13-Aug-2001 Guinevere was only thirteen when Arthur was supposed to have married her. Paul Presley feels a somewhat unnatural kinship to this Arthurian legend...
It's time to go all introspective for a moment. I miss the good old days. I miss the days when adven-ture games were written by people whose only concern was to tell a story and tell it well. I miss the days when people weren't afraid of text on the screen, when Infocom games were held in high regard, and the term 'point-and-click' existed solely in interactive dictionaries. I miss typing 'Go North'.
Adventure games hit a kind of peak towards the end of this period, when LucasFilm (as was) were right on top of the world and challenge wasn't equated with boredom. But then the general attitude shifted: CGI machines were invented, rendered graphics came along and gave everyone their business cards, and the world of adventures died. Yup, right then and there, with the very first 3d-animated intro sequence. And now they all have them. Filling the cds with rendered this and rendered thats so that you can no longer enter a screen without waiting 30 seconds and missing all the subtlety. And graphic artists are in charge of the games - it's like putting Damien Hirst in charge of a sheep farm.
Chronicles Of The Sword should have been great. It's set in the time of King Arthur, it focuses on a knight who has been given very little airtime through-out history, and it doesn't have any fmv in it. It should have been great - but it isn't. Here's why...
Research, every little helps
The story is so trivial when you consider the potential of the subject matter, you would think it had just walked out of nursery school. Camelot is being threat-ened by Arthur's sister Morgana le Fay (who's also an evil sorceress), and it falls on you to stop her. You, by the way, are Gawain, a newcomer to the castle of Camelot and you're eager to prove your worthiness to sit at the Round Table. Stopping her involves just about every fantasy cliche in the book, including fighting a skeleton, conquering a dragon, a magic ring, saving a maiden, dealing with fairies and so on. There are some nicely crafted puzzles to negotiate in a few of these separate areas, but they don't tend to meld into the game world too well. It's as if they're good puzzles in themselves but the subject matter surrounding them is irrelevant.
About four years ago Sierra released a game based on the Arthurian legends. I forget its name but it was based around Arthur's search for the Holy Grail. Okay, so COTS is about Gawain and not Arthur, but the point I'm trying to make is that Sierra's title was written by Christy Marx, an Arthurian enthusiast with a passion for her subject - and this came across in the game. Things seemed real and authentic, and you felt as though you were actually learning about Arthur as you went along; consequently you became more and more drawn into the action. I remember a great feeling of satisfaction when I finally finished it (which is no mean feat in itself). COTS, on the other hand, is dull, consisting of some medieval stereotypes presented in a fancily-rendered environment.
But don't get me wrong. I've nothing against graphics. I'll be the first to say, 'Wow! Look at the polygons on that!' when something flashy whizzes by, and COTS certainly has more than its fair share of 'Wow!' moments - but come on, they aren't the be-all and end-all of an interactive experience. Having said that, they're nice, although there is a slight problem in that they move a bit too slowly around the screen. There are a fair amount of redundant areas to trawl through when wandering around the game world, and an updating map with some sort of 'Go straight to...' button wouldn't have gone amiss.
'Tis but an end
So, basically, if you want a couple of nice puzzles and some lovely graphics - but little else - buy Chronicles Of The Sword. If you want a decent, gripping and well-told story about the legends of King Arthur, go to your local video shop and rent a copy of Excalibur (it's a brilliant film, made even more so by the fact that Cheri Lunghi gets her kit off). Or if you want a laugh, there's always that Monty Python thing... Z