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Graphics: On the surface, the visuals might not sound too enticing. Revenant is limited to a resolution of 640×480, and while hardware acceleration is supported, its main benefits are faster frame rates when the detail is boosted and enhanced lighting effects. Furthermore, the environments are built out of hand-painted tiles and the character models have more in common with the cubic enemies of Virtual Fighter than PC offerings that smooth out the jagged edges. There are also frequent pauses during the outdoor sequences to load new map details. Still, this description of the basic features is deceiving because this is a beautiful game, full of attractive artistic touches. The hand-drawn environments are much more elegant than the barren dungeons and forests of competing titles. While the outdoor areas are flat and have the appearance of a soft impressionistic painting, the castle and dungeon interiors are great, and all the maps are stuffed with interesting and intricate details, from puppets moving across a miniature stage in a village square to large demonic statues and dead creatures dominating the screen.
Adding to this appeal is colored lighting that gives the different areas the perfect ambience, whether it is the blue luminescence of a dungeon or the red glow of the caves. There is a broad assortment of creatures and each is brought to life with numerous idle, battle and taunt animations. The low-detail models are appropriate given the fast beat-em-up nature of the action–and it should be noted that there is some impressive responsiveness in terms of how models respond to being hit–but the animation is not as smooth as it should be. Another memorable aspect of the graphics is the spell effects, which ignite the screen with dazzling colors and visuals. A lot of time and unique talent was invested on these and the rest of the graphics, and it shows.
Interface: The interface presentation is uneven. On one hand, the main menu structure is brief and functional, meaning there are just a couple menus between gamers and the action, and all the technical options are contained on one screen–including two that streamline combat: face enemies and automatic weapon draw. Three modes of control are supported and each is 100 percent configurable: mouse, gamepad and the good old fingerboard. The mouse or gamepad are preferred as using the arrows limits people to east-west-north-south movement instead of 360-degree turns. Given the fighting game nature of the combat, there are a lot of commands to remember, including offensive and defensive moves as well as the all-important parries and spells.
This is where things get a little convoluted as basic navigation is best accomplished with the mouse but combat is better served using the fingerboard since dodges require additional input. If things get too complicated, using the mouse in combat chooses random assaults, enabling users to just point and tap through the battles. The in-game HUD, however, is a mess. Cinematix attempted to create a powerful schematic but ended up cluttering the screen with a confusing set of overlapping selections, including two separate inventory modules, a spellcrafter module, a stats module and more. Space is limited and fills up fast; while using pouches to store similar items together can be practical, it also adds another level of complication. While I appreciated the depth provided through the extensive list of available spells, armor and so on, I spent too much time mouse-tapping through the menus to get things in order. Ending on a positive note, the manual is superb and includes a command hot list on the last page.
Gameplay: Revenant is the most adventurous of the action-oriented RPGs to hit shelves so far because it dares to delve as deep into the combat as the character development; few compromises are made on either end. For starters, the combat is quite cool due to all the moves one can perform. As an action fan, I found I could spend a moderate amount of time on such RPG elements as purchasing and selling equipment and developing abilities, and still be successful–something I appreciated. However, trudging through the game using magic and delving deeper into the RPG aspects reveals an inherent defect: things are balanced in favor of combat and against the use of magic. It is much easier to defeat enemies with the blade than a spell, and experimenting with the talismans is a precarious and halting process. Although one must still develop themselves into a strong character through combat, parries are too effective in warding off assaults, so while the action was far more frenzied than is typical for this genre, it was not tense. Even some of the boss encounters, including the final confrontation, need adrenaline injections. Thus, action fans will find the pace to be somewhat disappointing while RPG devotees will scorn all the arcade-oriented fisticuffs.
There is also the overwhelming sense that, as much content as there is in terms of special moves and spell potential, the game is unfinished. Combat cries out for bow implementation for those who prefer ranged combat and the online mode is nothing more than basic deathmatch. There is no co-op, which is a shame because it would have been a blast slashing through the dungeons and pummeling creatures with a friend. The adventure- and puzzle-oriented exploration and sidestepping of traps was a welcome change of pace for me, but again, the implementation is too simple for RPGers, who might find the tossing of levers and searching for access through a door tedious. The non-linear nature of the exploration and quests was appreciated, but this is offset with NPCs who seem destined to join the questing but never do. Also missing are randomized quests. All in all, the game contains considerable depth and offers some decent fun for both action and RPG fans, but neither resolves the complexities of blending these two diverse genres nor offers much replayability.
Sound FX: The sound effects operate on two levels, one of which it executes quite well and a second that leads to a lot of unintentional laughs. The environmental effects fill out the ambience with precision. Creatures growl with appropriate displeasure and stimulating BAMS! BIFFS! and POWS! punctuate the combat. Spectacular whooshing spell effects fill the audio, and in the quieter moments, one can hear birds chirping and insects buzzing outdoors. Where the audio stumbles is with the voice acting. When I previewed the beta, I was convinced the actors were placeholders; not so. Our hero is much too enraged and over-the-top despite having been ripped out of the bowels of hell; he softens over time but is never convincing. Most of the other actors are so listless I wondered what it was about their credentials that got them the job. There is the occasional shining moment, but considering the amount of NPC interaction, the voice acting should have been better.
Musical Score: Despite supporting a strong action-oriented game, the music in Revenant does not attempt to hammer people into submission. Over one hour of atmospheric and tuneful CD-based music is provided, with strong ethnic and tribal tones placed underneath slender electronic and quasi-acoustic melodies. This is proof that game scores can be memorable and tension-inducing without debilitating into fluff or engulfing users in the tempestuous “Is it live or is it Memorex?” experience. Songs do loop instead of appear on cue during dramatic sequences, though certain ones are tied to specific areas, such as a village, shop or dungeon.
Intelligence & Difficulty: The character building and puzzle solving do not present a challenge, nor does the AI aim higher than the standard level of intelligence for the genre. The real challenge is in how one approaches combat. Should our hero avoid face-to-face confrontations and instead develop expertise in magic, or lambaste one creature after another to build strength and endurance? Or is a careful mixture of both preferred? Magic is slow but effective, while concentrating on combat provides the easiest path through the game. Balancing the two is a tougher proposition since some of the creatures require an inordinate amount of thrashing to bring down, something I found difficult when not having developed enough prowess in combat. RPGs are about choices, and I had a much easier time when I gave up attempting to balance combat and magic and just concentrated on thrashing enemies around and building up material stats. There is one extended sequence about three-fourths through in which exploration through winding caves becomes an extended exercise in bewilderment and frustration, but overall, the maps are small and do not lend themselves to wandering about searching for the next thing to do. Indeed, Revenant is over just when it feels as though things are warming up.
Overall: I was battling an Earth Golem when he slammed me down on the ground with a fierce blow, then hopped on top of me and planted several successive and even fiercer blows into my face. That was when I gave up deliberating that Revenant might be more of an RPG than an action game. It can be approached as one or the other and is fun at times, but missing a sense of completion. I experienced no notable bugs during extended sessions and the graphics were smooth across the board; in addition, the graphics are unique and downright beautiful in places. While the magic is unweildy, the fast-paced punch-em-up action has more depth than is characteristic of this genre. However, it is also unbalanced against the enemies in that using parries is too effective in staving off assaults. The interface is also more convoluted than it needs to be, which is a disappointment after the efficient presentation in Darkstone. Then there is the missing co-op and stripped-down deathmatch, which will disgruntle those who were hoping for an online beat-em-up with quests. Imagine a well-intentioned puzzle with several important pieces missing, and that is Revenant.
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