Version tested: Xbox 360
The most hilarious thing about that weirdo who claims to have 100,000 Gamerscore points was the fact that he'd allegedly scalped 1000 of those points from playing Eragon.
Now, hang on a cotton-pickin' minute.
That not only involves playing through the whole game on Normal difficulty but Hard as well. Surely this would be a task beyond even the most slavish of Gamerscore whores. Not because Stormfront's movie-based hackandslash game is too tough or too long, you understand - it's just not a game that any sane-minded individual would ever consider playing any more than absolutely necessary.
Developed by the studio behind the rather decent Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers game from about four years ago, our expectations of plenty of sword-swinging combat proved largely on the money. What we didn't expect was that the developer would come out with a game that couldn't have been more out of touch with current game design convention. If someone had told us we were playing a game from five years ago, we'd have believed them.
But before we delve into what's so desperately underwhelming about the game, here's the premise: you control a foppish, rosy-cheeked young farm boy called Eragon, who one day discovers what turns out to be a dragon egg. When the dragon Saphira hatches, they form a unique bond that results in Eragon inheriting magical powers that, inevitably, result in the nefarious king's forces trying to destroy him. Cue lots of sword-waving and magic-casting action as you and various members of the story (such as Brom and Murtagh) join you in a string of battles across the picturesque Alagaesian kingdom.
Evidently designed with a younger audience in mind (but still saddled with a 12 certificate), the game doesn't exactly aim to stretch players on more than a couple of occasions in the entire six-hour, 18-level trudge. At least half of the levels, for example, can be waltzed through in a matter of minutes as you either perform a series of unblockable attacks or simply run and jump past your enemies to the next stage.
But when the game doesn't allow you to cheat (and basically pens you in until you've defeated a set number of foes), the combat manoeuvres are so basic and easy to pull off that there's never any real doubt that you'll make progress once you've sussed out the best means of attack. To begin with, these are little more than three button combos (like A-B-A, or variations on those two buttons), but soon enough you learn to do a jumping attack which knocks even the most powerful foes to the floor in an instant. By doing little more than mashing A and B, you'll be fine for a big chunk of the game.
If that doesn't do the trick, you can pull out your bow and arrow and fire off a round of auto-aimed shots that quickly take care of practically any enemy in the game from any distance. And failing that, the mightiest foes in the game require you to hold down the aim button for a little longer so that you can focus your aim on a specific weak spot - such as in their eyes. Again, this is auto-aimed for you, so there's almost no room for error. As long as you dodge or roll out of the way before they pummel or slash you, the result of any of Eragon's battles are a foregone conclusion.
None shall pass
But even more devastating for the enemy is the fact that you're positively loaded with magical powers that give you so much of an advantage it's hilarious. Initially, the magic you use extends to little more than squeezing the left trigger and holding down the A button to perform some sort of predetermined telekinetic scenery movement. For example, your path may be blocked until you move a set of planks across a particular gap, or shift a few rocks to enable you to shimmy across, and so on. You also have the ability to push or pull enemies with these powers, as well as fire more powerful magic arrows - but it's only when you gain the ability to set fire to enemies that it starts getting really silly.
With a fully charged magic meter you can fire off an auto-aimed fireball at the nearest foe, sending them fleeing in panic to their doom off the side of precipices. In no time at all you have the ability to clear vast swathes of enemies by repeating the tactic over and over again, watching with mild amusement as they flap around and scream like strangled Wookiees before throwing themselves to their death. Hilariously, even on one level where you're wading through a river they don't seem to realise the obvious solution to their dilemma, and run dementedly in circles so that you can repeatedly fire arrows through their faces.
Evidently, a lot of these auto-aim attacks were introduced to take into account the viewpoint limitations enforced by the hateful static camera system. Like some sort of vengeful trip into the past, you're forced to remember what games like this used to be like when enemies whacked you off-screen, and sudden changes in camera angle left you confused and disorientated. As much of a problem as that still is in Eragon, it never really proves that irksome because you can reliably continue to direct auto-aimed arrows and fireballs at anything remotely in range. However, in a few notable parts, the game does trip you up when it's not-at-all-obvious where to go. On a number of occasions you're left wondering which portion of a room you haven't run into, traipsing around in circles until you chance upon one part of the scenery which flicks the view spontaneously to reveal a previously unexplored section.
The other irksome issue comes from the fact that it's not always that clear what you can and can't jump on or jump up to. With much ledge shimmying and old-school jumping required to negotiate some of the more multi-levelled locations (but artificial rails that stop you falling off anything), it's often complete trial and error that gets you through. If the game wasn't so short and easy, such issues could quickly prove bothersome - but as it is they're merely a reflection of a really badly designed game that should have been drowned at the conception stage.
But wait! We haven't even mentioned the role of Saphira the dragon yet. Given that Eragon is actually a dragon rider, it's inevitable that Stormfront had to shoehorn some flying combat sections in there somewhere. But much like the main meat of the game, they're horribly undercooked. The chief issue is the lurching camera system which conspires to give the player no real control over where they're flying, and precious little ability to avoid crashing into an unending procession of obstacles. One really tedious level tasks you with protecting a set of towers while attempting to dispatch the encroaching forces by breathing fire on them, whipping them with your tail or firing magic arrows. The premise is fine, and the spectacle's not bad at all, it's just that you'll lose most of your energy in no time at all unless you're prepared to keep diving into caves to munch on a dove. Designed around a very short loop, you repeatedly take out the same set of forces over and over again until an arbitrary health bar is diminished (despite the fact that the same forces you burned to a crisp reappear a minute after you've flown past them). All told, the process takes far too long and proves unwieldy, and is a classic example of a team struggling to make any portion of the game fun to play.
It's interesting to watch the unlockable 'making-of' clips at the end of the game, because you'd imagine that Stormfront had made some sort of life-changing epic. This, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. The art director, for example, gushes with undisguised pride about how they looked at paintings for inspiration, and tried to translate that awe-struck sense of grandeur into the game. That, on its own, was a fine starting point, but the game suffers immensely on 360 by being such an obvious port of a game that, arguably, was mainly tailored for the limitations of the PS2. Even at the very early stages it's painfully obvious that the game has no right to be released on a next-gen system looking like this. The backdrops aren't too bad (in fact, one level near the end where you're wading through the river is downright gorgeous, though could well be one of two exclusive levels on the 360), with nice lush scenes throughout. Where the game really falls apart is the awful character representations, along with their rudimentary last-gen animations. Just like Japanese hackandslashers like Genji, characters carry on running when they come across a wall, and tumble around with no real sense of connection. Maybe on the PS2 or Xbox you can just about get away with it, but then you remember games like God of War and realise that, no, this is still a bad looking game in every sense. Even the menu system, front end and options are poverty stricken. It just doesn't look or feel like a game that ever got any love.
Error in 2
Like Stormfront's Lord of the Rings effort, you can also play the game in offline drop-in/drop-out co-op, but it's highly unlikely you'll want to torment any of your friends by making them join in the antics. That, on its own, represented the last shred of possible replayabilty, which again calls into question the sanity of SlipClubDJ, a man who allegedly had the spare time and the iron will to endure a second play through straight after his first. Some things in life are just too improbable.
It's unfortunate that Sierra has fallen on its sword so heavily with this ill-conceived film tie-in. Eragon drags up torrid memories of the bad old days when movie licensed games were not only terrible games, but had sod-all to do with the subject matter. Judged on its own merits, it's clearly below par game in every single area imaginable. Technically bereft, poorly designed and coma-inducing to play, it's about as far away from being an example of where gaming is today as you can imagine. Even the most fanatical followers of the novels and the forthcoming movie will be well-advised to steer well clear - unless you actually want to find out what constitutes a dreadful action adventure.
2 / 10