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
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.