Drakan: Order of the Flame
Psygnosis has come up with a jaw-dropping take on the Tomb Raider craze, plopping the requisite busty babe on the back of a dragon for an action-packed adventure filled with dive-bombing fireball runs and plenty of ground-based hack-n-slash combat. Drakan's plot is standard save-the-world stuff with a fantasy bent, but the already dazzling graphics and gameplay outshine the story line. Flying the dragon is an effortless, instantly enjoyable experience, and the fun grows as you rain death from above or clamber off the dragon to slice through foes. Gorgeously detailed 3D landscapes only increase the anticipation for this smokin' prospect.
Download Drakan: Order of the Flame
Rynn is a protagonist of the Croft-ian variety (meaning female, well-endowed, and scantily-clad), whose brother is kidnapped by a vicious horde of orcs and wartoks. In her quest to rescue him she awakens and then bonds with Arokh, the dragon-hero of the now legendary Order of the Flame. Together they follow the trail of Rynn's brother only to find that it leads to a dark and sinister plot to return an ancient evil to the land of Drakan. (Admit it -- you knew it would.)
What fan of fantasy games and literature hasn't dreamed of flying on the back of a giant fire-breathing dragon, burning your enemies from the sky or simply feeling the wind in your hair as you examine the beautiful vistas before you? Drakan: Order of the Flame fulfills this desire with a dragon to ride, enemies to flame, exquisite 3D graphics, 3D sound, and force-feedback joystick support. The only thing they forgot to include was a fan to give that "wind in the hair" feeling. Of course, only part of the game takes place astride a dragon. The rest is a third-person hack-'n-slash action game with the puzzles and plot of an adventure game. As an action/adventure game crossover, Drakan definitely falls more into the action genre, much to the disappointment of many adventure game purists. Personally I was just disappointed that it wasn't a role-playing game. But more about that later.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Since it's a third-person game, the view is that of a camera from just behind Rynn. You control her movements through a combination of keyboard, mouse, joystick, or gamepad, and I found that the default controls of keyboard and mouse worked quite well. The controls for Rynn map well to controlling Arokh. There's very little mental adjustment to playing the different modes, although ground combat is the area where Drakan really shines. Rynn has several different attacks, some of which require a variety of key combinations and include jumps and rolls. Rynn's weapons are rated for length and speed, and some have special abilities like flaming, which causes extra damage and lets you watch your foes burn. Monsters have their own fighting style and Rynn must adjust to each, balancing her reach, weapon speed, and type of attacks. The game adds some thoughtful touches too. When attacking an opponent with a shield, you must direct Rynn's attacks against the unshielded side or you'll simply hear a clank as your attack lands ineffectually. Armored opponents fall much quicker when you have the foresight to switch Rynn's weapon to an armor-piercing one. Footwork and dodging are also important as Rynn will rarely be in a situation to go toe-to-toe with her foes. You get to make up for that when you have the opportunity for Arokh to battle non-flying foes. A couple of flame breaths and most enemies are "toast."
Most puzzles in the game are the pull the levers, push things around, and step on the pressure plates in the right order type. Frequently there is a barrier which prevents Arokh from passing, and Rynn must leave him to battle monsters or solve puzzles in order to open it. Most of the puzzles are not very difficult, and if you get stuck there are walkthroughs available on the net.
I am consistently amazed at the current abilities of 3D game programming and 3D accelerators. My video card has a Riva TNT chip which is sufficient to play the game with a good frame rate and most of the detail turned on. All I can say is that I'm really impressed by the job the art and programming teams have done. The outside vistas are outstanding and the caverns are nearly as good. The "special rooms" are really something to behold. The dynamic lighting is superb. The lava caverns give a red glow to everything and the flaming sword illuminates and casts shadows. All the cut scenes are done with the game engine. The only real problems were that Rynn would occasionally jump into a solid surface and there is poor camera movement inside close quarters -- a problem common to all third-person games I've encountered.
My system can't take advantage of the 3D audio, but the sounds I did hear were impressive. Most active elements have sound effects, even creaking floors when Rynn walks across them. The only disappointment was the voice acting, but for computer game standards it's not that bad.
P166, 32 MB RAM, 4 MB D3D video card, DirectSound card, 4X CD-ROM drive, 320 MB hard drive space, DirectX 6.1
Drakan is rated Mature by the ESRB and this rating shouldn't be taken lightly. There is a lot of blood and gore in this game; fortunately it has an option to set the gore level to none, some, or excessive. The game also includes a password to lock the gore setting to none. While I didn't like playing the game on the "excessive" gore level, I must admit to a certain satisfaction of seeing orcs splatter when tossed about by giants.
I know it's a fantasy game, and I know it's not a simulation, and I know that nobody knows how dragons would really fly, but I have to express a major frustration with the game's "realism." The dragon Arokh flies alternately like a hummingbird or a truck. When "at rest" in the air, Arokh hovers in place just like a hummingbird. From this position he can fly directly up, down or to either side. However, when in forward flight, Arokh is difficult to control since you can only control his bank, not his heading. The upshot of all this is that in a dogfight moving forward is the quickest way to get shot down. Circle-strafing will carry the day every time.
Overall I really enjoyed Drakan despite its few weaknesses, but I was constantly wanting to play it as a role-playing game -- really immerse myself in the game world -- but alas, maintaining suspension of disbelief is all but impossible. There are no uninvolved NPCs except for torture victims and insane miners. Your interaction with others is limited to cutting them up or watching cut scenes. While the external views are gorgeous, you'll find that every area (even the ocean) is enclosed by mountains too tall for Arokh to fly over. The caves and caverns have multiple passages, but there are no wrong turns. Either the way dead-ends quickly, often with a weapon or magical item for your trouble, or you'll find that all paths lead to your next goal -- there's no need for an automap here. Rynn is healed only with healing potions that fly out of some monsters when they are killed. In fact, the whole escapade must take place in a single day since Rynn never rests and one location leads directly to the next.
Don't let these gripes keep you from trying the game, however. If you're looking for a third-person action game that lets you go beyond "raiding tombs," then pick up Drakan and get medieval on some brother-snatching baddies. And besides, where else can you fulfill the dream of torching orcs as you fly over them on the back of a dragon?