Rune: Viking Warlord
Darkness descends on the Northlands; the evil God Loki has declared war on any Viking tribe that follows in the righteous path of Odin. Dark creatures begin traveling north and the army of Hel is preparing for war. The battle lines have been drawn. Only a courageous few have the mettle to defend those who can't. Of those few, only one man will rise above the others and be granted the opportunity to avenge the betrayed... by using an axe.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Vikings are cool. Videogames are cool. Viking/videogames are not cool. That's not true, I would be remiss in my responsibility to issue a blanket statement like that. It should be more like: Viking/videogames should be cool, this one is not. When I first saw Rune: Viking Warlord, I about crapped myself. The website screenshots looked awesome, as did the back of the game. Hell, I was even stoked about the premise; enraged Viking warrior hacks and slashes his way through insurmountable odds in an effort to stave off the evil God Loki's attempt at ruling the world. Everybody that I spoke to about this game wanted to play it. Here is an actual character that is based on a people that had a berserker's rage. Who wouldn't want a mad-as-hell Viking in their corner if they were planning on battling frost giants and goblins? Well, let me tell ya, when I first popped this disc in my PS2, I knew I was going to be disappointed. First, there is a fairly long load time just to get to the menu, then another fairly long load time just to get started. Okay, I can handle long load times if the end result is worthy. Instead, I got this poorly looking, dark intro about how Ragnar (your character) has passed the trials to become a member of the Odin's Blade, an elite warrior group that defends his tribe. All right, I said to myself, as my opinion of the game continued to sink. Another long load time... and a brief tutorial which insists that you pass one final test (although, the intro just said you passed all tests), that being to go fight the weapons master in town. Once that is done, there is another long load time followed by another looong cut-scene in which your life is spared by Odin who grants you one chance at vengeance. Blah blah blah.
Rune follows in the tradition of Oni, where controlling the character means steering him with the left analog stick and steering the camera angle with the right analog stick. Having played Oni, I felt I had a leg up on most gamers since this control configuration can be pretty tough. Literally every button is used in Rune, and more then once I got splattered, or fell, or was eviscerated because I got flustered and managed to hit every button but the right one. But, after some practice I did manage to get it down to an acceptable science. But it is important to mention that often the camera stick becomes engorged into the scenery and requires some serious movement, specifically when Ragnar first goes into the water for a swim. With my air meter rapidly depleting, I couldn't get the camera to angle up through the lip of land that I needed to climb onto and, subsequently, I died. It wasn't until I began employing somewhat crazy tactics (looking down onto Ragnar while swimming upwards, allowing the camera to come straight up out of the water) that I found some mild success. Still, this is not how I feel the game dynamics should have been. What ever happened to a 3rd person perspective where you didn't need to control the camera? It worked in the Tomb Raider series just fine.
As far as the bad guys go, the AI seemed a little better than most, some monsters would attack from my blindside in an attempt to ambush me, while others attacked in hordes. They were also an acceptable menagerie of villains -- berserkers, frost giants, goblins and wendols to name a few. The monsters seemed to flow well with this type of story since they all seem like the kind of critters that would dwell in the frozen mountains of the Northlands. I felt that making the dwarves bad was also a cool addition since typically they are portrayed as relatively good in other games and movies.
Having watched "The worlds strongest" competition on ESPN many, many times, I actually believed that a man of Nordic descent could wield an axe big enough to chop a Buick in two. And in this game you get a chance to do some serious redecorating, as the selection of weapons couldn't have been any better. Swords, maces, hammers and the largest axe I have seen since the early Conan comics.
You even get the chance to use the destroyed bones of a fallen skeleton warrior. Plus, on a side note, all weapons can be thrown at enemies for a little bit of ranged fighting. I also liked the fact that Ragnar can carry a shield and that the shield can be damaged after fighting enough enemies. No problem, drop it and pick up another one. A fairly realistic depiction of melee combat. Additionally, when Ragnar changes weapons, you actually see him (for example) sheath his sword and then remove the mace that was dangling from his belt, yet you can still see the sword. None of this "disappears into thin air crap" -- you actually see the weapons that he isn't using as he carries them around. This was by far one of the few positive notes in the game.
Completing the game will involve jumping over traps, activating switches, and solving rudimentary puzzles. Fortunately Ragnar has the ability to climb up ledges (I hate it when games do that) and run and jump with the best of them. There are a few surprises, but nothing really worth writing home about. Ironically, there is really no character development within the game. Reading the instruction manual provides five times the information about Ragnar then the game ever does. As far as I know, he's a mute. Which, again, is sad. I know that Viking lore is full of color and content, why the game makers decided to make Ragnar a character straight out of "Golden Axe" is beyond me.
Rune features a multiplayer game much like gladiatorial combat. Up to four players can compete in the various arenas. Players select the specifics of the games like time limit, score limit and gravity. Since this game is based on the Unreal engine, one would think that the multiplayer aspect would be superior. And while it's certainly not superior, it isn't too bad. Similar problems such as controls (see above) and less than spectacular graphics do hinder the gameplay. However, there is some fun to be had battling your buddies.
Like I stated before, the website shots and back of the box shots look great. But the game fell desperately short. It was far too dark to see the beautiful graphics we know the PS2 is capable of making. Ragnar and his fellow Vikings looked muddy and uninspired. I had read that Ragnar himself contained 70,000 plus polygons (something like that), well it doesn't show. Additionally, I was really surprised that Take-Two didn't make this the bloody violent game one would expect from a Viking game. It would have been awesome so see the gore fly as Ragnar is literally bathed in the viscera while splaying a hellhound. But alas, no.
As I type this review, the only thing that stands out to me is the music, a tribal gothic music that fits almost perfectly for the plot and setting. But I cannot say that the sound effects and voice acting were done with much moxie. Odin sounds like he really needs an enema. Other tribe members sound unintelligent, I know they are practically barbarians, but even barbarians can be smart. Just look at Thundarr, he scored a hot sorceress and a wookie impersonator to do his dirty work.
A game that looks like it could have been put out on the PlayStation, with poor controls, zero character development and below par graphics, Rune is a hollow shell of what could have been a sleeper hit. Yes, it does have some redeeming qualities, but they pale in comparison to its major faults. If you must play this game, rent it first. But, I can't really recommend that either.