King Arthur and his companions have had a hard time of it over the last couple of decades, reduced to bit parts in revisionist fantasy epics, and starring in big budget Hollywood tripe like "First Knight". Memories of Monty Python's classic Holy Grail movie made it hard for anyone to take them particularly seriously and, apart from the refreshingly dark and gory "Excalibur", people have generally left King Arthur well alone since then.
But now French publisher and all-round purveyors of the bizarre Cryo Interactive are finally bringing Arthur to the small screen, with not one but a whole series of adventure games set in 5th century Britain...
The "Arthur's Knights" series sees you taking on the role of Bradwen, the young but sadly illegitimate son of an English lord, who is kept from his inheritance by a treacherous half-brother when his father dies. To reclaim your birthright you must become a Knight of the Round Table and gain the trust and respect of King Arthur.
Strange women lying in ponds lobbing scimitars at people is no basis for a form of government though, and so becoming a Knight means a lot of hard work on your behalf. First you must find yourself a steed fit for a Knight of the Round Table, as the horse you start the game with is something of a nag. Next you will need to find yourself a sword, which will no doubt involve a suitably epic quest. Both your sword and your steed will effect your performance in combat, which forms an important of the game.
Another key factor in becoming a true Knight of the Round Table is winning the affections of a great lady, and you have no less than four women competing for your attention, from the fairy lady Melangell to the devil worshipping sorceress Isatia. A lucky man indeed. Each have their own agendas though, and you must decide which will suit your own beliefs best, and then carry out a series of heroic feats of valour to win her heart.
What really makes Arthur's Knights unique though is that each episode contains not one but two seperate games, as you have the choice to follow either the path of the Celtic knight or the Christian Paladin. Depending on which faith you decide to follow, the route you take through the game will be radically different, as will the reactions of some of the main characters towards you. Lancelot will support you should you become a Christian, while you will find Gawain on your side if you choose the ancient Celtic religion.
King Of The Who?
Many other familiar names will find their way into the game as well, including Merlin, the sorceress Morgana, and Queen Guinevere amongst others. These characters may aid you during the game, or provide you with new quests to carry out for them, although in the case of Morgana there will always be a price to pay for her help.
But the game naturally revolves around Arthur, King of the Britons. As the game progresses Arthur will start to entrust you with a series of quests, and gradually he will come to respect you if you carry out his wishes. Depending on how you accomplish your tasks, the attitudes of the various characters towards you will change throughout the game - if you turn to evil then Merlin and Lancelot can become powerful adversaries, and you may even find the most famous of Arthur's knights hunting you down if you're not careful. Quite how much freedom you will have in your actions if you actually want to complete the game remains unclear at this point, but you should certainly have far more choices in how you approach the game than in more traditional adventures, where your path is very much linear.
Backing up the gameplay is the impressive CryEngine, which mixes pre-rendered and painted backgrounds with real-time 3D characters to give you the best of both worlds. It's already been put to good use in The Time Machine and Odyssey, and the dank forests and ruins of Britain in the decades following the collapse of the Roman empire should certainly give plenty of scope for atmospheric settings, not to mention the more fanciful aspects of Celtic mythology.
Cryo have been on something of a roll recently, with quality adventure games like Faust and The Time Machine, as well as more bizarre creations like Devil Inside and the forthcoming Gift, and even the surprisingly enjoyable sports sim Open Tennis 2000. If Arthur's Knights can live up to its promise, they could be on to another winner...
"Origins of Excalibur" is due for release in November, with a second installment ("The Hidden King") already lined up for next year. With any luck we should have a beta version of the first game soon, so look for a full hands-on preview within the next month.