Cooking with The Dark Messiah

Dark Messiah of M&M logo

Dark Messiah of Might & Magic is a 2004 first person fantasy game about crawling through dungeons, hacking and slashing, plus occasionally finding secrets. There’s some role playing in there too since the protagonist gets skill points in predefined moments of the game and can spend them on select skills – magic, stealth, bow-shooting, sword-swinging and similar methods of monster-hurting.

The game has a story too. I even liked it at the beginning – it’s a reverse of the usual “avatar of good raises to defeat the evil.” Here you are a dark messiah, preparing to bring death upon the world. The anti-hero also has two sidekicks – Leanna and Xana – who play the role of an angel and a devil. They whisper into your ear advice and promises. It’s all an incredibly fun setup that unfortunately leads to an utterly lackluster ending. One of the reasons for that is the thin plot – not much happens throughout the game – and the other reason is the protagonist. He doesn’t have much of a personality, his brain activity is barely existent and he maybe too naive.

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic - boarding a ship

However, unlike many first-person heroes he has a body. When you look down, you see his hands, his torso and even his legs. The guy interacts with everything and everyone without being a disembodied sword-holding hand floating in front of the screen. And all that because the developers treated the combat of the game with utmost care. Melee is visceral and meaty, weapons have a visible impact. Your body language is important because it creates a dance of destruction at the center of this gaming experience.

That’s the best part of Dark Messiah. That’s the part that makes it such a gleeful romp. I was merrily stabbing monsters in their ugly backs and cutting them apart, running circles around terrifying giant jumping spiders, kicking orcs off the cliffs and throwing goblins into the fire. And I had much too much fun while doing all this. I’ve read reviews that suggested it gets stale and repetitive but that wasn’t my impression. There were always new and exciting ways to dance the danse macabre with my warrior rogue.

Dark Messiah Cyclops

The responsibility for that bear in part the creatures of the game. They may be a visually-generic bunch – the orcs are clearly heavily inspired by The Lord of the Rings in their apparition and equipment while dragons, goblins, cyclopes, zombies, knights and necromancers look merely typical – yet despite all that they all have quite a lot of character. Just lurking in the shadows and listening to the complicated discussions on the merits of goblin cuisine was a pleasure, and all the quips during combat where equally nice on the ears (the goblins wanted to eat them and argued who should have dibs on my eyes).

The hunt for long lost artifacts and monsters takes place in the underground lairs and tombs which are fantastically designed. There are both vertical and horizontal travel, many well-hidden secrets and cool but deadly traps. I’m not much of a dungeon fun because it’s usually dark and samey in those but Dark Messiah managed to make it interesting. The graphics are certainly helpful too. They may be a decade old but some of the shadow and light play is still spectacular.

I played the PC version of the game. There is an X-Box 360 edition too and it’s supposedly worse because the game doesn’t control with a gamepad as well as it does with a mouse and keyboard combo. But the PC version has it’s own faults too. All the movies are recorded and shown in 4:3 aspect ratio which means large black bars on both sides of the screen on modern monitors. Luckily, there aren’t many of these cinematics and their quality is dubious but that doesn’t change the fact it’s annoying. I’ve read that the game had a fun multiplayer too. Unfortunately, the servers for that have been turned off by now. Ah, the modern times. Also, there are bugs. The game crushed a couple of times on loading screens and it always exited with an unexpected error when I wanted to quit. The former was rare and autosaves plus quicksaves helped in dealing with the problem, and the former wasn’t really detrimental in any way. It was actually amusing – the game couldn’t believe that I was leaving! The error symbolized the disappointment in the player leaving the fantasy battlefields for the real world.
How dared I!

Drunk Necromancer
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is a flawed gem. It’s a missing link between Arx Fatalis and Dishonored. Arkane Studios really perfected first-person close-quarters combat between the three games. They haven’t yet managed to create an engrossing story, and I sort of doubt they ever will but that’s secondary because the gameplay is their main objective and the result is incredibly well-cooked. The game is linear but allows for exploration – if you want to look, there are secrets abound. It’s relatively easy to get through the story using one weapon or one spell too, but equipping every single things you can get your hands on is infinitely more amusing. After all, the controls are in the hands of the player, you shape the fights, and only you have the power to steer them to the bloodied underground tunnels of fun! Yes, it’s that sort of a game.

[The game is old, so probably cheap to get in a physical form. I got it digital off GMG during a promo some time ago. The game activates on Steam anyway.]

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News of the Day

April-Fools-News

After PAX East and GDC there have been a ton of news flying around through the Internet, electrifying the blogosphere and twitting on Twitter. As a nice person with good intentions, I have accumulated all of the information in one place. It’s a condensed info-blast straight from the horse’s mouth into yours!

  • The new Batman game will really take place in Silver Age and will have the same gameplay as previous Rockstar ones. The world of computer gaming is not ready for this but you will take it. And you will like it.
  • Half Life 3 won’t end on a cliffhanger. That’s a promise.
  • Assassin’s Creed V won’t have a dual narrative. No more jumping into the future for exposition talks. A large number of players present at PAX were very angry about this news and threatened to pre-order the game only three months before its premiere.
  • The new Mass Effect will be taking place before all the races of the universe mixed their DNA with humans. Moreover, there will be no xenomorphs, no zombies and no Cthulhu. This time the ending will fit the rest of the narrative.
  • Activision hired professional level designers for single player campaign of Call of Duty.
  • Warcraft IV won’t have a corruption of an individual at the center of its themes and narrative. A first for Blizzard.
  • The indie developers have created SPLIT (Strategic Platformers Limitations Indie Talks) – a treaty to limit the number of platformers released every year. The current convention proposes the maximum to be an annual batch of 142 games.
  • GTA V will revolutionize open-world gaming again. Because branding.
  • Final Fantasy XV won’t have all the graphics, will have a great story.
  • During the meeting between the presidents of Capcom and EA, a historical agreement has been made. They both agreed that transforming cool horror games into expensive action shooters is dumb. And they won’t do it again.
  • Nintendo promised to release the next big Mario game on every next-gen platform including PC. Fans are outraged because they are worried about the financial results of such a bold move.

I think this is all for the grand news. I strongly doubt anyone got better ones anyway.

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The Unauthorized Biography of Super Hexagon

Super_Hexagon_logo
Super Hexagon is a very simple game for iThings, Androids and PCs. Super Hexagon is about a triangle that mustn’t collide with shapes or it’s game over. Super Hexagon doesn’t have a narrative. Learning to control Super Hexagon takes two seconds, finishing Super Hexagon is possible in two minutes. But you won’t do that in two minutes. It’s an addictive, slickly designed game with a beat. This is what Super Hexagon is on the surface. Here’s what I’ve seen in my mind while playing the game:

It was during a cold winter of 1984 in USSR when Alexey Pajitnov was discussing geometry with tovarish Cavaghnov. They roughly harassed their mighty beards and drunk like mad. And they hadn’t had a civilized exchange of ideas either.  Alexey was opposed to the concept of existence of an object with more than four sides to it in their programming projects. He thought more would be too expensive, too lush, too complex, maybe even blasphemous. “Tetra’ is good enough,” he was repeating in angry voice, “it’s my key to immortality!” But Cavaghnov didn’t listen. He was already scheming pentagons and dreaming of hexagons. Five and six dancing at high speeds in an explosion of colors and beats. What beautiful ideas were born in Cavaghnov’s head!

But he was careless. In a drunken stupor, he let Alexey surprise him and throw him into their prototype time machine that stood just by the window and behind the table. No one knows what it was doing there, but it’s easy to understand why it was there. It was fate, a perfect design of fate. It was waiting for Cavaghnov to fall into it and transport him into the future. Far away from origins of computer gaming and their inherent simplicity and elegance. He quickly become lost in the digital land of high budget explosions and violent violence. Yes, the time machine has taken him to the 21st century.

Super_Hexagon_3

And yet it wasn’t hate that struck his heart at the time, no, no, that came later. At first, our tovarish decided to acclimate – he changed his name to Terry Cavanagh, he acquired an impeccable command of English and journeyed into the lands of Internet to update his programming skills. There, he learned some Flash and some C#, and created his first digital child – VVVVVV – which he promptly released it upon an unsuspecting world and all was good.

6Vs is fantastic. Graphically it is a relic of the long forgotten past, but in terms of platforming gameplay and satisfaction that it can bring, it was something different. One might go so far as to say ‘better.’ Cavanagh was content for some time, but he knew this wasn’t it. He used a power of six but it wasn’t the six that he was destined to create. The advent of hexa this was not.

Thus, the process of designing begun anew. The memories of time travel – rapidly changing shapes and explosion of colors – have haunted him throughout. And a certain harshness of the whole process returned and invaded his mind. There was no fear or anger in Terry’s head. Instead, there was a godlike understanding. He finally understood what needs to be done. And then, then when he finished the thing, he saw it for what it it was – a computerized monster he brought in his brain from the void on the verge of time.

Super_Hexagon_5

Though, I guess, a more appropriate term would be ‘a virus’. When other people see you play it, they will easily get interested and maybe even catch it too. But it’s dangerous – the visual transmission of Super Hexagon may lead to drastic results! Photosensitive seizure warning has never been more essential to a game’s spirit. If you are prone to dizziness, it will eat your eyes and liquidize your spine.

In this way, I believe Super Hexagon could easily be used in training of cosmonauts. As a matter of fact the game uses a lot of subliminal advertising of Pentagon. The word is often repeated during playthoughs, and one can imagine that Cavanagh struck this ad deal with the US Department of Defense after they failed to weaponize SH.

They failed because, despite what some individuals may think, Super Hexagon isn’t a crazed, difficult weapon of gaming hatred. I mean, in the beginning it is – when you lose a session after 2-3 seconds, it’s impossible to feel differently. But give it a couple more hours and you shall start to see things and understand things. Super Hexagon is like a palate cleanser of the mind. The further you get, the more you fly away, the less frustrated you feel. And your muscle memory does the rest. It’s strange and different even if in reality it’s such a simple simple thing.

Super_Hexagon_1

[Here’s the trailer for the game, because you need to see it move and sing. Here’s the online demo, because you need to experience it. And here’s a link to the official site. The game seems to be on a $1 sale on various platforms.]

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