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Review by: Brian Clair
Published: July 23, 1997
From the creators of Blood comes a new game based on a genre we don’t see very often — the side-scroller. Claw from Monolith Studios is the second game from the highly talented group which looks like it could be the surprise hit of the year. Based roughly during the 15th century, Claw takes us to an almost parallel earth where the known world is ruled by the Cocker Spaniard Kingdom. However, instead of playing a human, cyborg, or mushroom like in other popular side-scrolling adventures, you get to play a part in one of the classic rivalries — cats against dogs! Your role in this monumental adventure is that of Captain Nathaniel J. Claw, a feline pirate of the seven seas, infamous to all. The King, tired of your exploits, has put a rich bounty on your head of one million gold pieces, dead or alive.
At the beginning of the game we see Captain Claw’s ship under attack from the Cocker Spaniard’s. An unfortunate turn in battle sees our hero knocked unconscious from a fallen mast and when he comes to is under capture, his ship scuttled to the ocean floor. After some good ribbing from his pompous Spanish keeper, Claw is tossed into prison to await execution. Here, while in search of a hidden exit, he finds a note relating a story about the legendary Nine Lives Amulet with a piece of the map to its location. Whoever holds the amulet, it is said, will become near immortal with its power. Here the game begins as you attempt escape from your Spanish prison and your search for the gems that power the amulet.
Claw is filled with 14 huge levels to play through, with each level progressing you further towards escape and the Nine Lives Amulet. So how big is huge? Well, the first three levels will probably take you twenty minutes each, but once you hit level four, The Dark Woods, expect to spend at least an hour or more. Each level is unique and draws you far deeper into the story than you would ever expect a side-scroller to accomplish, but Claw does so easily. As an example, once you escape from La Roca prison, you fight your way through the Battlements to a showdown with your captor. Once slaying him, which is no easy feat, you escape to the Footpath and then The Dark Woods. As you reach certain points in the game, you’ll see animated cutscenes which relate more of the storyline to you. These cutscenes are professionally animated movies when it comes right down to it and their depth rivals some Disney movies I’ve seen. The movies run full screen using Microsoft’s ActiveMovie technology and while a bit more grainy than you might like, run without skips or other graphical pops we’ve seen in other in-game movies.
One thing I really noticed about Claw was how fluid the animation is throughout the game. Each character and background looks as though it was “painted” onto the screen. Imagine playing a cool 3D cartoon and you’ve come fairly close to what Claw is like. The maps contain that cartoon depth, with some of the background extending forward to conceal areas of the map. Plus, each character is drawn with such detail that you could just watch them for a couple of minutes and be entertained by it. Captain Claw himself, when stopped, will stand, chest pumping trying to catch his breath. It is action like this that I’ve only seen on some console systems in the past, never on the PC.
Of course, true to side-scroller style, there are objects to be picked up throughout the game, plus warps to secret levels. The main item you’ll pick up, either floating in mid-air or dropped when you slay some enemy is gold. Gold, as you might expect, adds to your point total during the game and how much your score goes up depends on the type of treasure you receive. The most common item is the gold coin, followed by items such as scepters, amulets, and even crowns. There are also special weapons you can pick up like the fire sword, which sends a burst of flaming death across the screen torching all the creatures in its path and special items like invisibility and invulnerability. These help to complement Captain Claw’s basic arsenal which includes his trusty sword, pistol, pack of dynamite, and magic. You may be wondering what magic is doing in a game like Claw, which seems to base itself mostly upon reality. Well, I asked myself that question too, but when you reach the higher levels, your pistol becomes almost worthless as the enemies either block or evade your shots. Magic on the other hand always seems to blast through.
Being able to play games with your friends is a very popular addition to most games these days and Claw takes multiplayer to an almost insane level. Whereas with most games you can only play with eight other people, Claw supports 64 players at the same time when on a LAN or online network! The network play has several cool features as well which include: level racing — for the best time or score across a level, marathon level racing — which is similar to level racing but the race can span multiple levels, the ability to use custom maps, and the ability to upload your high score to the Claw website for instant ranking with other players. Another cool multiplayer feature in Claw is the Claw Portal, which utilizes DirectPlay. This is part of Claw’s Internet Game Lobby which allows other players to chat with other players, host or join a game, get info on other players, and get info on games already in progress. Perhaps the only downside to Claw’s multiplayer support is that the game was designed to be used exclusively with Engage, which on first glance might make you think this excludes most of the people out there. However, since the game also supports LAN (IPX) games, you will probably be able to play on any online service that supports the IPX protocol for games.
In the near future, Monolith will also be releasing the Claw editor as a free download from their website. This will allow users to make custom maps for Claw which you can then use in multiplayer games. The editor will be the same one used in the creation of Claw, so it should contain all the functionality that map designers will like. Once the editor is released, I’ll be sure to add more information on it here.for hours, which is convenient, because that’s how long most of the missions take to complete!
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