Ready Yourself. An Epic Storyline doth approach... It was a depressing month by all accounts for the Ancient Lands. Mages In Gowns had lost the cup to second division Forest Elves In Bodkins.
The fit bird had left the local on-going mystery play -Broo'Ksi-de: The Close ("a story of everyday cross-bred villagers"). And - woodentyaknowit - the entire civilisation of the world was wiped out by 'StarFall', 40 days and nights of meteorite bombardment. Doh.
So, basically, loads of people got killed, and even those who survived found themselves dying horribly in the irradiated ruins of their former cities, surrounded by eerie glowing 'StarStones'. As centuries passed, and men coupled with women (bonking incessantly in fact to rebuild humankind), wise men gathered these magical rocks and slowly worked out how to harness their power. After a couple of disasters (a couple of accidental earthquakes, one or two thermonuclear explosions - that kind of thing), some clever bod finally made a SunOrb, a big shiny grapefruit type device made of crushed StarStone. Then somebody else managed to melt the rocks into artefacts, so more precise trickery and spellcasting was possible. And then finally, a few wizards working in concert or 'clans' forged seven all-singing, alldancing, all-powerful super-relics. But, of course, there were some baddies who wanted a bit of relic action. So a big scrap occurred. The evil LoreThanes on one side, the shiny Mageslayers on the other.
Fight! Fight! Fight! Etc
So after much argy-bargy and fisticuffs, the Mageslayers were triumphant, having kicked the LoreThanes' arses. Peace reigned. The fit bird got her own show. Everyone was happy. Oh, except that there's a gathering darkness enveloping the world and the cataclysmic conflict with the LoreThanes will seem like a minor skirmish compared to the years of evil and torture and agony which are approaching...
So, basically, you are a Mageslayer. A rough, tough ninja with spells instead of shurikens and a bodkin instead of an all-in-one black leotard. Just for reference, Mageslayers are expected to hold their breath for four minutes; scale sheer rock cliffs; be deadly in the art of sword, poisons, bow and hand; heal and cast spells and magic. Your quest: to recover all seven ninjascopic relics and kick big nasty baddy butt.
As you've probably gathered, Mageslayer uses what we professionals call 'a Gauntlet metaphor', after the immensely popular, immensely old top-down Tolkien 'em up of the same name. Steve Raffle, president of Raven Software agrees: "Yeah, we wanted to try something a little different from first-person games but still keep that level of action. We figured it would be cool if you could see your player and what sort of spells you were shooting out, and kind of get a feel for everything that is happening around you."
Raven Software you may remember from such games as ShadowCaster, Heretic, Hexen, and their age-old Amiga classic, Dark Crypt. Examining their discography, you can see a pattern emerging: Fantasy. Codpieces. Helmets. Dwarves. Leather Armour. Broadswords. Anvils. Ahem. Yes, that's right. They're all healthy young men with an interest in role-playing games. Mageslayer is no exception. For starters, you can choose from four character classes. Worlock are fairly run of the mill magic users with all-round competence in most disciplines. Earth Lords are stout dwarfish fellows (with hammers, natch) with nice, earthy spells, while Arch Demons are masters of fire - fireballs, firewhips, Catherine Wheels, you name it -and look like demons. Or you can opt to be an Inquisitor, a rather strange monicker for someone who is basically undead but can summon ghosts and other spirit entities.
A Mageslayer's puissance - if I may use such a word -is determined by three stats: health, speed and toughness, each of which can be beefed up through experience and the wholesale slaughter of monsties. The Nasties sound unoriginal, but could be fun. They include giant spiders in tombs, hideous wererats in sewers, and ugly trolls underground. To ensure maximum destruction, each character has a separate range of spells - all of which have individual pyrotechnic and particle effects viewable in the wide-angle bird's-eye view. The Flame Sphere, for example, fires a barrage of orange globules trailing wispy, transparent smoke. Nice. Force Blast releases a transparent morphing energy bolt which pinballs erratically before settling on a direct and deadly path to its target. Cool. Fans of Return Of The Jedi will no doubt like the Lightning Arc which throws chains of deadly EmperorBolts over one's opponents. Neat. And then there's the awesome Doom Strike which summons fire from heaven in a column of ferocious yellow energy particles.
Ivor The Engine
All these hyper-kinetic visuals and rather good-looking screenshots are only possible through Raven Software's new 2D/3D engine. It works as a kind of melding between the Quake engine and a more traditional sprite-based frontend. It has dynamic shadows and glorious, depth-increasing dappling effects ("The lighting effects are actually very Quake-like," says Raffle), plus texture-mapped effects, and different heights to the scenery.
Hardware acceleration doesn't usually mean squat to a 2D game, but Raffle insists there will be an advantage. "The base version of Mageslayer will run in 8-bit colour but a Direct3D version will use 16-bit. We also hope to support Matrox and 3Dfx boards."
And, as you'd expect from a house which has licensed both the Doom and Quake engines, Mageslayer has a healthy streak of multi-player potential in Internet and IPX LAN flavours. Deathmatch and co-operative modes will be supported, as well as Capture The Flag and King Of the Hill novelty games. Raven Software also hope to implement a 'competition' option, where plural players race to find certain artefacts and complete the level.
A final word from Raffle: "We're going for a fast action, arcadey feel, which will appeal to Doom and Quake players." Well, we put our heads together here and we reckon it's been a while since we've had the pleasure of a really good Gauntlet clone. And all this 3D first-person shoot 'em upping is getting a little bit bland. This being the case, we thought we'd include a congratulatory message for Raven Software - good on ya (but er, next time guys, how about less of the ah, dwarves and anvils?).
It Was a Time Of White Socks and burgundy loafers, leg warmers and PVC ties. The Eighties, the decade that fashion forgot. And then there.
I was the music! All that plinky-plonk synth-pop, and the big-haired, soft rock ballads of Bonnie 'blow-job' Tyler and Jennifer Rush! Maybe one day, when those memories are distant enough to pose no kind of threat, we will relive the whole debacle with great fondness. Well, you'd better be ready, cos' that day could already be upon us. Dig out that pin-striped sleeveless denim jacket - Raven are taking us back to the days when pastel coloured t-shirts were the height of fashion. Radical.
The creators of Hexen have taken their classic 3D action game, plied it with drinks and introduced it to Gauntlet, the best Eighties multi-player game around (apart from Spin the Bottle). The result is Mageslayer. Basically Gauntlet remixed. The question on my ample lips though is: is the product of Raven's gaming loins destined for great things, or will it eke out a lowly existence, languishing in bargain bins along high streets up and down the country?
You should already have an idea of the game's standing. By now you will have seen the score (unless you're one of those people who cover it up - in which case it's 73). But of course, you've paid good money, and as such will require more than a two figure analysis. A shame really because I'd love to go on about the Eighties forever. Oh well, here goes.
living in the shadow of great and successful parentage is never a good start for any child, but that's not to say that this mewling cabbage deserves to be put in a sack and thrown in the Thames. OK, so it hasn't been endowed with a great deal of intelligence, but then neither Gauntlet nor Hexen were big on brainpower. Mogeslayer's focus is on action, so let's get the plot thing over with quickly shall we? The story revolves around collecting a number of relics and piecing them together in the hope that Lore Thane and his evil minions can be sent back from whence they came. The thirty or so levels are divided into five not-very-different worlds (sewers, temples etc), at the end of which you must kill the respective bosses, claim the relics and move on. As such, wholesale slaughter is the order of the day. Roam, kill, pick, use and flick. Yep, it's a bit like Hexen, only from above.
Everybody wants to rule the world
Like Gauntlet (and Hexen), Mageslayer offers you the chance to control four different characters, each with different strengths and cool special moves. Apart from keeping your health levels up, you'll need to collect moonstones that enable your character to keep the foe at bay with magic spells (which get progressively more lethal with each relic you collect). Each level is littered with power ups and special items that we've pretty much all seen before: invisibility potions, proximity mines and speedy boots. Standard RPG fare.
But let's get back to those four characters; The Earth Lord is the hammer-wielding hero. Short legs and white beard characterise his dwarven ancestry. His weapon of choice is a supply of electro-mallets. The Inquisitor is the mysterious lady of the bunch who, in a spot of bother, will happily summon a couple of shadowy ghosts to suck the life out of anyone nearby - rather like that bit at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Arch-Demon is the ugliest of the bunch and the weedy Warlock is your number four.
There is no significant difference between the characters you get to control. They each have a different speed and armour level, but the difference in firepower seems purely cosmetic. I preferred to control the Arch-Demon, as it was easier to distinguish which way he was facing. A useful factor when dashing around dungeons.
The levels look gorgeous, especially with 3D acceleration, but unfortunately you don't really get to explore very much. The game would rather you just move along and twat stuff. There are some choice obstacles, like giant mallets and revolving cogs, (oh, and the obligatory switches tucked away to extend bridges), but it would have been nice to have seen a little more imagination in the way the levels were constructed. Of course each level has its fair share of evil entities. Unfortunately they are all quite stupid and are happy to run into certain death, thus showering the rooms with gore. Here is where I shall level my main criticism.
It's not the showering goo that detracts from the gameplay. Far from it. But there are so many enemies crowding around you that it very quickly becomes hard to distinguish which way your character is facing. Maybe I need specs, but for the first couple of hours, even when not engaged in a bit of hand-to-hand, I was walking into walls and bouncing off corners like nobody's business. To be honest, after a few hours play you do get the hang of it, but so often my little chap was chipping away at a wall, whilst gleeful nasties spooned out my kidneys. There is a key that allows you to zoom into the action, which does help matters, but you can t play the whole game from such an enclosed perspective, and the last thing you want to do in the heat of battle is start pressing more keys. Raven should've implemented an automatic zoom feature for when things get a bit crowded. The camera in the forthcoming GTA zooms in and out, depending on how fast you're travelling, and as a result the whole thing's a lot more fluid. Had Mageslayer included this feature, it would have made things a lot clearer in the heat of battle. It might have lessened the feeling of being alienated from the action, too.
After last month's disappointing Take No Prisoners. I initially didn't hold out much hope for Mageslayer. After all. it's just another perspective, and not a particularly exciting one at that. At least TNPs view on the world was different, even if it did piss people off. After about four hours whining, I finally succumbed to its charms. It is fun and after all, thats all it wants to be, although the fact that you can't play two or even four players on one split-screen is a massive faux pas. Anyone who's played a Gauntlet conversion or even Alien Breed will appreciate just how important that is to a game like this. A Gauntlet for the Nineties maybe? It's just that things have moved on so much that Gauntlet doesn't really belong in the Nineties.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode