Role-playing games are enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment, with titles like Planescape Torment, Baldur's Gate and Diablo impressing reviewers and players alike.
But meanwhile the adventure game genre is still languishing in relative obscurity, far from its heyday back in the 1980s and early 90s, when classic games like Monkey Island lit up the charts. Personally, I blame Myst.
Anyway, now "Arcatera : The Dark Brotherhood" looks set to combine the two genres, with a mixture of good ol' fashioned point and click adventuring and strong role playing elements. So will it fly with its role-playing brethren, or sink with its adventure gaming sistren? [Um .. is that even a word? - Ed]
EuroGamer takes a look under the bonnet to find out...
First impressions are good. Arcatera has the requisite epic fantasy plot, complete with an evil satanic cult trying to overthrow the rightful Prince of your fair city.
It also has all the latest eye candy expected by 21st century gamers, with a mixture of highly detailed real time characters against a pre-rendered background, giving you the best of both worlds. And the game is likely to come on a veritable plethora of CDs, with two hundred seperate locations to explore, and 150 characters to talk to as you investigate the cult and try to put an end to their plotting.
So far so good, but what really makes the game stand out from the crowd is that the storyline is refreshingly non-linear, with ten seperate endings possible, only a handful of which are happy. Add to this the possibility of different starting conditions each time you play the game, and a variety of ways to solve many of the puzzles, and it should make for plenty of replay potential.
The plot develops throughout the game depending on your actions (or lack thereof), and as you are fighting against the clock, with only three weeks to track down and deal with the cult before they reduce your city to chaos, the game should have more tension and urgency than your typical adventure.
You will guide a party of up to four characters through the mean streets of the city of Senora as you investigate the satanists.
And as with any self-respecting role playing game, Arcatera lets you personalise these characters and develop them during the game. Experience will enhance their abilities, and money can be used to purchase new weapons, armour and equipment for them from shop keepers scattered around the city.
These weapons and abilities can then be used in tactical combat against a wide range of enemies within the game. And with the freedom to attack anybody you take a dislike to, that is theoretically every character and creature in the game...
The world of Arcatera has been designed to allow the player plenty of freedom in the way they approach the game, but running around randomly attacking innocent bystanders isn't going to get you very far, and you should expect to face the consequences of your actions...
The setting for the game is a living breathing city, full of NPCs (Non-Player Characters) that have lives of their own. A lot of work has gone into artificial intelligence, scripting, and making their behaviour realistic and believable.
NPCs need to eat and sleep, and won't just stand around all day in the same place as they do in most other role-playing games. They will stop to talk to each other, trade goods, go shopping, and even head down to the pub on a Friday night and try to pull more than just pints. Probably.
The developers are also making sure that the storyline and characters are well rounded and involving. Even the minor characters have their own backgrounds and attitudes, and the world is not a simple case of black and white, good and evil.
These attitudes can change as the game progresses though, and are also to some extent random - characters may behave entirely differently if you play through the game a second time. This in turn can have an effect on the rest of the game world and how your quests play out.
One example the developers gave was that if the cult discovers that you are investigating them, they may move the scepter which is one of the keys to completing the game to a different location, set more guards to defend it, or even try and assassinate the player's party.
The possibilities are almost endless, and although this could well make for a beta testing and play balancing nightmare, if the developers (German company Westka Entertainment) can pull it off, it should make for an interesting experience.
Arcatera is due for release in June 2000 on both PC and Dreamcast, and judging from what we have been shown so far, we expect to be hearing a lot more about it soon...
With beautiful graphics, a huge world to explore, plenty of characters to talk to, and an impressive amount of replay potential, UbiSoft and Westka could be on to a winner here.
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