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Why aren't there more games out there like this?
The Witcher is based on the series of fantasy novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, though the story in the game itself is an original one. The protagonist is Geralt of Rivia, a witcher, who from mutagenic potions and years of training is a tough and dedicated monster hunter. Thought to be dead, he mysteriously reappears near the witchers' stronghold, Caer Morhen, with severe memory loss.
The story is more mature than most with difficult decisions at every turn, usually with no 'right' choice, but one that seems to be the 'lesser of two evils.' The world Geralt inhabits is dark and realistic, with issues such terrorism, drugs, prostitution and ethnic cleansing being just some of the things he has to face. The consequences of your actions usually come back to haunt you at a later stage of the game. The world is nowhere near as large as in many other RPG's, which does feel a little restrictive, but also favours quality over quantity. The characters are well drawn and believable. People go about their daily lives around him, the villages and city bustling with activity. In content the world is very adult, with Geralt able to indulge in pleasures of the flesh with alarming regularity! You have relatively few options in character creation and development, which will put off some people. Personally I found it easier than trying to get to grips with the bewildering array of options of race, class, sub-class, proficiencies etc. that many RPG's give you to contend with at the start. There are still ways to tailor Geralt's skills to your preferred playing style by focussing on his swordsmanship or magic. Upgrades in the form of bronze, silver and gold talents are given on each level up to spend as you will, bearing in mind you will not be able to accumulate enough to specialise in everything. Geralt is the only playable character in the game so it limits re-playability and is also probably not the best choice for gamers who prefer party adventuring.
The engine is based on the one employed by Neverwinter Nights 2, but this feels considerably different, especially in terms of combat, where timing your attacks is crucial to defeat tougher opponents. There are 'strong,' 'fast' and 'group' styles which are used against enemies as appropriate to their own abilities. Geralt uses a steel sword against humans and the like, while his silver sword is far more effective against monsters. Magic is extremely simple to use and can be easily used in combination with physical attacks without slowing down the action.
Simply put, 'The Witcher' is one of the most entertaining, involving and original role-playing games seen on the market in quite some time. For fans of the novels, it captures their spirit excellently, and is well worth seeking out. It is also worth mentioning the soundtrack which is superb. I had some trouble with reliability playing under Vista, but not enough to serious affect my enjoyment.
Delightful Medieval Mystery Series
Cadfael is a medieval detective series set in mid-12th Century Shrewsbury against the backdrop of a devastating civil war. It is based on the entertaining and popular series of novels by Ellis Peters, the pseudonym of Edith Pargeter. The protagonist is a Benedictine monk, Brother Cadfael, the crusader-turned-herbalist at the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, who finds that the only way to get justice for the corpses that come under his care is to investigate the murders himself.
Many of the intricacies and sub-plots that brought such life to the source material are cut out to fit the stories into 75 minutes. Only 13 episodes of the 20 available books were filmed, which is a shame, although from reading the entire series I would say that arguably the best stories got through. The adaptations are good despite their limitations, but it is noticeable when the original (and superior) dialogue is used. The sets and costumes look great and the Hungarian location is a more than adequate substitute. The authenticity in the series is much higher than in most films set in the era.
The role of Brother Cadfael is played brilliantly by Sir Derek Jacobi, who delivers a performance that really brings out the different facets of the complex character of a former crusader and sailor who settles for a quiet life in a monastery. Though he was not the first choice for the role, it is hard to see how anyone could have improved upon his work except to perhaps bring out more of the Welshman in him. The support is mostly excellent, with actors such as Terence Hardiman, Julian Firth, Michael Culver etc. turning in memorable performances. It is a shame that they could not have had more consistent casting of law man Hugh Beringar and it is not just the actor that changed he went from being a level-headed and intelligent man in the Sean Pertwee era to someone who believed in testing guilt by throwing the accused in a river during the Anthony Green phase! Unfortunately occasionally there is some unintentional hilarity from the poor dubbing of the Hungarian extras.
Cadfael is worth seeking out if for no other reason than because it is a refreshing change from the CSI-type mysteries that fill our screens, with a different setting and a focus on knowledge of human behaviour rather than forensics (though Cadfael is well ahead of his time in the latter discipline!).
Simon the Sorcerer (1993)
"Simon the Sorcerer" features the adventures of a teenage boy, who manages to enter a fantasy world courtesy of a spell-book he comes across in his attic. The premise is a little weak, starting you off without much in the way of instruction other than you somehow need to defeat the evil sorcerer Sordid. You are however allowed to explore a large portion of the map without having to solve any puzzles giving you greater freedom than most adventure games do. There are many colourful characters around (mainly from a wide variety of fairy tales) who need Simon's help and it is up to him to provide it. These include the Billy Goats Gruff, Rapunzel and even talking woodworm! The voice acting is excellent, with Simon's voice done by Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf).It is a pity that he did not return for any of the sequels.
The interface will seem remarkably familiar to anyone who has played any of the early LucasArts games such as "The Secret of Monkey Island," with various commands available to you such as "consume" and "wear." There are slightly more than you need as "use" could cover half the functions. You also start with a postcard for saving and loading your game and a map that neatly allows you to travel instantly to some of of the major locations you have previously visited such as crossroads. This makes it a lot easier to traverse the large landscape that varies from swamp, to forest, to frozen wasteland. The graphics, though VGA, are beautifully drawn and so pleasant to look at that it lends weight to the argument that 3D photo-realism is not necessary in adventure gaming. The environments are rich in detail and many contain background animation of squirrels, birds of prey, snakes etc. that add to the charm.
I am also impressed that patches are available on the AdventureSoft website to enable the game to be played on Windows XP/Vista, the kind of support that is so lacking on so many older games and makes them virtually unplayable today. Another reason to play this highly satisfying adventure that has aged surprisingly well.
Fields of Glory (1993)
Competent Napoleonic Battle Simulation Game
'Fields of Glory' by MicroProse is a strategy game which features the four historical battles that occurred in the 100 days campaign of 1815, namely Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre and Waterloo, but also adds two fictional battles that could have happened if history had taken a slightly different turn, Nivelles and Wagnele.
The battles take place in real time and are scored according to casualties and objectives completed like capturing key positions or dispatching troops off the map, e.g. at Wavre where the Prussians can be sent to reinforce Wellington at Waterloo. You get a top-down view that cannot be rotated, though the magnification can be changed to three different levels, with the middle being the most useful.
The lowest tactical level of unit that you control is a brigade for infantry and cavalry, and battery for the artillery. Any smaller and controlling 70,000 plus troops at once would have been unwieldy and impractical. The graphics are nothing special with pixellated, badly animated troops with one man representing about 70 or so in real terms. This does create impressive size armies on the battlefield that other strategy games rarely match.
Tactically, the enemy is not particularly astute, often doing nothing and leaving the initiative with the player. When the A.I. does launch attacks, it will usually pay little attention to the terrain, so that men and cannon get bogged down trying to cross a river while your artillery picks them off at leisure. This can get a little tiresome when playing as the allied forces (Anglo-Allied or Prussians) as you are on the defensive in all the battles. It is possible to change the course of history, though this is mainly due to the fact you can see the enemy positions and strength the latter ability is taken away however on increased difficulty settings.
You are rewarded for using the correct tactics i.e. infantry will have a much better defence against cavalry if they are in the square formation, and will inflict more musket casualties on enemy infantry if arrayed in line. There are some unrealistic features such as counter-battery fire which was rarely encouraged during the period for its lack of accuracy. In 'Fields of Glory,' one battery can easily rapidly wipe out another. As a resource about the 100 days campaign it is far more successful, with informative biographies of all the divisional commanders and above. It is an extremely well researched database that will be interesting for anyone keen on learning more about the period.
Carry on Quizzing (2006)
Good Carry On DVD Trivia Game
'Carry on Quizzing' is an entertaining DVD interactive quiz game. It is hosted by Richard O'Brien who is pretty good, though his connection to the long-running film series is tenuous at best (he was an uncredited extra in 'Carry on Cowboy'). His links are amusing and he displays the easy charisma that made him such a popular presenter of the 'Crystal Maze,' but it would have been better if there had been more links to make multiple plays more rewarding. In particular his 'round one' joke gets tiresome pretty quickly.
The game is divided up into four rounds of five questions each, though there is not much difference between each round as they are all a mixture of categories. At the end of every round you or your team move along the corridor in the Carry on 'Hall of Fame' to a picture of one of the films or the stars. This is a little confusing as there does not seem to be any reasoning behind the order. There are over 600 questions containing stills images, quotes, and short, classic clips from the film series. The difficulty of the questions ranges from very basic to extremely obscure ones that even dedicated fans are likely to struggle with. This is because they often ask about the careers of the actors and crew outside of the Carry Ons. The game is better for multiple plays than some of the other DVD quiz games I have played where there seem to be much fewer questions or at least bad technology that allows a number of the same ones to be asked practically every game. There is a single-player mode as well as a multi-player mode, both of which work well though the latter relies on people not peeking at which buttons on the remote control other players/teams press.
The game is not without problems however. For example there are some noticeable mistakes in some of the answers, so that the correct answer is deemed wrong. There are enough of these that I really think there should have been a greater amount of error-checking done before release as it is extremely annoying. It is difficult to play a game or two without at least one of these errors and therefore despite its many qualities I cannot recommend it unreservedly.
On Location: The Carry Ons (2001)
Interesting if flawed look back
Excellently presented by June Whitfield, the star of four "Carry On" films ("Nurse", "Girls", "Abroad," and "Columbus"), this documentary looks back at the places used for filming in the course of the series. It is included as an extra in the Region 2 DVD release of "Carry on Girls." It starts off well at probably the most photogenic building used, Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire which became "Château Neuf" in "Carry On Don't Lose Your Head," but most of the other locations are far less interesting and glamorous such as the wood store at Pinewood Studios. Eventually it mainly serves as an excuse to show extensive clips of the films themselves, often with little or no relevance to the location, particularly as many are clearly filmed entirely inside the studio itself.
It also includes some comment from the producer of all the films, Peter Rogers, who provides some insight into the making of the series, though fans will probably already know most of the trivia already.
Considering the furthest away the team travelled for filming was Mount Snowdon for "Carry on up the Khyber," and that most of the buildings used are within easy reach of Pinewood Studios it is disappointing that so very few locations are actually visited during the programme. Although there may have been some changes since shooting, many of the buildings such as churches and public houses must still be standing today and have some interesting stories to tell. Therefore overall it comes across as a little disappointing and could have been far better.
Decoding Cadfael (2008)
Enjoyable revisit of the medieval detective series
"Decoding Cadfael" is essentially a series of recent interviews of people who worked on the thirteen-episode series as well as detective story writers and archive footage of the late Edith Pargeter, who wrote the books under the pseudonym of Ellis Peters. Her biographer is also featured and helps fill in the details that the author cannot. This programme does well to avoid interviewing 'celebrity fans' that ruin most retrospectives with their banality. The interviewees all seem to have fond memories of the programme, especially Sir Derek Jacobi, who clearly regrets that the seven remaining novels were not filmed. The one jarring note is writer Bert Coules who for some reason seems to be championing Philip Madoc for the role, which though he was admittedly excellent in the BBC radio version (that Coules adapted), it is a bit late in the day to recast the title character when the series ended prematurely in 1996. It is good to see the likes of Terence Hardiman, Julian Firth and Michael Culver whose appearances on television are sadly few and far between of late.
The narration is by Sean Pertwee, who not only seems to do the voice-over for a remarkable percentage of UK television documentaries, but also starred as the first four episodes of the series as Hugh Beringar, before unfortunately leaving the series. For these reasons the commentary is in safe hands, although his script is unfortunately a little repetitive thanks to the apparent need to reiterate a sizable chunk after each advert break.
The documentary mainly covers the difficulties they had to get Cadfael made. Edith Pargeter had problems in even getting the books published until Umberto Eco's fantastic novel 'The Name of the Rose' was brought to the big screen and suddenly medieval fiction became popular. Delays then cost them Ian Holm as the sleuthing monk as being slow to start production meant that he took on other projects in the meantime. Though much of the material had been revealed in previous interviews it is still an entertaining fifty minutes or so for fans of a detective that seems to have been unfairly forgotten.
Kakushi ken oni no tsume (2004)
Moving tale concerning the last days of the Samurai
Director Yoji Yamada covers the same ground as with the masterful and Oscar-nominated Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei, 2002) with a very similar story set in the mid 19th century Japan, showing how the rapid cultural changes were affecting the 'ordinary' people. Though seen by some as merely a remake of his earlier work, it is a great work in its own right.
The protagonist of the Hidden Blade is a low-caste samurai from a small village, Munezo Katagiri (a splendidly restrained performance by Masatoshi Nagase), who is in love with his servant Kie (Takako Matsu, also superb), but because of their relative difference in status he is unable to marry. He also comes under pressure from the chief retainer of the clan due to the fact his friend has been declared a traitor. Katagiri has to live with the knowledge that his father committed hara-kiri over a seemingly trivial matter to regain his honour, while the chief retainer demonstrates that he has little of this quality himself. This is against a backdrop of the Samurai converting to firearms and artillery despite the opposition of many to these as cowardly weapons. There are some humorous scenes of the clan retainers trying to get to grips with western military training such as drill and cannon firing.
The camera-work is simple and effective, completely lacking in the CGI that most modern filmmakers seem unfortunately unable to live without. The pacing of the story is beautifully done, so that the film, though long, never becomes dull despite the relative lack of action - there are only two fight scenes to speak of. This does not detract from the movie at all as this is about far more than simple carnage and reflects the fact that Katagari is reluctant to kill despite his skill with the sword. There is far more focus on the themes of love, revenge, duty and honour, and is all the better for it.
Gold Rush! (1988)
Entertaining and Informative 3rd Person Adventure
In "Gold Rush!" you play as Jerrod Wilson, a Brooklyn newspaper editor who receives a letter from his long-lost brother and must make his way to Sacramento in California in 1848, just before the great gold rush of 1849. What is remarkable in this game is that you are given three ways of getting to your destination, by ship around the Great Horn, by boat to Panama (then overland) or by stagecoach. This adds to the replay-ability factor and each of these has its own perils, such as scurvy, mosquitoes, Indian attack etc. many of which are random, so you have to follow the old Sierra principle of "Save early, save often" to avoid your adventure ending in disaster. This is a frustrating aspect of the game, as is the fact that many activities are timed. Too much time wasted in the early stages and your quest is over before it has begun, though it does have the effect of heightening the realism.
"Gold Rush!" was one of the last Sierra games to use the AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) engine and uses it far more effectively than some of the earlier efforts. However it can still be a frustrating experience when you know what you want your character to do, but are unable to come up with the right words! The setting is one that is rarely explored and is more involving for that reason. The copy protection required getting the right word from the manual, which was extremely educational in learning about the fascinating history of the period, something that is missing from a lot of games these days.
Though the graphics are exceedingly dated due to the limitations of the technology available in 1988, there is a certain charm to them, particularly to nostalgia fans. If you are looking for a game that has a quality plot, with interesting characters and plenty of challenges you could do a lot worse than having a go at this.
Original and Fun
It was a fantastic idea to combine Lego and Star Wars into a single game. Though the target market is children, there is enough intelligence and humour in the game to attract adults - particularly helping their kids out in the simple to use co-operative play. It probably has a nostalgia appeal to those grownups who played with Lego in their youth. Using Lego also allows the game to look great without requiring ridiculously high specs for your computer and the original John Williams soundtrack in the background adds greatly to the general atmosphere.
The storyline follows roughly the plot of Episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, with 5-6 missions per episode, ranging from action/adventure to pod racing and space ship combat. This also includes boss fights with the likes of Darth Maul, Count Dooku, and General Greivous. Puzzles and obstacles are overcome by using the appropriate character for the situation, so that for example when the use of the Force is required you would use a Jedi character.
Though the single player campaign is relatively short, especially as you are only punished by dieing with a small loss of Lego studs (basically money) the game rewards multiple plays. It does this by giving rewards for getting enough studs in a level or finding all the 'minikits' that combine to build a vehicle, rewarding you with more studs that allow you to buy extra characters - there are 56 playable characters altogether, or giving you access to the bonus level. At its time of release there was also the added benefit of getting a sneak preview of some of the scenes in "Revenge of the Sith."
Overall a very enjoyable and fun game, though not without a few minor flaws that are greatly improved upon in Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.