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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Psygnosis

Ups: Excellent combat model; you get to play a dragon.
Downs: Uneven graphics; lousy voice acting
System Reqs: Requirements: Min: P166, 32MB RAM, 300MB hard disk space, 3D accelerator. Recommended: P233, 32MB RAM, 400MB hard disk space, second gen. 3D accelerator 

Evil comes in many forms. Sometimes you can see it behind the too-wild eyes of the waitress at Chili’s who scrawls a little smiley face on the check. You can find it in the hearts of children owning dogs and firecrackers. It’s embodied in the inventors of the Hot Pocket. Some of you, depending on your level of medication, may see evil in the faces of friends, neighbors and family pets. And, of course, evil sometimes looks like a sorcerer who has assumed the form of a dragon bent on world domination.

This particular brand of evil is named Navros and the game is Drakan. Once upon a time, there was joy and light in the land. A feisty group called the Order of the Flame, which consisted of bonded humans and dragons, acted as roving vigilantes of good. Whenever evil showed its nappy head, some dragon breathed fire on it. All was not well, however. The Dark Union (it would be nice to see an evil organization called something like "Followers of Zippy the Wonder Pup," or "Association Advocating a Darker Tomorrow"), lead by Navros, didn’t like this setup. Navros, himself a member of the Order, eventually steals the life force of his bonded dragon and assumes its form. Dragon Bodies: the latest in Evil-Genius chic. Now in a super-buff body, Navros decides a coup d’etat would be fun and whips up an army of thugs, orcs, and people who didn’t give to the United Way. Pressed, the Order rallies, Navros is defeated, the Dark Union goes into remission, the Order of the Flame is decimated, and your story starts.

Rynn (AKA: you) and her brother Delon are enjoying a nice walk around the village, perhaps discussing current socio-political events, When Bad Guys Attack. Rynn is knocked unconscious, and Delon is taken prisoner. In order to save her brother, Rynn must awaken the dragon Arokh, resurrecting the Order, and track down his captors. I thought this was a decent setup, but rather than beginning the game truly in medias res, the manual contains all the game’s backstory, rendering several of the cut scenes redundant.

Drakan game-play is a lot like Tomb Raider with a fixed, rear camera view. Controlling Rynn and Arokh is relatively simple, using the mouse/keyboard combination initiated by Doom (joysticks and gamepads are supported). There are a series of specialty attacks combinations, but nothing difficult. I would say Drakan’s learning curve is as low as twenty minutes. The entirety of the game revolves around finding various artifacts and stomping monsters along the way, which in turn allow you get snatch other artifacts. You move from points A to Z via all the letters in between. What puzzles exist don’t pose much of a challenge; most, in fact, are solved by luck instead of skill.

Overall, Drakan is a nice addition to the action scene, but has enough problems to preclude a glowing review. With the opening sequence, I noticed a strange quality differential in Drakan’s graphics. The environment is done really well. Areas are large and well textured with interesting lens effects, shadows and dynamic lights. It’s a very pretty game in terms of its landscape. Then you look at the characters. Rynn is just Laura Croft without the cargo shorts, and everyone has flat, depthless faces: the kind that look like they were painted on the outside of a coffee mug. During cut scenes, nobody’s lips move when they speak, which makes these interludes silly. This kind of polygonized actor just doesn’t look good anymore, and in Drakan, detracts from the setting.

While you and the monsters may not look good, everybody dies well. The gore factor is quite high. Rynn can carve up baddies by slicing off their arms, their snouts, or she can just whack them in two. Blood sprays across any nearby object, and if that isn’t good enough, you can kick the quivering bits around.

Another problem relating to Drakan’s characters are their voices. In general, the sound is adequate with an unmemorable soundtrack (why do designers still think the music from Super Mario Carts accompanies any game?) and average ambient effects. Rynn swipes a barrel; it sounds like the barrel breaks. Speaking parts, however, reach sub-standards. Many are just badly acted, while others, like the Queen of the Succubae(!) who sounds as if she smokes three packs of unfiltered Pall Malls a day, become unintentionally comical.

Now the good news, and the good in Drakan is very good. First, you get to play with a dragon. It sounds simple, but blasting things with Arokh was the most enjoyable part of the game for me. Those sections are fast paced and exciting. By comparison, Rynn schleps like a snail. Arokh also gets several types of breath weapons, making him extremely tough. I imagine that dragon-on-dragon combat will be the multiplayer game of choice. I was only able to pick up games on Mplayer, but, due to the speed difference in action between Rynn and Arokh, I’d go with the dragon.

Also, the combat in Drakan is hard. Many of the set-piece battles are easier than they should be, but your run-of-the-mill action, jogging about as Rynn and stabbing people, is excellent. Just about every bad guy in the game is tougher than you; I spent most of my time with lower than half health. You have to be tricky: sneaking up on enemies, getting the timing of their attack algorithms, and using Rynn’s combination attacks. Monsters are also varied, not simply in character but equipment; fighting an orc without a shield was much different than fighting one with a shield. Giants are peppered throughout the game, and the first time one picked me up and threw me into a wall, I was amazed. For fans of pure combat challenges, Drakan delivers the goods.

This is a fairly typical action game, with a linear story line, that has a few interesting innovations. I think Drakan will suffer in competition against releases like System Shock 2, but System Shock 2 doesn’t have a dragon. I’d recommend the game to action fans because of our reptile friend, the fantasy setting, and multi-player potential, but, if you’re looking for something more interesting or can’t afford every game that pops out, leave Drakan on the shelf.

--Matt Blackburn