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Review by: David Laprad
Published: October 22, 1997
Dark Angæl is a mythic new side-scrolling action game from Vicarious Visions. Like all good fantasies, the story takes place in a time of legends and chaos. The evil Azrael, the Guardian of Chaos, has freed himself from the grasp of his opposed, the benevolent Aesudrah, the Guardian of Order, and transformed the people of Avalon into his servants. With their souls now a shadow of the will of Azrael, they summon creatures of unimaginable horror from the darkest corners of existence, unleashing an apocalyptic wave of destruction. Reaching beyond the veil of mortality with his last vestige of strength, Aesudrah finds one noble soul beneath Avalon and prepares her for battle against Azrael and his minions. As Aesudrah releases his essence and is scattered to the ends of Avalon, he places a portion of his consciousness in the warrior so that she might rise from the grave. This warrior then storms Avalon with a vengeance, intent on destroying all that stands in her path, knowing it will lead her to a final battle against Chaos himself. The warrior’s name is Carina, the Dark Angæl.
To bring its lavish world to life, Dark Angæl employs an enhanced version of the innovative Abuse engine. The improvements are numerous; the game contains CD music, graphic novel-style cut scenes, a greater variety of artwork, 3D rendered characters, and beautiful hand painted backgrounds. The game is also one of the first plot-intensive side-scrollers since Prince of Persia, and admirably lives up to the superb standard set by that classic title. The story, settings, and characters are a mix of eastern and western mythology and religion, and the game expertly integrates the action with elements of the time-honored graphic adventure to provide an involving, dramatic experience.
Dark Angæl is surprisingly non-linear for a side-scroller. Most puzzles and areas have multiple paths and solutions, and depending on the path taken, the game can be easier or harder. For example, there are five super powers Carina must find, three of which can be acquired in any order. Since the powers allow her to pass certain obstacles and areas more easily, situations can be resolved differently depending on the route taken. Additionally, the player can make decisions that simplify life for the time being, but create problems down the road. What Carina does in one area affects not only what happens on a different level, but at a different time in the game as well. For example, there are non-playing characters Carina can converse with to advance the story and receive clues to puzzles. These NPCs can be killed, but Carina will suffer the consequences.
Carina is a heroine, and the game strongly encourages the player to direct her actions accordingly. Games that allow players to inject their own personality can be highly absorbing when done right. Equally captivating, however, are titles that develop a well-conceived main character. With the exception of the voice acting (more on that later), Carina is as perfectly formed as any protagonist in action games; this is largely due to the elaborate story that hinges on her role, and the one-liners she delivers. I also like that Carina is dressed appropriately for combat. I am a founding member of the Lara Croft fan club, but it is refreshing to see a more conservative, realistic approach to modeling a female action game character. If I were a woman battling the demonic forces of hell, I would not hesitate to turn my arsenal on any testosterone-laden artist who attempted to outfit me in tawdry apparel!
For all the attention given to developing a strong story and main character, Dark Angæl is, at heart, an action game. There are four primary weapons: the default plasma gun with power-ups; a dart launcher that burrows darts in targets and destroys them after three seconds; a powerful fire arrow crossbow; and a one-handed freeze gun that can stop an enemy in its tracks. There are also five superpowers Carina gains as she collects the scattered remnants of Aesudrah’s consciousness: Psychic Attack, Reflection, Teleportation Coins (toss a coin and Carina will teleport to the location of the coin), Mutator (mutates health into ammo and visa versa), and an omni-directional Energy Wave. The weapons are very effective and well-balanced, and the use of super powers adds a strategic element to the game and provides for some cunning puzzles.
Dark Angæl features an engrossing and well-developed story, a solid main character, and plenty of action, but how do these diverse elements come together? Is the action as intense as the drama? Do the animations match the splendor of the high-resolution graphics? What about the all-important control system? Read on…
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