Warrior babes riding dragons. What's not to like?
The dragon ranks supreme in the fantasy bestiary. These great lizards have captured our imagination on so many countless occasions that it's impossible to even begin to describe why they're so darn cool. Fantasy without the dragon is like a geek without his glasses - useless and pitiful.
So it comes as little surprise that Drakan: Order of the Flame is one of the most hyped games of the year. Rightfully so, I might add. With inspired graphics and two distinct styles of action gameplay, Drakan blazes a unique path through the action/adventure genre. Unfortunately, a preponderance of bugs and poor multi-player douses the flames a bit.
You take on the role of the buxom warrior-babe Rynn. Having witnessed the destruction of your village at the hands of the evil Wartoks, you quickly discover that your brother has been taken captive. You set out to rescue him and, along the way, revive a legendary dragon named Arokh. The two of you team up to find your sibling and put an end to the ancient evil blighting the land. Pretty much your standard fantasy hogwash, though the 'warrior lass + fire-breathing dragon' combo certainly perks up the ears (And other things - Ed.).
Drakan plays as a third-person action game. As the sword-fighting Rynn, you'll have to jump and hack your way in ground combat. Once aboard Arokh, you'll take to the skies and control a fully grown and quite impressive dragon. The game spans 11 monstrous levels that require mastery of both styles of play to complete.
The Rynn segments look eerily similar to that watershed game of yesteryear, Tomb Raider. Rynn is a Lara look-alike if ever there was one, with similar movements and physical...ahem...attributes. However, Drakan is not your typical Tomb Raider clone, focusing more on combat rather than puzzle solving.
The combat itself is fine, though the control takes some getting used to. I found the mouse/keyboard layout used in first-person shooters to work best. However, the fighting gets a bit sloppy and the 'special' moves are not very special.
Things take a turn for the better as Arokh. Flying around in free-ranging 3D worlds is very cool, particularly as you blast things with any of the 5 breath weapons you can acquire. Control problems arise here as well, though again, practice makes...well...better.
The puzzles in Drakan are pretty basic - step on a few blocks to open a door, leap over a pit to pull a lever, etc. You won't find yourself stumped by any mind-benders, which is a nice development decision. The action takes center stage.
Unfortunately, the enemy list is rather thin. Every once in a while you see a new enemy type, but more often than not this is just a slightly altered version of a previous baddie. This leads to a somewhat redundant combat experience, killing the same guys over and over again.
Drakan shines its brightest in the graphics department. Compatible with most major 3D cards, the game runs smoothly and employs all the nifty graphical tricks you'd hope to see. The light-sourcing is authentic, the framerate is solid, and the colors are bright and vibrant. A fully polygonal experience, Drakan does a great job immersing you in its world.
To ensure that you'll have no problem enjoying the graphical glory, Psygnosis included on the game CD drivers for about 10 major 3D cards that have been tested to work with the game. In other words, you don't have to go online and download the most recent drivers - just look on the CD! This is a terrific addition that more game companies should include, as it saves time and prevents headaches.
But, while the pain of finding working drivers is alleviated, a different kind of ache arises, the kind of issue that haunts a game reviewer for the rest of his days. For all its glory, Drakan suffers from a bizarre mix of gameplay bugs.
Crashes are common. Clipping errors can result in passing through doors that normally require a key. Arokh occasionally gets stuck while trying to navigate through a tight cavern. And these only scratch the surface.
Perhaps the most heinous bug I found while playing was an inventory mishap. It seems I needed a certain amulet to pass through a gate. To even get to the gate required possesion of the amulet and another item (a cut-scene was triggered by arriving in the right place after having gotten both items). However, when I went to open the gate, I found the amulet oddly missing from my inventory. I retraced my steps and found it nearly impossible to re-enter the room in which I found the amulet to begin with. Had it ever been in my inventory at all? And if not, why did the cut-scene congratulate me on finding it? A very odd bug indeed.
After spending a good deal of time on the various help forums, I deduced that this is a very rare bug. However, I noticed a ton of other random bug complaints, enough to warrant mention here. Psygnosis has promised a patch, but it has yet to be released. This is really a bummer, and sadly brings the grade down a notch.
Another area where Drakan comes up short is in the multiplayer. There are three multi-player options: one as Rynn, one as Arokh, and a neat combo mode called Master of Dragons. However, none of these work very well. The Rynn multiplayer game is just a hack and slash laggy mess and the dragon fight is pretty boring. I never had a chance to play the combo mode, mainly due to the poor multiplayer interface and the very small number of gamers actually interested.
In all, Drakan is a mixed bag. With exceptional graphics and a good, solid single player experience, Drakan is certainly worth a look. However, the various gameplay bugs and glitches coupled with the sub-par multiplayer clip this dragon's wings and bring the game crashing to the ground. Don't say you weren't warned.