Human Head Studios is concentrating on one thing - and one thing only with Rune- and that is total savagery. Those looking for a thought-provoking tale based on ancient Norse Legend can get their bony arses down to the library because, aside from the odd reference to Odin, Loki, Midgard and Ragnarok, all you're going to get here is unrivalled decapitation and gore.
But it takes a while for the blood to get pumping; the opening levels are bogged down with irritating platform sections that scream Tomb Raider at you over and over again. Perseverance is the key, though, and after the thousandth pixel-perfect jump in a row, your patience is rewarded.
On The Trail Of Blood
Rune manages to combine simple puzzle solving and calculated violence in a disturbingly satisfying way. One of the press releases waved in our direction claims the split is about 70-30 per cent in favour of action - and that's about spot on. The same press release suggests the puzzles in Rune are "the most fun and violent way to get from A to B". Again, that's something we cannot argue with - even if a lot of them are based on the Deathtrap Dungeon philosophy of fireballs, spinning blades and falling blocks.
In fact, Rune offers some seriously addictive gameplay. The seamless way in which mindless slaughter blends into thoughtful adventuring is not something we see often. What makes it even more surprising is the way Rune achieves this degree of excellence with only a few enemy species. After three days of playing, a grand total of six kinds of adversary were spotted. Obviously this doesn't say much for variation, but it encourages fluid gameplay allowing the player to go straight for the weak point and send heads bouncing down the corridor with relative ease. At one point our hero Ragnar even managed to lop off three heads with one swing. Now when you pull off a manoeuvre like that you can't help but wallow in glorious psychotic pride. It doesn't take long to master that kind of depravity either, Rune's control interface is an absolute doddle to master. The only annoying thing is that there isn't a quick turn-around key -well, we couldn't find one, anyway.
Aside from testing the sharpness of your axe and sword, you can use runes. These magical stones give you spells like Shield, Blast, Spirit and Bloodlust. To be honest, the only ones that are of any real use are the latter two: Spirit, because it makes you semi-invisible; and Bloodlust, because It turns you into a frenzied maniac.
In reality, Rune is gimmick central. The way Ragnar swivels his head to look at something of interest is an especially nice (Grim Fandango) touch and can be used to find secret passages, switches and hidden food. Interaction with your environment doesn't stop there either. Our Scandinavian pillager can set fire to inanimate objects and living things, as well as smash barrels, wooden benches and pretty much anything else that gets in his way.
Aesthetically, Rune rocks. With a modified version of the Unreal Tournament engine at work here, the graphical style is immensely atmospheric. Although some of the character's shadows occasionally point towards the light-source - strange but true. The general mood of the game is enhanced further by plenty of low moans and screams that permeate through the caverns and tunnels around you.
So What's The Score?
Rune is definitely a great game, but the suspicion is it could have been a lot better. As we said at the start of this review, the opening stages are almost unforgivably irritating. Too few enemies may also prove to be its undoing in some critical quarters.
On a slightly different note, there could have been some friendly characters in there to help you out. As it is, you often feel alone as you wander through the caverns of hell, but obviously that doesn't apply to the multiplayer version of the game, which is a fairly enjoyable deathmatch affair. But our gripes are minor as this crude lesson in Viking culture deserves to do well. If you need to let off some steam this Christmas, Rune is what you need.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode
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