The Wheel of Time had a tough row to hoe when it was released in late 1999. It had a few things going for it, namely the latest Unreal technology and a deep story based on the series of Robert Jordan books. But at that same time, it also had to contend with a flurry of PC releases that rank among the very best: Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament, and even the highly anticipated Half-Life: Opposing Force expansion pack. All in all, a pretty respectable group of games, which The Wheel of Time subsequently found itself underneath.
Better than the books?
The shame of it was that The Wheel of Time was one of the best first-person shooters of its day. It contained a solid single-player campaign, featuring an engaging story arguably paced far better than any of the Jordan books on which it was based, and a weapons system that eschewed standard FPS fare in favor of a larger group of "ter'angreal" -- magical artifacts that offered the player the ability to do far more than shoot. The Unreal engine was used to great effect, with many levels featuring jaw-dropping architecture, and even the multiplayer featured a unique team-based "Citadel" mode that allowed teams to scenario, which sadly never quite caught on. Over 60 minutes of cutscenes with more polish than many games released today, a Celtic-inspired soundtrack to help set the mood ... The Wheel of Time was one of the best titles you've never played.
Sluggo: I reviewed The Wheel of Time back in 1999, and even as the game was coming out, I predicted it would be buried by Quake III and Unreal Tournament. I hate being right!
It was a shame, because the game often ventured off the path that so many shooters lean on ... and succeeded far more than not. There hadn't been many games with a female protagonist at the time, and you could actually see Eleyna's personality develop throughout the game as the story progressed and she became more confident. The ter'angreal concept was well-implemented; even with 40 items to juggle, it never felt overwhelming. The levels were simply interesting to stop and look at, and were also a bigger part of the action than most of its peers, with levels collapsing around you or scripted sequences propelling the game onward.
The good news is that, since it used Unreal tech, it's still possible to grab a copy of The Wheel of Time and bump the resolution way up so it's still somewhat playable. I actually recommended this as a possible alternative to Unreal II a few months back -- if you want to play something a bit more original with more story than your average shooter, The Wheel of Time still holds up today.
Kindrak: I played this game on Sluggo's recommendation -- bought it in a bargain bin for $7 and I almost wish I had paid full price for it. There are very few enjoyable female leads in games -- and I mean "enjoyable" in more than the "Double-D" sense. I'd also grown tired of carrying around lightning guns, M1 carbines and rocket launchers, so the well done use of magic was extremely refreshing. I'll admit I didn't buy this game because I simply assumed it was going to bite the big donkey. I mean, a Wheel of Time game?! No one can make an FPS out of that! Fortunately I'm not the PC editor here at GameSpy or I'd have some serious explaining to do these days. One very major underrated portion of this game is the multiplayer. The level designs are a little weak, but the ter'angreal offensive/defensive balancing act makes for deathmatch games that require the players to be extra aware of their opponents as opposed to just knowing where to aim.