What is best in life?
Ages ago, before the time of Anger Management Classes and squeezable stress balls, disputes between individuals were settled in a much more inexpensive way. To the Vikings, sinew and steel decided the day. No high priced therapists here.
Indeed, grievances are settled by the spilling of blood and the severing of flesh in Human Head's new Norse inspired hack n' slash 3D action/adventure game, Rune.
You play Ragnar, the young aspiring Viking warrior. On your first adventure, you must accompany your father and his fellow Vikings on a longboat ride into battle. Using cowardly magic, your adversary summons a lightning spell that sinks your boat, resulting in the death of everyone onboard...including you. Luckily, Odin (head of the Norse pantheon of deities) has taken a special interest in Ragnar, whom he promptly resurrects. It's time to exact revenge on your murderer for his hand in the death of you father, your fellow Vikings and most importantly that kick-ass Viking longboat.
You know how much that thing could fetch on the Antiques roadshow? Let's just say you wouldn't have to worry about where your next goblet of mead is coming from, that's for sure.
Rune plays a lot like Tomb Raider should have. There are no pestering keys to locate, and, for the most part, the puzzles keep advancing you through the level. No meticulous backtracking to find where you need to go next.
Advancing through the game also consists of much hacking and much slashing. However, you can't let all this fighting get in the way of your alcoholism. Apparently Ragnar is a big time drunk, and the only way he can maintain his health is to consume goblet after potent goblet of intoxicating mead. A lizard crawling on a wall or a leg of meat will also do the trick, but why eat a reptile when a liquid lunch will suffice?
Scattered throughout the 43 levels are power-ups known as rune stones. These stones bestow a multitude of abilities depending on the weapon you activate it with. If you have the Viking Broadsword in your hand when you use a rune, you'll be empowered with the 'Vampire' attack. Here the damage that you inflict comes back to you in the form of health. There are a total of 15 weapons in all, lending a great deal of variety.
Often sound can make or break a game. There's nothing worse than listening to footsteps that sound like someone beating Pinocchio over the head with a soupspoon. Well, I'm happy to say that the audio in Rune is superb. Metal clashing against metal, wood or concrete all sounds appropriate . The deep villainous voices of Ragnar's Viking enemies are a great addition for realism.
Visually, Rune is the cat's pajamas. Running on the Unreal Tournament engine, Rune sports some of the most detailed textures yet seen in a 3D-adventure game, eclipsing the excellent textures found in another Gathering of Developers game, Heavy Metal F.A.K.K.2. On a good system, the gorgeous textures and spot-on lighting combine with terrific level design to create a graphical treat. Lara Croft has been officially put to shame.
Also, the creatures in Rune are leaps and bounds more interesting than those found in other PC action games. Sure, there are plenty of basics, like malicious insects, fighting skeletons, and simple-minded creatures like goblins. But it's the other human warriors you face that really bring the game alive. Disarm an enemy Viking warrior in battle and watch him search desperately for another weapon with which to happily open your flesh. On the medium difficulty setting, enemies will try to flank you and/or strike an exposed area, not just hack at you in a mad rush. This advanced AI really brings the gameplay alive and helps immerse the player into this virtual world of sweat and bad breath.
Speaking of fighting…get these guys moving and you won't be disappointed. They look great. Each weapon you find in Rune has it's own set of strikes, which are all movement dependent. Striking while moving forward will result in a different series of attacks than if you moved backward. This will appeal to both button mashers and those gamers that want to study Ragnar's every fighting movement, of which there are plenty.
The character animation is smooth and clean, though the first-person engine really becomes apparent when you turn Ragnar left or right, as there's no animation for turning. He just rotates. Lame! You don't need to program leg and feet animation for games like Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament, but Ragnar's got them and he should use them.
Also noteworthy is the absence of a 180-turn button. This would be extremely helpful, as you often end up with your back to your target. Obviously this is another result of the first-person Unreal engine.
Despite the kick-ass weapon play, Rune falls a bit short of delivering the full barbarian experience by not allowing hand-to-hand fighting. If I lose all my weapons, I don't want to run away like a coward.What kind of Viking doesn't know how to punch?
The single player is terrific, featuring a wealth of cool environments. However, it pales in comparison to the sheer bladed ecstasy that is Rune multiplayer.
Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch are your choices here, and Human Head has designed many huge and unique multiplayer maps to explore. Since the game doesn't feature any ranged weapons (unless you power up certain normal weapons), typically cheap sniping tactics are nowhere to be found. You pretty much have to run up to opponents and beat 'em down. The carnage is unrivaled.
There's even a level editor and a soon to be released skin editor. The fun never has to stop.
And fun is really the best way to describe Rune. While playing a Team Deathmatch, I found a fellow Viking teammate and myself in battle against four opposing warriors. We eventually dispatched three of them, leaving one guy waiting for our next move. In true Viking style, I raised the severed head of one of his fallen comrades and, by pressing the 'taunt' button, I violently shook the head in a display of twisted Nordic bravado. To nail home the point, I threw the head at the feet of the dumbfounded survivor. Needless to say, he tried to hightail it out of there, but to no avail. As he turned and ran, my comrade threw an axe at his backside, ending his life.
If that's not just about the coolest thing you've heard about in a 3D action/adventure game, you've been drinking too much mead.
Frankly, Rune kicks butt. It's easily the best hack n' slash game out there, chock full of bladed mayhem that offers an exemplary answer to the age old question: "What is best in life?"