Die by the Sword
Maybe I'm Abnormal, But The First thing to catch my eye in Tomb Raider was not Ms Croft's bouncing charlies but her exquisitely rendered movements. As she walked, her hips wiggled. And when she wanted to stop, she didn't just freeze frame but shifted her weight to help her slow down. She could throw herself across vast chasms, grab hold of ledges, and perform similarly unrealistic feats in the most realistic fashion. She could swim, crouch, run and... yes, there was a rumour she could even do that as well.
Thing is, Lara's actions were formed from 5000 frames of canned footage, mapped out by actors and sewn together by software. So while she was able to perform a myriad of distinct tasks, she was still restricted to what the motion capture camera had seen.
Have at you!
Tantrum's Die By The Sword gets around all that with a pretty natty bit of new technology called VSIM. What this entails is a game full of characters whose movements are calculated 'on the fly' from a physics model, not from a prerendered set of images.
To watch, it's a treat. Our hero, Enric, moves like an armour-clad Croft clone but is free to do so much more. A quick run through the tutorial (voiced superbly by Michael York) and a brief waggle of the sword makes that pretty obvious. Using the numeric keypad or the mouse, you're able to make Enric swing his mighty weapon in any direction - where and how you swipe determines how much damage you'll do when the blade hits home. Sounds good? Yeah, I thought so too.
Unfortunately, while the theory is sound, it's extremely difficult - nay, impossible - in practice. Even the most basic attacks, such as a left-to-right hack, require four or more key-presses or complex mouse actions, while more elaborate moves and blocks are well beyond the abilities of mortal man. After a while you learn to compensate, but when you have an ogre raining blows on your head, and a kobold carving fillets from your buttocks, a convoluted set of controls is about as useful as an iron parachute. Luckily you can abandon VSIM for a while and resort to a one-key wonder for the dextrously challenged called 'arcade mode'.
None shall pass
However, even with your new-found fighting ability you'll probably spend most of the game having your arse kicked. Because of the control system, right from the start the odds are stacked against you, and poor Enric spends most of his time dying, reappearing at the last autosave and then dying all over again. While the game promises the ultimate in precision combat, the reality is that legging it and cowering in an adjacent room is often your best option.
Your view on the world doesn't help matters either. Most of us are by now used to the 'intelligent' hovering camera found in games such as Tomb Raider, but the bungee-jumping cameraman in Die By The Sword hurtles about, fiddling with the zoom and making it difficult to see what the flipping Nora is going on. You can swap between various perspectives, but they're not really much help in the heat of the situation. This, coupled with the awkward control systems, stands DBTS in poor stead from the off.
You are indeed brave. Sir Knight
Gripes swept under the carpet, the fantasy quest in Die By The Sword is hugely involving. It chronicles Enric's journey to rescue a damsel in distress - his lover, Maya, who was kidnapped and is scheduled for sacrifice by a wizard. This search, the heart of the game, spans seven large levels and encompasses a variety of puzzles and environments.
Certainly the Voodoo visuals are exquisite. There are eerie caverns, ancient temples, swamps and forests, rafts and bridges, even a noisy steelworks. Getting about between them isn't a problem, as Enric is dead easy to move around when he hasn't got his big chopper out.
Accompanying the sights are sounds in the form of a dynamic orchestral soundtrack that not only sounds just right, but also changes to fit every situation - there's a rousing crescendo as you fight off an ambush, followed by the solemn murmur of a choir as you draw your last breath. While alive, Enric can also be rather vocal - shouts of "Bollocks!" and "Bloody hell!" echo through the caves as he flails his sword wildly.
We are the knights who say...
Die By The Sword pledges to introduce a new way of playing games but, ultimately, fails in its mission because of the finicky way in which it's been implemented. Okay, any system that gives 100 per cent free movement is going to be complicated. Wait for a decently priced VR suit, that's' our advice.
Control gripes aside, VSIM motion control makes every action and reaction highly convincing. For example, it's possible to put your foot in a rope trap, be hoisted up and then made to defend yourself while dangling upside-down from the ceiling. Or you can come across a room full of orcs playing nine-pin - using a kobold as the ball. You can even lose limbs and spend the rest of the game hopping about on one leg.
Last but not least, doing battle over a network in one of the four arenas is monster fun, although you'll need four ninja PCs to keep the game moving at a decent rate.
At the end of the day, Die By The Sword isn't a bad game. In fact it's actually a very good game that's sadly let down by an ambitious but ultimately flawed control system and eclectic camera movement. If you can put up with the shortcomings, there's enough to keep you interested for quite some time.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode