With so many big name titles such as Half-Life, Blood 2, and Thief hitting the market this holiday season, it is no wonder that we forget about the smaller, less hyped titles that are still in the mix. Dark Vengeance will undoubtedly become one of these forgotten titles, lost amidst the fray of bigger and better games in its genre.
Starting with its detached, half-baked story, Dark Vengeance just doesn't provide the gripping single player experience that is expected from most games today. Here is Reality Byte's (developer) attempt at a plot (taken verbatim so there is no confusion):
"Humans and elves had once lived together in peace, until many centuries ago when a renegade band of elves had challenged for power. Banished to underground caverns, they became known as the 'Dark Elves,' and have been vowing revenge on the surface dwellers - a Dark Vengeance. A prophecy foretold of their return and the history of the tale was forced down, but after countless peaceful centuries the people of the land became fearless and ignored the ancient tales."
What does this translate to? You explore a number of simple, somewhat linear, levels solving the generic 3D puzzles (i.e. find a key & jumping puzzles), killing random enemies, and finding new weapons and power ups. Because of the lack of cutscenes or any major plot progression, the story feels as if it was concocted after they made the game. You don't feel as if you're fighting to defeat the Dark Elves, rather you feel like you trying to kill everything in sight just to get past the damn level.
While the story may be underdeveloped, the game does have commendable depth, which is especially useful for deathmatch play. You can choose from three major characters to play (a la Hexen 2), Nanoc the Gladiator (slow with hand-to-hand combat weapons), Kite the Trickster (expert in speed and agility), and Jetrel the Warlock (expert in melee weapons). You can use 9 different weapons, as well as four "uniques" specific to each character. For example, one gladiator "unique" makes him stronger for 10 seconds, while a certain trickster "unique" makes her invisible for short periods of time. There are a number of different universal powerups available to all of the characters as well: health, mana, invulnerability, invisibility, speed increase, etc.
While it can't quite compete to the likes of Unreal or LithTech (Shogo), the 3D engine in Dark Vengeance is nothing to overlook. The entire game runs in a 3rd person camera, similar to Tomb Raider and Heretic 2. All characters, good or bad, are detailed 3D objects with nice, smooth texture maps. The most impressive aspect of game's engine is the number of visual effects created by the different weapons. Effects range from simple trails following an axe attack (reminiscent of Nightmare Creatures), to the more complicated particle effects of the Warlock's lighting rod. The major drawback to the 3D engine is the game's level design: almost everything takes place in small, enclosed rooms, tunnels and hallways.
There is one major aspect of Dark Vengeance that will turn off many gamers: the absolutely horrid controls. Dark Vengeance decided to go for the "chording" system of movement: Players can move forward, back, rotate left and rotate right (no strafing), and make complicated moves like jumping, dodging or attacking based on combinations of both an action key and a direction. For example, to execute an attack, you hold the attack button and press a direction, depending on which attack is desired. While not widely supported, this could have been a nice break from the usual 3D controls. However, turning and directional looking with the mouse is virtually impossible because of low (and unchangeable) mouse sensitivities and an automatic camera. When in combat, the camera will slowly pull back and move around for a more cinematic-type feel. Unfortunately, this becomes a huge annoyance and often leads to undesirable camera angles. Also, turning your character is extremely sticky, which leads to imprecise movement and one hell of a headache.
The bottom line is that Dark Vengeance, a rushed and underdeveloped game, just doesn't hold up in today's crowded marketplace. Even with impressive graphical effects, notable depth, and multiplayer support, it is still apparent that the entire game could have used another year in developement. Those desperately in need of a third-person action game would be happier with either Heretic 2 or even Tomb Raider 3.