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Can you name two reasons why XENA: Warrior Princess became one of televisions most popular shows? I'll bet you can!
Hot on the heels of such 'timeless classics' as the extremely shapely Wonderwoman and the very babe-atious Baywatch comes Xena, the latest action heroin that grabs most of it's ratings from below the trouser line. The tried and trusted formula of combining a large cleavage with a couple of piteous action sequences once again makes a mockery of quality programming. Still, if that's what the kids (and dads) want... that's what they deserve.
Anything Lara can do, Xena can do better. Well... not quite, but EA should at least be commended for trying. Warrior Princess is a third person action adventure based on the most exciting bits of the hit TV show. Thankfully all of the time filling dross has been extracted, leaving over twenty levels jam-packed with non-stop mythological butt kicking.
Sound and Vision:
The unimpressive introduction sequence reminded me of those boring parts of the TV show where the characters pretend they've been to drama school. The only purpose it serves is to introduce us to the pointy-breasted (dangerously pointy), flat faced chic whose likeness is remarkably similar to her on screen counterpart.
Half anticipating a Deathtrap Dungeon style of game, Xena: Warrior Princess' splendid in-game visuals far surpassed my mediocre expectations. The player controls the main character who is viewed from above and behind (similar to Resident Evil or Tomb Raider). Although slightly grainy around the borders, Xena's appearance, movement and actions have been captured superbly. When standing still her body exaggerates the effect of breathing as her chest expands and contracts with each gasp of air. She always remains posed, prepared for battle, with trusty blade held back firmly in hand. When in action her motions are always so instant and fluid, in fact she could almost be a living, breathing entity. If there were one failing it would be her 'digital' movement when running or walking around the set. It's either all or nothing and begs for the day when each action may be presented gradually with analog precision. Thankfully Xena cannot carelessly walk off ledges and platforms so this does not present too much of a gameplay problem... more a visual nuisance.
The camera angle remains at a set distance and is helpful most of the time. It's only when a rear attack requires a sudden change of direction that a spanner is thrown into the works. Thankfully a frontal view may be returned manually or by a quick tap of the look button, but it can all become a little annoying during the later, more difficult stages of the game.
Loading times are about your Playstation average but to disguise the boredom the next part of the story is unveiled to read. This not only helps to successfully link together the action sequences but is much preferable to staring at a slowly increasing colored bar on an otherwise blank screen.
While some enemy characters do not move a smoothly as our heroin (the giant dragon), others are so responsive it becomes tricky to take them out, especially the buxom amazon women who leap from their straw huts and attack in numbers at lightening pace. This offers a challenging variation in foe, keeping the player alert and the game interesting.
The scenery may not quite reach the high standards set by the Tomb Raider series but generally this is pleasing to the eye. Everything is constructed from polygons and there is barely a join in sight. Objects that are walked past become semi-transparent helping the player to always remain in visual contact with Xena. In fact the only time another part of the set can be accidentally viewed is by standing too close to a door. Some of the best effects are the way that the sun beams break through the forest trees and how the water mist sprays at the base of a fall. While fire and smoke effects are also impressive, the two dimensional trees and bushes brought back awful memories of my old golfing games and one or two arcade racers (V-Rally and Rally Cross).
Regarding the sound effects the cinematic musical score is excellent, precisely what would be expected from Universal Studios. I'd be interested to know if anyone recognizes the tune that accompanies most fighting scenes (hint: Bodie & Doyle). Sword clashes and fighting noises are accurately replicated while Xena's warrior scream of delight after an impressive bout of slaying reminded me of a girl I once knew as a teenager (don't ask! Details are available on the Fantasy Channel).
While Lara had her 'magnificent mansion' in which to practice her moves Xena must settle for an 'arresting arena'.
This training area offers about five minutes playtime to practice some of the skills required to survive in the main game. A selection of crates and vases can be broken by kicking or slashing to reveal power-ups in the form of health potions and shields. Sword upgrades increase the amount of damage Xena can inflict upon an enemy, while further special weapons found in the game include fireballs, ice blasts and periods of invulnerability. Both long and short jumps are required to hit successfully higher platforms taking Xena to a plane where by far the best weapon in her armory may be tested. The Chakram.
The Chakram is a magical spinning metal ring that will eliminate most enemies with a single strike. By holding down the R1 button on the joypad the perspective switches to an almost first person mode, allowing the device to be aimed more accurately. Once targeted a single press of the fire button will see Xena launch this deadly disc towards the enemy camp. The camera then tracks the Chakram allowing the player to adjust it's flight pattern by pressing the d-pad/analog stick. Should the specific target be missed then the Chakram continues onwards until any object or enemy is struck. Once something in its path is hit it will automatically return back to Xena's hand. The whole effect reminded me of the laser guided bomb footage seen in recent wars. Imagine sitting legs astride of a cruise missile, guiding it right into the jaws of the enemy camp. It's also useful for checking out what perils lie around the next corner and is possibly the best single weapon used in any game to date.
Controlling Xena is fairly similar to most other games of this type. There is an option to set the default movement to run or walk. Should run be selected then a shoulder button is configured to allow walking when pressed, and visa versa. The face buttons are used to jump, block, kick and slash out with the weapon in hand. It's possibly worth playing around and combining these actions to reveal a few extra combos.
Set in a full 3D world you can guide Xena almost anywhere within the confines of the level. By searching around many shortcuts and hidden power-ups will be discovered. The player, however, must remain within an enclosed zone until a task is completed. This may be simply until a key is found or a certain number of enemies have been killed. Alternatively some tasks are much more interesting, such as rescuing a set number of hostages. To do this you must seek out a maiden in distress by following her cries for mercy. Take care, as she will be used as a human shield. Once within range the Chakram is thrown and guided towards a showing part of the threatening pirate's body. A direct hit will see him release the girl, while a miss gets her throat slit. All's fair in love and war.
There are a few nice touches that make this game stand out from the crowd. As a warning, when an enemy approaches a small health meter in the form of a sword appears on screen. This is very helpful when monitoring which enemy in the battle is presently weakest and how many are attacking. I particularly found it amusing during the later levels when slicing the zombies head off it actually bends down, picks it back up and replaces it. Slice it in half and the upper torso will drag towards Xena and continue it's attack.
The gameplay requires use of a few interactive obstacles that are scattered around. For example the exit is blocked by a raging inferno so a hay-cart must be pushed down a hill. This will collide with a large water tower. The structure will fall and break. The water released will extinguish the fire. Simple, but effective.
This is a 1 disk game for 1 Player. It is compatible with the standard (digital) joypad and the analog stick controls of the dual shock joypad. Games can be saved via memory card (1 block per save).
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