Die By The Sword

Walking the fine line between innovation and irreverence.

Snap7Split right between the middle like so many of its polygonal monsters is Die by the Sword, a fascinating technological demo masquerading as a game. Looking at the native Rendition or 3Dfx accelerated visuals, it’s easy to dismiss it as a Tomb Raider clone. This isn’t entirely inaccurate as it is a third-person combat game with the odd puzzle sprinkled here and there. While its mix of gameplay isn’t close to being revolutionary, the game’s control scheme definitely is – dubbed VSIM, it’s the second major innovation in 3D game control (the first being the mouse-look interface).

VSIM mimics human movements using the keyboard, mouse or a joystick (a keyboard is the preferred method, though your mileage may vary). Once you get over its rather steep learning curve, it becomes remarkably intuitive, giving you more of a sense of connection to the on-screen action than any other game of its pedigree. VSIM alone almost makes the game worth the price of admission—too bad the rest of the game isn’t its equal.

In the game, you navigate 3D environments chopping up well-animated polygonal creatures with a big sword. It might sound simplistic, but the gruesome details make Die by the Sword a charmer. After all, how many games let you chop off an enemy’s arm and beat him senseless with him? This game definitely leads to and encourages deviant virtual behavior. Unfortunately, the thing is surprisingly unpolished, especially when you consider it’s been in the works since 1996. There are a lot of problems with the 3D engine – the disappearing walls and weird flashes ruin any sense of immersion.

Snap25There are multiple ways to play the game. In Quest mode, a rudimentary story lets you experience the combat in a basic level-by-level process. Overall, it’s not particularly satisfying, save for a few levels with interesting puzzles. It’s over way too quickly (only eight small-ish levels, plus a relatively easy end battle), there’s too much jumping, a problem made difficult by the clunky controls, and too many boring mazes and not enough chopping. The game lacks the standard “save anywhere” feature, and uses checkpoints instead. They’re frequent enough, but do add some level of annoyance.

Two additional gameplay modes offer some variety. A Tournament mode is modeled after the standard Mortal Kombat-style fighting game. The Arena allows you to set up battles between yourself (as any character in the game) and four other beasts. Over a LAN, those four players can be humans. Overall, Die by the Sword is an underdeveloped game that’s salvaged by its innovative though still imperfect control technology. It’s a nice blast of hack and slash that could have been far more.

System Requirements: Pentium 100 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95

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