Spellbound Studios released Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive in the summer of 2001. It was a game that owed more than a little to Pyro Studios’ 1998 release of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, and it featured the same sort of stealthy, tactical missions, but it was set in the Wild West rather than World War II. Now Spellbound Studios is back with Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood, another Commandos-style game, but this time set in medieval Europe. Unfortunately, while Robin Hood isn’t a bad game, it doesn’t match up very well with Desperados or the Commandos games, and it seems curiously flat and unimaginative, especially after the slick, over-the-top feel to Desperados.
If you’re familiar with the Robin Hood mythos at all, then you’re probably also familiar with the backdrop to the game. When King Richard went off to fight in the Crusades, his brother John decided to take over -- and bleed the populace dry while lining his own pockets with gold. That set the stage for Robin Hood to show up and -- you know the phrase -- rob from the rich to give to the poor. The only difference in Robin Hood is that Richard managed to get himself kidnapped, and so instead of giving the money to the poor, Robin Hood is hanging onto it so he can pay the ransom.
Everybody you’d expect to be in the game is there, along with some who I think are made up (my knowledge of Robin Hood only extends to the handful of movies I’ve seen about him, so I’m no expert). Robin Hood is there, of course, and he’s an expert with the bow as well as being able to distract enemies by throwing gold on the ground. Little John wields a mean staff, and he’s strong enough to carry bodies around. Plus, Maid Marian can heal people, Friar Tuck can tie people up, and Will Scarlet can knock people out with his slingshot. So, just like in Desperados and Commandos, you get to control a variety of people, and they all have unique abilities.
Just like Desperados and Commandos, in Robin Hood you spend a lot of time sneaking around, disabling enemies, and then hiding their bodies. Since Robin Hood is a good guy, the game penalizes you slightly for killing enemies, and so you have to knock them out (and then tie them up) instead. Luckily, Robin Hood and Little John can both punch people to knock them out, and Little John always knocks people out when he hits them enough with his staff, so it’s relatively easy to knock people out rather than kill them. Unfortunately, it means Robin Hood is a little less useful than you’d expect a main character to be, since his weapons are a sword and bow (which kill people), and so I found myself not using him much after the first few missions.
I’ve mentioned Desperados and Commandos a lot now, but it’s difficult not to since those games and Robin Hood are so similar. However, Spellbound Studios did try some new things with Robin Hood. Sherwood Forest works as a base of operations for Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and any characters who don’t go on a mission can stay behind and train their fighting skills, heal, fletch arrows, pick medicinal herbs, or more. Plus, characters gain experience now, and they can use that experience to improve their fighting skills. Unfortunately, gaining experience seems to be flakey in the game (you can only improve skills by training in Sherwood Forest rather than fighting actual enemies), but it was nice that Spellbound Studios tried to add some role-playing elements to the game.
At this point Robin Hood is a nice enough game, if a little similar to other titles. But Spellbound Studios impressively botched the campaign that comes with it, which is more important than normal here since Robin Hood doesn’t have a multiplayer option or a scenario editor, and so the campaign is everything. For example, the campaign has roughly 30 missions, but there are only eight maps (five castle maps and three forest maps), and so you find yourself visiting the same places over and over. Since Robin Hood is a game that has a certain amount of repetition built in, it needs to have a new map for every mission to keep things fresh. Worse, the objectives aren’t all that exciting, either. Every forest mission is an “ambush” mission, where you rob a gold shipment or a tax collector, and they all play about the same. And the castle missions, where Spellbound could have been creative, fall flat. I mean, every one of the main characters manages to get captured at some point in the game, and so there are over a half dozen rescue missions alone. Some variety would have been nice.
On the technical side, Robin Hood has its ups and downs. The good news is that save times are short and load times are shorter (almost instantaneous), and so a lot of potential frustration is avoided since Robin Hood is a game where you’ll have to save and load a lot. But sadly, Robin Hood also appears to have a significant memory leak, leading to numerous freeze-ups, crashes, and reboots; zooming the view in or out froze up my computer so often I stopped doing it; and I got a weird flickering effect to the graphics whenever I was on a forest map. Robin Hood could definitely use a patch (and, given that it’s been out for over three months, it should definitely have had a substantial one by now).
But even so, even with unimaginative missions and some annoying technical problems, I still liked Robin Hood well enough. I’m just a sucker for the genre, perhaps, but I enjoyed the (approximately) 40 hours I spent playing the campaign, and I’d recommend the game. Plus, Robin Hood is selling for about $20 now, and it’s definitely better than most other titles you’ll find in the bargain bin.