Oh the anti-violence crowd is going to have a field day with Blade of Darkness. The hoopla surrounding Codemasters and Rebel Act Studios’ latest creation revolves around the excessive and arguably gratuitous use of violence. Ferocious adventurers can hack off the head and limbs of their opponents and use those severed appendages as weapons to combat pending foes. Fledgling heroes can also hack at fallen victims as they lie in a pool of their own blood. It’s not for the weak of stomach, that’s for sure, but there has got to be more to this swashbuckling adventure than just its bloodthirsty combat, doesn’t there?
The story features a classic, if unoriginal, battle between good and evil. It has been several years since a young hero emerged to defy the Prince of Darkness, saving the Earth from destruction, but something is afoot. Foul creatures have awoken from their dormancy and are spreading terror. The Darkness has returned and the end is near. It’s time for a new hero to be born, a chosen one who will wield the Sacred Sword and destroy The Darkness once and for all.
Such a well-oiled tale brings up a very common question. If this so-called evil force was defeated once before, and still later returned to wreak havoc, why would a victory in this present battle be the end all for this evil presence? Oops, my mistake. Popcorn flick, check your brain at the door. The plot of Blade of Darkness does little more than serve up a reason to hack ‘n slash your way through this vast and often breathtaking world. The story is about as engrossing as an Adam Sandler movie, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining in it’s own unique (read: savage) fashion.
Blade of Darkness is a third-person role-playing/action game in which players take on the role of one of four characters; a knight, a barbarian, a dwarf or an amazon. Each of the characters features their own unique fighting style and weapons of choice. The barbarian, for example, uses powerful two-handed swords while the amazon prefers staves and bows. Besides their arsenal of weapons, each of the characters is unique in terms of their physical attributes and skills as well. The amazon, for example, is much more fleet of foot as opposed to the knight, while the dwarf is just… well, quirky.
Easily the most gratifying feature of this four-character system is the fact that each of the character’s progression through the game is unique. They each start the game in a different place and time, creating four separate gaming experiences. If you get stuck with one character, you can switch to another and begin a new adventure. This really adds to the replay value, which would dwindle considerably in its absence. As your chosen character traverses through the game, they’ll gain experience that’s used towards improving their attributes, as well as their ability to perform certain combinations in battle.
Besides the usual health meter, characters are also equipped, so to speak, with a stamina bar. If you perform too many actions, attacks in particular, the character’s stamina will dip to zero, leaving you open for a few moments to a beating on the part of your enemy. This leads players to be a little more creative and conservative when it comes to their combat tactics. Stamina is also affected if your character uses a weapon that is too heavy for them. As you gain experience, your character will become more capable in handling bigger and better weaponry. Besides the ability to dodge attacks, players can also use shields as defensive tools, but these will often break if overused. These little elements make Blade of Darkness much more satisfying considering some of it’s imperfections.
The controls in Blade of Darkness are relatively straightforward, implementing both the mouse and keyboard. Pressing various directional keys, while on the offence, results in different attacks, and combinations are performed by pressing a series of buttons. One action the control scheme doesn’t make use of is strafing, a move that many gamers are sure to be up in arms about. The addition of a lock-on button is a welcome sight for both beginners and veterans alike, aiding not only to single out and focus on one enemy, but allowing less experienced gamers to constantly face their opponent, no matter how disoriented their character become within the heat of battle.
The violence factor in Blade of Darkness is clearly its selling point and in that respect, it doesn’t disappoint. As mentioned earlier, you can hack the limbs right off your opponents and there’s no shortage of blood and carnage. Unfortunately, the game relies heavily on its combat system, since the game offers little in terms of challenging elements outside of combat itself. The puzzles, for example, are more often than not reliant on searching for levers or keys to open new areas. There are also plenty of physical challenges, such as avoiding various traps, but there’s relatively nothing unique to the adventure portion of Blade of Darkness. This game is all about the combat and it knows it. It certainly doesn’t shy away from that.
Graphically, Blade of Darkness is one of the prettiest games I’ve seen in some time. The environments include such locales as fiery volcanoes, frozen tundras and majestic castles, each spectacular in its own right. The detail level is astounding and the effects, particularly the water reflections, are simply incredible. The snazzy visuals come at a price though, as middle-of-the-road gamers will have to turn many of these extra details off in order to run at a reasonable frame rate. Lower-end users, don’t even bother. Those gamers with systems powerful enough to handle the load, you lucky sons of dwarves, will be privy to some beautiful eye-candy. Blade of Darkness is also loaded with FMV at almost every corner and an original soundtrack accompanies your adventures. The presentation is certainly top notch, if you can afford to experience it.
Blade of Darkness supports multi-player via LAN. Up to four players can participate in gladiator-style battles in any one arena, but the lack of multi-player modes leaves little to be desired when it comes to this feature. Much like the single player portion of Blade of Darkness, the multi-player aspect serves only to showcase a fluent and exciting combat system.
As The Darkness is abolished and you’re given a hero’s welcome, I liken Blade of Darkness to a popcorn flick. Check your brain at the door, this one’s all about the special effects and boisterous fighting scenes. Gamers that prefer a little rhyme or reason to their slaying will certainly be disappointed not only by the lack of an engaging storyline, but also by the half-witted puzzles. With that said, there are enough exciting moments in Blade of Darkness to marginally recommend it to those in the mood for a little mindless hack ‘n slash action. Just don’t expect much in terms of role-playing, this is an action game through and through.
[ 39/50 ] Gameplay
[ 09/10 ] Graphics
[ 07/10 ] Sounds
[ 05/10 ] Storyline
[ 06/10 ] Multiplayer
[ 08/10 ] Fun Factor