Magic: The Gathering - Battlemage
Well, It Seems As If The Whole world has gone quite literally Magic mad just lately (Has it? - Ed.) No, not really. I'm just trying to drum up a wee bit o' interest to hook the reader in at the start. In actual fact, it seems as if the initial Magic/Trading Card Game phenomenon has died down a little over the past few months. Perhaps it's the ever-increasing number of delays that has surrounded the MicroProse incarnation of Magic on computer, perhaps it's just the novelty factor wearing off, or perhaps it's a secret plot by the world's software houses to drive all knowledge of rival gaming pastimes out of our minds with secret brainwashing lasers housed in orbiting satellites (sorry, a little bit too much Illuminati).
Anyhow, while we all sit twiddling our spell-casting thumbs, waiting for Sid Meier and co. to come up trumps, Acclaim have rather sneakily crept under the door and put together their own version of the fantasy card game. BattleMage is the name of the new version and the main difference between the two games is that it's all in real-time.
Away with strategy
Acclaim have attempted to capture the feel of what life in the world of Magic is like, rather than trying to faithfully recreate the rules of the game. To this end, they've developed a brand new storyline to help capture the mood. (If you could just imagine that my voice has lost its light, nasal tinge at this point and has developed into a much deeper, more booming, James Earl Jones-like timbre, this next paragraph will work much better.)
In the world of Dominia, where the power of magic reigns supreme, the continent of Corondor has become the focal point for the plans of an evil and powerful magician. Intent on conquering the land and eliminating all competition to his dominion, the mighty Ravidel has summoned six of the most powerful planeswalkers to do battle. Spells will fly, creatures will fight and eventually, when only one remains, Ravidel will sweep the tired victor from his path and conquer all.
So that's where you come in (I'm back in my normal voice now). You get to be one of the six planeswalkers as you battle across Corondor, hoping to conquer the land and fend off your enemies. This is done in the traditional Magic style - duelling with cards. The difference here is that each spell is depicted graphically. Cast a fireball and you'll see a fireball. Summon a Hurloon Minotaur and a Hurloon Minotaur will stomp onto the screen (whatever the blundering hell a Hurloon Minotaur is).
Deal thy cards
Like the MicroProse version, there's the choice of two ways to play BattleMage: a long-term campaign which depicts the storyline mentioned above, or a single one-on-one duel between you and either a computer or human opponent playing over a network or the Internet. Also capturing the trading flavour of the card game is the ability to create your own custom decks out of over 200 of the cards available in the fourth edition and Mirage expansion packs. These decks can be saved onto disk and taken from one machine to another, giving the multi-player side of the game that real schoolyard conkers feel. As the card game releases new expansion packs(something that seems to happen every other week), so Acclaim will keep things up to date by releasing add-on disks.
Unlike the MicroProse version, that's where the card influences seem to end. The actual duelling mechanics have replaced all the gaming rules with realtime strategy action controls. Once you take to the field of battle, you have to start conjuring up your forces and send them off to battle. You still have a hand of seven spells at a time, but now you're up against the clock as they get I replaced every 30 seconds or so. Thus you have to really get to know what your various spells can do quickly in order to react to the pressures of time and the actions of your enemy.
What has been retained is the rich atmosphere of the card game and the world of Dominia. BattleMage is replete with beautiful presentation. All the artwork of the cards has been faithfully reproduced, and the story and elements of Magic are told in a number of gloriously animated sequences.
The big question
Does BattleMage faithfully reproduce the excitement, addictiveness and glamour of playing Magic (Glamour? - Ed.)? Although it's hard to say (the version I saw still had quite a few features to be implemented), the early impressions are that Acclaim have managed to capture what it feels like to play Magic rather than accurately capturing an actual game of Magic. So while MicroProse's version should be welcomed warmly by Magic players across the land, Acclaim have a better chance of attracting non-Magicians to their stall, allowing them to take that first, vital step into a magical world of flexible card, coloured counters and fluffy hoods.
Surely You Don't Really Need Yet another explanation about what Magic: The Gathering is about, do you? No, you should have picked up the basics by now, so all that remains for me to do here is tell you what a good job Acclaim have done in transferring the card game into the world of binary on-off switches. Let's make a quiz of it to try and build up the tension. Choose one of the following three answers:
- It's the Best Thing Ever
- It was a good idea on paper but it hasn't worked in practice
- It's a cookery book.
Our survey said...
If you thought the answer was 1, then you're wrong, so very wrong. If you said 2, you're spot on. Well done. Have some blancmange and Twiglets. If you reckoned it was 3, you're just being silly, and since you don't seem to really care about the game, kindly turn the page and stop wasting our time and yours.
BattleMage is sadly one of those ideas that makes you think, Wow, that sounds really smart", but in reality falls just short of its target (like Last Chance Lottery, don't you think?). The premise is that you take the game of Magic, translate all the existing cards and their effects, add the typical worldconquering fantasy storyline and then show everything visually. Which is a great idea. What would you rather see when you cast a fireball? A few lines of text saying, You cast a fireball - your opponent loses three lifepoints. Or a huge screaming ball of flame hurtling out of your fingertips and smashing into your enemy's chest, searing his flesh and removing his eyebrows? Well exactly.
Unfortunately, although that was the idea, something has been lost in the translation. The problem is that while that's all well and good for fireballs, not every card in the game of Magic is represented so easily by visuals. Plus a lot of cards arc specifically designed to work within the turn-based environment in which the card game operates (in fact, the basic premise of casting and storing magical energy is entirely turn-based). As soon as you throw in a realtime aspect to the game (a la Command & Conquer), you're piling problem on top of problem. Now I'm sure that somewhere someone has developed a solution to these problems. Trouble is it isn't apparently anyone at Acclaim. What you have is a combat system which requires the player to recognise every card in his deck and all their respective abilities, spell effects and casting costs - all of this from the card's artwork alone - and considering that every deck must have a minimum of 40 cards, that's no mean feat, even for experienced Magic players. But that's not all: you also need the reflexes of a whippet if you're to try and manage your on-screen troops and fend off attacks from your opponent.
Ten out of ten for effort, but...
It was a noble effort. Really. Presentationwise you can't fault it. Graphically, too, it's very impressive, with a great intro sequence that offers one of the best explanations I've ever seen. The campaign features are well worked out and are enjoyable to play (putting me in mind of Defender Of The Crown back on the Amiga). It's just that the core of the game is so terribly flawed. Such a shame. It could have been the perfect way to entice newcomers to the card game. As it is, newcomers are more likely to be put off for life.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode