But it would have to be deeper, more complex, and with a story less simplistically self-righteous and more open to a broader audience. And most of all, make it fun to play.
Sadly, Catechumen is none of these things. The only thing saving it from an F is our healthy fear of God. The 11th commandment: Thou shalt not play sucky games. Can I get an amen?