Falling off the NordicTrack.
I think it's safe to say that the PC version of Rune became a full-fledged obsession in the GR compound for a solid two months. Not the single-player game, mind you, but the online multiplayer. The kinetic joy of ripping off another man's arm and beating him to death with it brought a sense of love and understanding into the pallid GR office. Plus, it gave a face to resident GR office online persona Sal Magicpants...or as I prefer to call him, "Mister Pants"
When the folks at Human Head and G.O.D announced plans to port the Viking over to the PS2, we all groaned. Out loud. In Dolby. Why? Because we knew that there would be no online multiplayer, that the control would suffer without the mouse and keyboard, and that the same pitfalls that stumped the PC version (namely, excessive carrion crawl levels) would likely reappear on the console.
Move over Norns, because I think we're psychic.
Rune: Viking Warlord is mostly a direct port of the PC version, though it throws in a few new monsters. Still, the aforementioned worries have indeed become realities, taking our dearly beloved Nordic hero and rather ungraciously escorting him to gaming Ragnarok.
The story is exactly the same. You're Ragnar, a newly anointed Viking warrior. Your big day in the sun is ruined, however, when the craven betrayer Conrack decides to lay the smack down on a neighboring village. You and your buddies hop into a longboat and race off to save the day...only to bump into Conrack en route, who promptly summons the power of the evil god Loki to trash your schooner. Your comrades drown, but thanks to a twist of fate, the All-Father Odin plucks you from death's grasp to give you a chance at revenge.
Rune is a melee action game through and through. You spend most of your time killing things with swords, axes and clubbing weapons. There are a few puzzle elements along the way, but this is a very linear game with obvious answers to really simple problems.
From the outset, it's clear that the port of this game didn't go smoothly. The graphics are rickety with occasional framerate chugging and bland delivery. There isn't much eye candy here, though the light-sourcing has been done nicely. Ragnar himself looks fine, but his animations are jerky and he sort of looks like he's gliding over the environment rather than actually walking on it. Must be those special Viking moon boots.
You'll instantly recognize another sign of port problems when you hit your first loading screen. You'll know you've hit it when you find yourself wandering around your house looking for things to do. The wait is just brutal. Even after a solid minute of level loading, you get a 'Please Wait' screen while it accesses your memory card. What's the hold up? It's not like the levels are very large or filled with tons of creatures. Next-gen, Shmext-gen.
Despite the technical issues, the gameplay has been kept largely intact. Running around cutting off limbs and heads in melee combat is still pretty fun. Unfortunately, the first-person control scheme doesn't work great with the PS2 controller.
Truth be told, you'll eventually get used to using the analog sticks like the mouse/ keyboard. However, perhaps the most useful maneuver in the PC version of Rune, the double-tap dodging, has been omitted. This was an incredibly useful quick dodge that gave more life to the somewhat redundant hack and slash combat. It's a shame that it's gone and the game suffers without it.
The main reason we grew so fond of the PC version of Rune was its addictive and exciting multiplayer. If you thought fragging a guy was fulfilling, just imagine lopping off his head with an axe. Muahah! So of course we knew that the PS2 version wouldn't have that same energy since it's not online. Still, hope remained for a decent split screen experience. Alas, all hope has been lost.
You can play deathmatch Rune with up to 4 people, though that means a 4-way split screen, which looks awful and plays the same. The two-player split wouldn't be terrible if it allowed you to add some CPU controlled enemies to flesh out the experience. Sadly, that ain't in the ballpark. It's just two of you chasing each other around maps, finding a nice shady spot, whacking each other with sharp things, then doing it over and over again. It's missing the chaotic carnage of the PC version (where often 10 or more would run amuck on a map at a time), and it's not fun.
Which leaves the single player game as the primary experience...and that's not a good thing. The level design is pretty standard and too much action takes place in hallways and underground corridors. The levels with more indoor/outdoor environments work better, but still feel constrained.
In addition, there aren't nearly enough enemies and the AI isn't great. The first half of the game has you fighting a smattering of zombies and skeletons, which are dumb. Eventually you meet up with humans who are much tougher, but still tend to follow lame strategies and often stall due to poor pathfinding.
Even the new creatures suffer from brain freeze. The new hell hounds are strictly beeline killers, just charging you endlessly like bulls on crystal meth. The Frost Giants (which make their appearance after about 10 hours of gameplay) look cool enough but have all the fighting technique of a guy swinging a hammer at one of those 'Test of Strength' bells at a county fair. Hulk smash!
This is also a strangely easy game. I played it through on Medium and never really died. It seems that the damage has been lessened and there's enough food and power-ups laying around to take care of Ragnar's extended family.
Rune: Viking Warlord is a big disappointment, a shoddy port that suffers due to both the limitations of its new platform and its technical pitfalls. We haven't seen too many PC-to-console ports lately, though with the upcoming release of the Xbox it's bound to happen. By Odin's blood, let's hope developers learn a lesson or two from Rune's mistakes.