Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse
Ahoy! SSI - purveyors of all that is troll-packed and Tolkien-esque - have changed tack. Pack away your leather hosiery, ye rpg stalwarts, shove all your +3 armour and vests of shimmering mithril in a dragon-skin chest and hide it in yonder dungeons (i.e. your cellar). The new colours for this season are Persian. What's out: steel boots, doth tunics, magic broadswords and the Helm of Kakkanda. What's in: Pointy shoes, baggy trousers, scimitar, a turban, and a distinctly European complexion despite the fact that the protagonist is quite obviously Arabic. AI Qadim, you may have gathered, has a distinctly "eastern" feel about it.
It's difficult to work out why ssi have plumped for the Arabian Nights style setting. It's too late for an Aladdin tie-in, and too early for the Islamic invasion of the West (Nostradamus, Century v, Quantrain 79). Nevertheless, A! Qadim has you in control of the youngest and feistiest son of a rich Middle-Eastern nobleman. Years spent being a corsair, riding the wild seas, battling sea serpents and storms, making close friends among the all-male crew of your rugged boat, has not diminished your affections for Kara, the beautiful, but ultimately docile, daughter of Caliph, the big cheese in these parts. Now, after years spent rubbing rum in to the pores or your fellow seamen, you've decided to go straight and trek your way back to your much-missed, beloved, middle-class love chum.
Things are compounded, of course, by several foreign bodies. First is your mentor, Master Corsair Sinbar, who insists you pass an agility test of death (a sort of Krypton Factor assault course with scythes) before you can continue. Then, when you survive this, you have to contend with all manner of monsties, God-like genies, feuding families, sorcerers, and some mumbo-jumbo about a prophecy and some shadowy demons.
Most of the action of AI Qadim revolves in and around The Crowded Sea: an isolated pocket of islands, famed for its magical mystical goings-on, and in particular, Sorcerer's Isle: home of the world's, er, sorcerers, and even more in particular, the town of Zaratan: a mystical magical place where all sorts of hocus-pocus, witches conventions and the like happens. In the past, Zaratan was a prosperous old place. People skipped gaily in the street. Everyone was well fed and wealthy. Love was in the air. But then some monsters inexplicably attacked the town, murdering its inhabitants and laying waste to its Arabian architecture. The ruler of the town called on his genie, Mirza Gubishbuskin, to destroy the monsters, but the genie refused. Mirza, you see, has been freed from his slavery by some unknown force and he gaily - and some might say, very Robin Williams like - told his master to shove his quaint eastern village up his kyber and zipped off into the sunset. The townspeople rallied and managed, just, to beat off the furious attack. The mysterious force which freed the genie is still as yet unsolved, but the rumour is that a force more powerful than genies - no! (yes!) - is attempting to take over the world.
In the eight-way scrolling, view-from-above vista that is the Al Qadim world, movement is a doddle. You simply hoist the mouse pointer in the direction you want to go and off your baggy-trousered fellow goes. If the pointer comes into close proximity of your character, it becomes an action icon with which to open doors, slash with a sword and pull switches. An inventory is also on hand in which to stash your magic potions and weapons, all of which can be readied in your hands for combat. Combat is in real time with you dashing about the screen, slashing and dodging monsters.
Characters and domiciles are scattered hither and thither throughout the sandy sub-tropical landscape. People can be spoken to and a list of Monkey Island style "talkie" alternatives can be selected to milk info.
Objects are restricted to potions, gold and magic things. Potions are generally for healing and making you invulnerable to various elements. Gold and gems allow trading for weapons and potions, while rings and magic shards increase your offensive and defensive potential. Magic Shards contains spells which will be familiar to those breast-fed on ad&d ale. Cone of Cold? Magic Missile? Lightning Bolt? You know the drill. The nasties, however, are a hotch-potch of traditional ssi fare (zombies, ghouls, giant spiders) plus some new Muslim monsters. Among these are Ettins (two-headed cavemen), Nas Nas (one-legged re-animated corpses which, surprise, surprise, hop about), Markeens (lesser genies), and the snappily-titled. Miniature Copper Automaton (a small metallic robot thing).
Al Quadim: The Genie's Curse is basically a top-down Prince of Persia with "interactive" bits. You can almost see the thought processes going on at ssi hq. They're of the Ultima VIII concept variety: the "our games are alienating in their techy adherence to a long since defunct rpg ethos" type thoughts. The "people want easily digestible lumps of action and interaction as part of a balanced gameplaying diet" line of musing. See? This is what the console generation has done to pc gameplaying. All games must now be custom-designed for short attention spans and game players who want to "jump" and "fight".
Yeah, yeah, so reams of saddo rpg is yawn-city, sometimes. But what games developers fail to see is that it's not the quantity of techy rpg elements, the amount of dwarves, magic scrolls, treasure or whatever, that makes a game inaccessible and dull - it's the way these mainstays are presented. They take out the masses of characters because "they're boring", disregarding the fact that the characters are only boring because they haven't made them interesting. They swap their turn-based combat with a real-time fighting engine and think that's all they have to do. If the realtime engine is crap, it doesn't matter because it's still real time, in vogue, on the cutting edge and, above all, "what the people want". Nah. I'd rather have a slow-poke but challenging turn-based combat sesh, than a limited, ham-fisted real-time one. (I think you're getting a little carried away - Ed.)
What this bile-soaked angst-ridden sermon is all leading up to is that Al Qadim: The Genie Curse is not very good. On the aesthetic side it has several bad points. The scrolling, although fast, is blocky. Dashing about therefore, as you do, makes Genie look like a mid-8os shareware game. The graphics are poor: poorly animated, poorly coloured and not at all scary or convincing. However, the sound is good: sampled cut and thrust, metal-on-metal type noises accompanies combat, monsters roar and grunt, while a Middle-Eastern sitar ditty plinks on in the background. The control system works; you can hare it around at a rare old pace, avoiding this, slinking around that, but it's the "this" and "that" which spoils it. There's too much combat. You can't stroll anywhere without being attacked by a whirlwind, wild boars, rats, spitting flowers, spikes, flameballs, green snot-like monsters, magic forcefields - everything. There's barely a moment's rest. And the combat system is awful: you have one scimitar move - a slash - which can be powered up to a massive three as you gain experience. So, basically, you run away from things and then attack things. And like ShadowCaster, there are few interesting objects to find and none to manipulate. The interaction adds something, but when your character is a cocky-like corsair with crap lines to address to thin Middle-Eastern stereotypes, it's all hardly worth it. And to add insult to injury, the manual is totally patronising and obviously written with pond life in mind e.g. "Hint: flipping a switch may affect an area." Oh really?
All in all, ssi groupies may find something of interest here if they look hard, but those with too long an attention span and an adversity to thinly-disguised beat'em ups masquerading as "all-action role-playing games", stay well clear.
Download Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP