Drakan: Order of the Flame
Action adventure games of the Tomb Raider ilk have followed a simple formula of third-person perspective, simple attempts at character development and plot, and detailed locations and puzzles. Drakan certainly fits the bill, with the emphasis on attempting character and plot development, rather than actually succeeding. The storyline – rescuing your brother from a great evil – quickly falls by the wayside. By the time you reach the tragically impotent ending (which, after some 30-plus hours of adventuring, offers little payoff), your brother Delon’s existence has been forgotten.
But it doesn’t take long to realize what makes the game tick, and why you’ll probably stick through most of it – that reason is Arokh, the dragon. Your partner in crime through much of the game, Arokh is controllable whenever Rynn (your female alter-ego) climbs on top of him. He’s not just a handy way of getting through the huge levels, but also a dangerous weapon. He looks incredibly cool, flies amazingly well, uses virtually the same control method as when you’re on the ground, and has some bad-ass flame breath. Throughout your journey you’ll be able to upgrade your dragon’s fire breath to more potent poison, ice and lighting attacks by finding magical crystals.
After proving adept with a sword, slashing and sashaying all in the same move, it’s a delight to find Arokh and get to the real good bits. The beastly Wartoks that had caused problems when fighting on foot now flee like the polygonal scum they are from the mere sight of the mighty red dragon. When you’re confronted by another dragon, the enemy AI exhibits some very adroit maneuvering, which sadly can’t be said for the ground-based enemies. Any appearance of actions resembling AI are generally scripted moments that occasionally manage some comic flair – such as the ill-timing of the rock fall trap that takes the hapless Wartok with it, falling to a deep-valley death.
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The puzzles are strictly average but effective, being mostly of the lever-pulling and key-hunting variety. Many of Drakan’s 11 levels are vast, but an excellent map function supplies a basic idea of where you’re supposed to be heading, with the objectives scrawled on and crossed out as they’re completed. The well-structured level design constantly points you in the right direction. Exploration is rewarded with caches of armor, weapons, or health potions in hidden coves. There’s a lightweight RPG element to all of this – items and weapons can be stored in your Diablo-esque inventory panel, swords wear out and eventually break, health potions are scattered everywhere and you’ll ocasionally find side-quests to complete.
Even after you locate Arokh and take to the skies, the game will still be a blend of airborne combat and hack and slash. You’ll have to traverse through large, gaping cliffs using Arokh, then jump off and proceed on foot through smaller areas that are too big for your dragon. Fighting on foot with hand-to-hand weaponry is probably where the game is at it’s weakest. Even on the lowest difficulty, Drakan is not an easy game, and you’ll often have to time your moves perfectly to bring down enemies without taking damage yourself.
By the end, the tricky battles, intense puzzling, and terrific textures had me look past the game’s bugs and only halfheartedly responsive character controls (on foot, at least). Drakan has its problems, sure, but it’s still a worthier action-adventure than many other Tomb Raider wannabes, and has that extra edge to make it stick out of the crowd.
System Requirements: Pentium 100 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 4 MB Video, Win95
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