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Daikatana
  Date: 2000-08-09

Wow. Here it spins in my CD-ROM drive  Daikatana, a nondescript, orange compact disc, containing years of effort from dozens of designers (most of whom moved on to greener pastures during the lengthy development process). After all is said and done, theres a game waiting at the end. As everyone will painfully recall, John Romero promised to make me his bitch, and after three years of waiting, I was ready to be violated.

The game kicks off in a futuristic Kyoto, Japan, which has been reduced to a neo-industrial conglomerate ruled under the iron fist of mega-corporation head Osaka Mishima (who, coincidentally enough, looks and speaks just like Lo Pan from John Carpenters Big Trouble in Little China). You assume the role of Hiro Miyamoto, a down-on-his-luck Kendo teacher, struggling to make ends meet while maintaining his cool, iron-jawed demeanor.

Late one night, Miyamoto is approached by an elderly gent named Ebihara (who must be voiced by Shadow Warriors Lo Wang), who informs him that the present day has been twisted and warped by the evil Mishima. Apparently, its Hiros destiny to confront Mishima and retrieve the Daikatana  a magical time-hopping sword forged by the Ebiharas thousands of years ago.

At this point, courtesy Ninjas drop from the sky and beat the bejeezus out of Hiro, and drop him into a makeshift graveyard on the outskirts of Mishimas turf. Fortunately, Mishima has been stupid enough to leave a powerful Ion Ripper weapon approximately three feet from where you land. If youre reading this magazine, you should have a pretty good idea of what comes next, eh? And thats the nutshell of this story-driven FPS.

Getting to the Big Man aint gonna be easy, though  this evil Mishima chap has some kind of sick fetish with creating robotic animals. He obviously gets a big discount on Evil Cyber-Frogs when he buys them in bulk from the distributor; the first few levels are packed to the brim with the damn things. When you turn a corner, you will find an evil frog. When you open a door, you will find more evil frogs. Blast open a wall, and chances are very good that evil frogs are awaiting your appearance.

After an hour of nuking cyber-Kermits and trudging through what looks like a terrible Quake II user mod, Hiro finally meets up with the man who promises to liberate him from this tedious hole of rehashed gameplay  Superfly Johnson (cough, cough). Mr. Johnson is the ex-head of Mishimas security, and has been portrayed with the same racial sensitivity as the characters in the feature film Im Gonna Git You Sucka. He also serves as the first of the in-game sidekicks who stay by your side and fight with you.

After hooking up with Superfly and busting Ebiharas lovely daughter Mikiko out of Mishimas prison, theres some time-traveling to be done. Youre dropped back into the days of Ancient Greece. The gameplay continues to be fairly uninteresting here as well  but now youve got a new set of lackluster weapons, and evil skeletons have replaced the robo-frogs. While the levels blockiness may be realistic for the time-frame of each era, anything that reminds me of the LEGO castles I built as a kid cant be good.

After defeating a dozen levels worth of skeletons, evil spiders, and English-speaking Grecian guards, its onwards in time to Dark Ages Europe. Here, you defeat evil rats, evil bats, and more evil guards. Finally you arrive in futuristic Alcatraz, where you defeat evil crazed prisoners, and then an evil boss. Much like your average drunken Japanese salaryman at a karaoke bar, this game does not know when to stop.

One things for sure: there is an huge amount of gaming to be done in Daikatana. Each of the four episodes features its own set of weapons, textures, and monsters, and could be passed off as an average-sized game on its own. On the other hand, while theres a lot of content in Daikatana, theres also a lot of content in the 48-chapter Sonic the Hedgehog versus Aliens fan-fiction series, so we know that more does not always equal better. Actually, I get the impression that Daikatanas epic feel is more of a result of slow-paced, find-the-lever gameplay, and the sheer amount of time it takes to ensure that your moron sidekicks get from point A to point B without getting their skulls split open.

Thats right  neither Superfly nor Mikiko are terribly helpful in your quest. In theory, both characters should follow you around and provide backup during heavy-fire situations. Unfortunately, the Quake II engine was never really built for this type of behavior, and the sidekicks never present themselves as more than slightly retarded AI entities who need to be babysat 24/7. You can give them basic orders via hotkeys; theyll attack, retreat, or pick up certain items if you tell them to, and even climb ladders and crawl through passageways (but they wont jump). Unfortunately, there are no commands for Dont get crushed by the swinging door or Stop humping the corner of the room, dimwit.

Your partners also verbally berate you whenever you bump into them, which seems to happen at a frequency of twenty times per minute. I can only imagine how much sooner this game would have shipped had the sidekicks gotten the axe. Nevertheless, youd better get used to them  theyll be tagging along, delivering poorly written banter and giving you headaches for around three-quarters of the game. (The only line that solicited a giggle was Superflys threat of pounding me into ass dust if I accidentally shot him again.)

One easily overlooked aspect of Daikatana is the whole RPG aspect  youre actually getting something for mowing down hordes of demon frogs. Experience points are dished out whenever you dispatch an enemy, and you can allocate bonus points to abilities like speed, acrobatics, and power. If you opt to use the Daikatana for combat, the experience points are collected by the sword itself, resulting in one whoop-ass melee weapon at the end of the game.

Aside from pithy RPG elements, Daikatana also adds liberal amounts of frustration for anyone who wants to save their game whenever they want. Taking a page from those nefarious console games, you must pick up red Save Gems before you can make a record of your progress. I believe the majority of gamers will find this as appealing as a grapefruit-juice enema, especially when forced to replay hideous sequences over and over again (just wait until you get to the jumping puzzles  shudder).

Similarly snore-inducing is Daikatanas multiplayer deathmatching, which crams those pithy RPG nuggets into a plain-vanilla online beatdown. Yeah, there are some nice features  the maps scale based on the number of players, and Death Tag is fun for a few run-throughs, but the levels are pretty weak, and the weapon selection is just as gimpy as the single-player modes.

On the plus side, both you and a buddy can slog through the story in co-op mode  a feature thats been missing from a lot of FPS titles these days.

While the gameplay remains stale through all eight gajillion levels, the in-game visuals make frequent leaps between blah and beautiful. While some stages look like an amateurs first attempt at map- making, others force you to step back and admire the architecture. The Daikatana team managed to modify the Quake II engine to include volumetric fog, light flares, and wonderfully atmospheric rain and snow effects. The character textures are amazingly detailed, thanks in part to the uncredited current id Software texture artist, Kenneth Scott. Similarly top-notch is the soundtrack, a good percentage of which was composed by the also-invisible Will Loconto. I can only wonder how many people really contributed to Daikatana  I have a feeling that the actual staff is a good deal larger than the dozen fresh faces in the credits.

No matter how much wed like to ignore the games tortured history, the disc itself reminds us what a long, strange trip its been  the readme file, penned by Romero himself, addresses the reader with the same nervous Hey! Were buddies, arent we? Ha-ha-ha! attitude that a 10-year-old would adopt before telling his father that he just spilled a can of rubber cement on the new couch. I get the impression that Daikatana lives up to Romeros original vision for the game  and had the game been released in 1997, the gaming media would have been screaming in pleasure. If only John could use that replica Daikatana of his to teleport back to the past, and hand over the existing build to the bigwigs at Eidos to make the original Christmas 97 release date. As it stands, the release of Daikatana signals nothing more remarkable than the end of an era in fandom.

 Colin Williamson

   
M A G A Z I N E    R A T I N G:
53%



Updated: 8.17.00

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