It’s About Time.
It’s no secret that the gaming press has it in for John Romero. It’s a fact. You might remember him as the primadonna former Id software game designer who worked on Wolfenstien 3D, The Doom series, Heretic, Hexen, and Quake. He’s rich, he spends his days in the uber-headquarters at Ion Storm (they have a movie theater on their floor, for starters), and that makes us jealous. As the cynical bastards that we are, we can’t stand a showboat, especially one who appears to be just so much hot air.
More importantly though, we are pissed of because none of us look as good as Stevie "Killcreek" Case, his Ion Storm level designer girlfriend who posed for Playboy as a Daikatana publicity stunt. Well, none of us except for that foxy Ben Silverman, ho boy! (Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. – Ed.)
For the past 5 years Romero has been working at his new company, Ion Storm, on his "new" game, Daikatana. It’s had one of the most protracted, troubled, publicized development runs in gaming history, and now here it is. In the interim, games like Half-Life, Jedi Knight, and System Shock 2 have moved things forward.
Most of us wanted Daikatana to fail. We wanted it to be the worst game ever. But it is my duty to tell you that although the game is nowhere near as good as it was promoted to be, and although John Romero is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is, it is not the worst game released this year. It is, however, stunningly outdated and mediocre.
There is a cheesy, knockoff anime story of ancient magical swords, madmen with dreams of world domination,and time travelling hijinks that attempts to justify the action in Daikatana. And it does so, albeit badly. I would recommend getting drunk before each plot cinematic, as they’re funny in an unintentional way.
The four time periods you travel to are 2455 C.E. Japan, 1200 B.C.E. Greece, 560 C.E. Norway, and 2030 C.E. San Francisco. Each one takes up roughly a quarter of the game and includes its own unique weapons, monsters, items, and appearance. This essentially makes Daikatana four games in one, much like Hexen 2.
The specifics of the game, actually, really don’t matter. Daikatana is filled with stuff – lots of stuff. It’s a clear-cut case of quantity over quality. There are more than enough details to fill a review, but none of them count much, because you could probably find them described in some other review on Game Revolution. Daikatana is full of every concept that could be plagiarized off other games and full of every bad idea that the designers refused to let go of.
2455 Japan is basically a colorful Quake 2. 1200 B.C.E Greece is like the Roman portion of Hexen 2, without the inspiration that powered that game. 560 C.E. Norway is the England section of Hexen 2 followed by a descent into Quake. 2030 C.E. San Francisco is basically Soldier of Fortune watered down to ennui.
Monsters are plentiful and repetitive. Weapons, with few exceptions, are unsatisfying and downright bizarre, easily the most esoteric bunch since Unreal. The Daikatana itself, which is the only weapon you retain after time travelling, is implemented poorly. Instead of modifying its attack based on your movement (like Jedi Knight‘s excellent Lightsaber), the Daikatana merely cuts and slices whenever it pleases.
The action is repetitive, and thanks to lousy AI, gets old really fast. The level design is blocky, inconsistent, un-detailed and often squandering the potential of the setting.
Your sidekicks, which are one of the game’s main selling points because you can give them orders, are mostly an annoyance. Although occasionally they do their jobs and take some of the fire, they mostly just give you a headache as they play catch-up, get stuck or die, which is a game over.
Graphically, Daikatana is the ugly duckling of Quake 2‘s children. Using that venerable engine, with only a few nips and tucks to add features like volumetric lighting and rain animation, Daikatana screams 1997 with fire and passion. Characters have low polygon counts, animation is stunningly awful, and there is no area-specific damage modeling such as in Soldier of Fortune. For the most part, texturing is very repetitive (same texture for the majority of surfaces in a room). The overall appearance is, needless to say, less than impressive.
Sound is lousy, without 3D effects. Plus, Daikatana features some of the most offensively stereotyped ethnic voices ever recorded in a computer game. Superfly and Mikiko in particular sound bad enough to make you want to murder them even when they are doing what you tell them.
Despite these gripes, all is not lost. There is a level-up system which helps to vary the action. Multiplayer is passable for a traditional FPS. Finally, there are some times when the level design comes together, graphics improve noticeably, you get one of the few good guns and have some genuine fun. At those times, Daikatana can resemble older heavy hitters like Duke 3D. It can serve up a good deal of traditional FPS fun. That’s Daikatana at its best, a game which makes you forget, if temporarily, its glaring flaws.
Overall, this is one of the most derivative games in history with a heavy dose of poor implementation. Every positive feature has its caveat, as the bad matches the good. If John Romero has a career left after this, it’s going to have to be based on humility, hard work, and actually meeting a few deadlines.
In the end, Daikatana is worth a try, but don’t believe the hype. A good game is always fun, a great game is always stunning, and Daikatana is neither.