Sunday, January 13, 2008

Achilles



I feel sort of bad for this game, because when I first saw Achilles I couldn't help but be reminded of Romanius, a swords and sandals action game from about a year ago. This was unfortunate as it had me comparing the two, which wasn't fair. For one thing, Romanius could be challenging, sometimes infuriatingly so, but it looked great, the animation was fluid, and it was a lot of fun. Achilles looks great and that's about it.

As the title would suggest, you play the mythical Greek hero, battling your way singlehandedly through five levels and fifteen stages of soldiers from all over the planet. Strangely, despite the variety of enemies, from your bog standard Greeks to Romans and even Saracens, you fight them all on the same piece of rocky beach, which at least means you can go home every evening after a hard day's hacking and slashing for tea.



Controls are simple, with A and D to move left and right, W to jump, S to defend yourself and the attack buttons are T (slash) and Y (kick.) The controls are also slow to respond, so you could easily be getting sliced up by a barbarian with a bad temper before you manage to leap away. You start off every level with a spear, and as you can see in the previous screenshot, I put it to good use. In fact, throwing the spear at an oncoming bad guy is the only way to make it useful. You would assume that the extra reach advantage would make killing Greeks a doddle, but you'd be wrong.



You face the usual array of swordsmen, spearmen and archers, but the archers are the only ones who give you any real grief in the first two levels. This is because they have the wonderful ability to fire at you from off screen. And because the arrows are usually flying too fast for you to react in time, the result is you've already taken damage before the enemy is even visible. Great. On the bright side, your health bar is refilled before the start of the next level, but if you're already low on health and an archer is taking potshots at you from somewhere off behind a rock that's not going to be much consolation.



To say I was disappointed by the first level boss would be an understatement. First you go through several of his underlings before you face the big bad guy himself. I was so busy concentrating on not getting another arrow in the ass that I failed to notice this was the boss. As he jumped around I thought, "Wow, this guy's a little more difficult than the other spearmen. I hope I have enough health left to defeat the boss." Imagine my surprise when the level ended once I'd rammed my sword down his throat. Since there was nothing to visually differentiate him from the grunts, it felt like something of an empty victory, like I hadn't killed the boss, just the assistant boss, as the big guy himself was on a late holiday with the family in Marbeya.



Another annoying aspect of the enemies was their variable difficulty. While one swordsman could be defeated by a single swing of your blade, the next one that comes along could take four or five hits before going down. This probelm persists throughout the game, with only the speed with which the enemies move making any real difference. Really, that just compounds the problem - get stuck facing two bad guys and you're guaranteed a good arse-kicking, if not death.

I want to take a moment here to write about one of the fundamental rules of side scrolling action games. Like any good rule it can be bent, but the general consensus is if the hero begins a level on the left-hand side of the playing area then their goal, whether it be a checkpoint or a boss, should be on the right. It makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, you would never have seen Sonic the Hedgehog bounce across Green Hill Zone only for him to have to backtrack to find Dr Robotnik. So with this in mind, and with only the Level 2 boss left to defeat, I marched bravely to the right.

And I kept marching, for about three or four minutes. I was starting to get a little pissed off. Where was the boss? Evil and tardy - Jesus! After an age, I decided I would try my chances and move left. Even though it went against the basic rule of side scrollers, even though Achilles can't even face left unless an enemy is there, I walked back to the start. And sure enough, after another minute of walking:



There the fucker was. Suffice to say, I took great pleasure in treating him like a life-size voodoo doll, throwing spears into his neck until he finally fell back and died.



I relished that victory while I could, because after him the bosses become hard as nails, and you are guaranteed to die at least once, no matter what you do. The Level 3 boss kept kicking me in the nuts and then hacking at my neck, handing me my ass in record time. The problem is that you have very few effective attacks. Yeah, you can jump and swing your sword in the air, but you have to time it perfectly, or you just leave yourself open to more punishment. Often dying is the best approach, as you become temporarily invincible after a regeneration. I must admit the regeneration is cool, as a pool of blood collects around your head, only for it to flow back into your body as you leap to your feet.



Quite often the main problem stems from that old friend, hit detection. Once you start meeting a bunch of enemies you'll inevitably end up standing right on top of them (or from the player's perspective, right in front of them.) You end up swinging into air. You can't move, because if you do you'll be open to attack, and the bad guy isn't about to do anything except repeatedly stab in front of him until he hits something. In other words, you're pretty fucked.



To the developers' credit, they don't hold back on the gore. Time a strike just right and you can cleave an enemy's head clean off, watching as it flies through the air. Legs get broken and hacked apart, spears run through eyesockets and blood flows everywhere. Plus leaving a swordsman with a spear through his chest, his limp body perched on the wood, gives you the chance to crack witty one-liners like, "Stick around." Or something.

(Because you see, it's a spear, but it's made of wood, so it could also be a stick. So, "Stick around." Get it?


Fuck you.)




The last boss is this big mofo, and if you don't have three lives at this point, then I'm sorry, you're already dead. This son of a bitch is bigger than you, he's faster and he has more than twice the reach that you do, meaning that you really have to die, just so you can be invincible for a few seconds and do as much damage as possible before you go jumping off and hoping you can get close enough to at least nip him from time to time.

And your reward for finally defeating this monster?



Well, that figures. I've wasted far too much time on this slow, lumbering, infuriating game, and I would ask that you don't make the same mistake I did. If you must play a Greek hero slashing away at baddies, play Romanius. Or if that's too difficult, play its sequel. But if you end up playing the games I review anyway just to see if you agree with my assessment, or if you're thick, then go play Achilles.

6 comments:

  1. You must be joking..? Romanius is lame, it has pathetic animation and requires no skill. Whereas achilles is great

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  2. Except that Achilles is slow, the enemies are either moronically easy or frustratingly difficult, and the animation, while arguably nicer to look at than Romanius, is still nowhere near as good as can be achieved with a little more time and effort. Romanius might be getting on a bit but it's still that one thing any good game must be - fun.

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  3. 3 lives 4 the last one? lol, once u die u have a lot of "immortality time" in which u can devast him!
    one death is just what will come from the big boss...
    the others are easily killed without getting stabbed: there is a way for each!
    i reached the 5th boss with all my 5 lives still untouched and lost only one by him. suppose everyone can do it^^

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  4. I never said I was a good gamer, just a snarky one. :p

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  5. I got so interested on your post! hahah! I'll try this game too. thanks for this post!

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  6. Ya dude you are really dumb and dont know what the hell you are talking about. Romanius sucked and Achilles is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better

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