Ubisoft Dark MessiahMight and Magic review
A first-person shooter that successfully blends the fantasy game genre with that of Half-Life 2
Ah yes, fantasy games. In general, you either get them or you don't. Many fans of the first-person-shooter genre don't, mainly because the vagueness of casting spells in an enemy's general direction lacks the visceral satisfaction of shooting high-velocity projectiles through their head. It's a valid point of view.
Dark Messiah Might and Magic, however, takes the primitive pleasure of slaughtering enemies to unheard of levels for a fantasy-based game. You think shooting zombies with a nailgun was fun? Try dispatching an orc by hurling it at a wall of spikes. Or kicking it in the face until it falls off a precipice. Or bringing a few hundred tons of rock down on its head. Are you getting the picture? That's right, Dark Messiah offers countless ways of divesting your foes of their corporeal existence, mixing both conventional FPS-style blasting with EverQuest-like magic, while adding considerable amounts of murderous originality of its own.
Dark Messiah is powered by the exceptionally super Source engine, as used in Valve's brilliant Half-Life 2 (see issue 124, p292). If you've played Half-Life 2, there isn't much more that has to be said, save that the degree of scenery interaction is even better.
When it comes to combat, things are inevitably a little complicated when you're attempting to fight realistically with swords and daggers rather than aiming a gun and firing. There's a skill system through which you can upgrade weapons, combat and magic abilities via skill points earned as you progress. These give you talents such as special moves that need to be activated with a specific key sequence. It's easy for what's supposed to be measured combat to descend into the old hammering-every-key-hoping-I-get-lucky style of fighting, but there's much satisfaction to be gained from learning which moves work and when.
As far as the feel of the game world goes, there's a definite air of "Fantasy Half-Life", and a meaty, multimap quest to get your teeth into. The plot is sub-Tolkien tosh and should be ignored, but once the game gets going you'll find yourself in impressively cinematic environments, with in-game characters doing their autonomous-interaction thing and delivering scripted lines to good effect. When your quest kicks off, you'll also be quickly introduced to Leanna, a comely female sidekick whose mannerisms and coquettish hair-twizzling bear an uncanny resemblance to Alyx, the denim-clad love interest in Half-Life 2. There's a good sense of a beginning, middle and end to your quest's travels and, although the thrill of cutting the head off your thousand-and-first orc does wane, the entertainment factor remains generally high.
Graphics-wise, the Source engine's abilities are put to full use, including HDR rendering. Dark Messiah doesn't display quite the jaw-dropping brilliance of Half-Life 2's environment design, but it isn't far off, and will certainly tax any graphics card that's not bang up-to-date.
There's longevity in the game too. A full run-through of your quest on normal difficulty will eat through about 20 hours of your life, and multiplayer is, well, dead good. You'll need a Steam account to play, and standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes are joined by Colisseum, in which players fight gladiator-style in front of an audience of other players; and Crusade, a complicated affair in which two teams do battle on a number of maps, attempting to work toward the ultimate goal of getting to their opponents' stronghold map and taking it.