After a somewhat successful outing with Sir-tech’s Druid, game developers Synthetic Dimensions have proven they can successfully mesh innovative visuals and a sleek user-friendly interface with the standard adventure game format. Now, with Psygnosis’ new Chronicles of the Sword, they’ve refined their engine to a razor’s edge to tackle the legend of King Arthur. Featuring nice high-res graphics and a fairly simple movement interface, there’s no doubt they’ve created an attractive game world. And this time around, minor annoyances like the touchy movement interface have been noticeably refined since Druid. But while control is improved and the visuals are suitably rich and vivid, the gameplay is overburdened by a half-realized story line.
Chronicles of the Sword tries to tap one of the richest veins of myth in history, and the premise certainly sets the stage for a thrilling adventure in Camelot. You take the role of Gawain, a young knight asked to thwart the witch Morgana, the half-sister of King Arthur. Morgana is trying everything she can to do away with Arthur and take his place, and only you stand in her way. Unfortunately, this is the total of the Arthurian myth used in Chronicles; while the legend is loaded with rich characters, tales of romance, and a web of subplots, none of them is used here.
Instead, we’re offered a by-the-numbers series of quests to undo a generic baddie. Gawain becomes a mere lackey for a succession of people he meets along the way, who send him hither and yon on endless (and pointless) sub-quests. Much of the game is spent chasing around the countryside looking for objects people have requested.
This is made all the more disappointing by the fact that the game becomes a maddening pixel hunt for objects. While each of the location screens is gorgeously rendered and highly evocative, objects within them are so hidden that you have to run mouse tracks back and forth over every inch of every screen to make sure nothing is missed. When you finally do come across something and juggle it into your inventory, you’ll find using it even more of a chore. Puzzles and object manipulation are fairly scarce, and puzzles that seem to have perfectly logical solutions are usually solved by the least logical means.
During the numerous dialog exchanges, the characters tend to drone endlessly. Worse, these exchanges seem irrelevant to much of what is going on. If the dialog was used to tell an interesting story, it might be worth sitting through, but as it is, I found myself clicking through most of the conversations and quickly skimming the on-screen text for useful information.
Synthetic Dimensions has created some of the best-looking visuals yet seen in a traditional adventure game, but they forget to put a meaningful story and game into them. Visually and aurally, it’s top-notch, but it doesn’t measure up where it counts: content.
-- T. Liam McDonald