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
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.
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
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.