"If you look at something hard I enough and for long enough, I you will eventually begin to I see that which is not there." I This is the mantra I have been repeating in my head for the last few days. I looked at Soulbringer for the first time and thought: "No, it can not possibly be meant to look like that".
We were not expecting pixelated backgrounds and building interiors from a game that took four years to complete. Never ones to write a game off without giving it a fair chance, we tried multiple hardware configurations to coax Soulbringer into providing decent 3D graphics support. Voodoo 2 and 3, TNT2, Matrox G400, GeForce Pro, all the latest and greatest 3D cards of our time were brought in en masse in an attempt to run Soulbringer 'm the way it was intended. Oh how we laughed when we realised we were seeing the game the way it was intended. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't look awful, but you will definitely be taken aback when you load it up for the first time. It looks like something that should have come out two years ago except it's 3D, which is presumably the reason for the lack of visual splendour.
Infogrames says the game "could be described as pixelated, but could also be described as crisp or high-definition". Hmm, fair enough but it still looks pixelated from where we're sitting. Of course, graphics aren't everything, but we have come to expect a certain visual standard from new titles. Soulbringer does not live up to this standard, and graphics snobs will doubtless turn their noses up at it for this reason alone. Unfortunately, the problems are not purely aesthetic...
Ye Olde Interface
Soulbringer's control interface and the word 'intuitive' are destined never to meet. A roving camera that sometimes has a mind of its own, and a clumsy mouse control system for moving your character around and interacting with objects contrive to make simple tasks, such as picking things that you find in barrels and boxes up, a chore. Your character ambles along slowly to the designated point before performing the most convoluted 'item pick-up' ritual I have ever seen in a virtual reality video game. Worse still, the main character suffers from delayed reaction syndrome. Point the mouse where you want him to go, click away and watch him stand there thinking about it before he carries out your commands. This is irritating to start with, and plain old annoying at later stages when you come up against end of chapter 'bosses'.
I had a difference of opinion with an end-of-level zombie priest and found myself reloading several times, because the main character seemed to disagree with my opinion that he should get out of the way when heavy duty spells were being thrown at him. It was at this point that the suspicion the game had been rush-finished crept into the equation. Things such as donning armour that appears in your inventory but not on your character when you return to the game world suggests a lack of attention to detail. This in turn suggests that, after four years, the development team had simply had enough of the whole thing and pushed it out the door.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, despite the dodgy graphics and interface niggles, Soulbringer is worthy of your attention. This is why...
Brave New World
After a very shaky start, which basically involves completing simplistic quests and trailing back and forth from dungeons to town to stock up on mana potions and food, Soulbringer suddenly springs to life right in front of you. A very neat teleport system that allows you to travel to key places in the game using a central hub, called a Hex, makes Soulbringer a much more enticing prospect than it appeared to be at first. The main Hex is your HQ where you have people consigned to you to teach about magic and build you better armour without all the pointless traipsing about that marred the earlier stages of the game. Suddenly your spells get better - there are a lot of them - and you are no longer confined to the town of Madrigal (expect to spend at least a day exploring this town and its surrounding areas before the game opens up to you properly). The quests improve and become more varied, and suddenly you are playing an RPG with depth, instead of a mundane goblin-hunt. In short, it suddenly 'gets good'.
It the visuals and interface don't put you off, the repetitive slog to level 7 may well do the job. The only advice I can give you is to stick with it. This is no role-playing classic; it doesn't have the depth or storytelling prowess of Planescape: Tormentor the atmosphere of System Shock 2. But it's a good example of a well-rounded RPG, set in an interesting gameworld with a great spell system and a reasonable arsenal of olde worlde weaponry.
The Game That Time Forgot
Soulbringer, in all fairness, should have appeared about two years ago to have any real chance of making a big impression on the RPG community. Pixelated, poorly defined graphics and a complete lack of a multiplayer facility are not the hallmarks of a game that is going to take us by storm in the year 2000. You have to wonder what they've been doing for four years to come up with something like this when games such as Everquest were sporting beautiful 3D RPG worlds more than a year ago. Ultima Ascension also made a successful transition to lush 3D worlds recently, putting Soulbringer to shame visually, although, it's worth pointing out that Ascension is a bit pap as far as gameplay's concerned. It's just as well for Soulbringer that it has the gameplay to make up for its poor presentation, but it kind of hammers the point home that graphics are as important as gameplay these days, since we now expect all our games to look fantastic with the aid of the many impressive 3D cards currently on the scene A missed opportunity then, and more is the pity.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Soulbringer Screenshots and Media
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