Review of Barbarian
Taking an obvious cue from the Powerstone 1 & 2 games for the Dreamcast, Barbarian comes to town in an effort to stake a claim in this rather unusual fighting title. Gamers get to select from a slew of medieval styled characters and duke it out in a multi-tiered, wide-open playing arena. Virtually any item or object that you see on the screen can be picked up and used as a weapon (huge rocks, trees, planks, etc). The catch though is that your character has to be powerful enough to lift some of the larger objects. This attribute can be built up by applying points that you garner as you win matches…but I am getting ahead of myself here…
Barbarian has a unique story mode that intertwines all of the available characters. Play through the story as one character and you will battle the others with the storyline unfolding from your characters perspective. Play as a different character and the story will change accordingly, but still revolve around the entire cast of fighters. Before each battle, the story unfolds with the words scrolling down the screen and a narrator relaying the verbiage. Early on in each of the characters story, the plot branches and gamers will need to make a choice as to which way they want to proceed with their barbarian. This definitely succeeded in keeping the gameplay fresh to some extent and extended the replay value quite a bit.
After each fight that you are victorious in, the character is awarded a set amount of points (usually between 3 and 5) that can be applied to a series of attributes that range from added strength and jumping ability to expanded magical attacks. Each of these attributes has a very real effect on the characters ability to continue winning as the matches get progressively more difficult the further you make it into the game.
I found the first few matches to really be nothing more than a good training class to try out my characters’ core abilities. The matches are typically one on one and gave me a good feel for the control scheme, which offensive object worked best and where the multi-tiered levels dropped off or connected. In the later matches, additional characters are added that you must defeat in addition to the main character for that round. These secondary characters are known as thugs, and can be abused in the extreme. Players can knock the crap out of these peeps and than use their limp bodies as offensive weapons against the main character or the other thugs in the field. They can be wielded as weapons or merely throw at other characters, causing pretty good damage.
The play mechanics in Barbarian were rock solid and very easy to execute. Characters have the ability to jump, defend, attack hand to hand, pick up objects and either throw them or use them to bash in the enemy’s heads. And then there also magic and the mighty Rune attacks. Each character also has a nice range of specific combos that can be executed by pressing the triangle and square buttons in certain combinations (timing is also a critical factor in successfully pulling off combos).
There was a great deal of strategy involved as well. Gamers will be able to plot long range or short attacks with either weapons or magic and depending on the opponent, certain strategies will work much better than others.
Actual gameplay is frantic and extremely fast paced with characters running around picking up “weapons”, executing attacks and pulling off magic. The game could easily get players confused as to what is going on at any given point in time, until they are used to things as the screens are just so packed with items and objects (all of which are smashing around you). There is definitely a LOT going on at any given moment in a match.
Rewards are given for successfully pulling off combos with something called a Rune. When players are awarded a Rune, (and they have enough power in their magic bar) they can execute devastating attacks, one time for each Rune. Beware though, Rune’s don’t last forever and if they aren’t used in a specific amount of time, they are lost until the next successful combo is pulled off.
Graphically, the game moves at a blistering pace, holding 60fps without any slowdown or frame drops. The texturing on both the characters and the backgrounds are exceptional. There is also a lot going on in the special effects department with generous use of particle effects and lighting.
The backgrounds are highly detailed and nicely depicted in the artistic category. Just the fact that there are so many objects that can be broken, picked up and used is an impressive feat on its own. Couple that with real time shadowing and the amount of onscreen characters (I’ve seen up to eight at a time) and you’ve got a real nice fighting engine in use here.
The narration of the game is very well done with appropriately used ominous overtones at all the right times. The sound effects are also quite impressive given the amount of stuff that is going on all around you. Even the background music is appropriately scored with medieval orchestrated tunes galore.
About the only shortfall for the game is its repetitiveness. Even though there is a nice selection of characters and moves to learn, the game started to feel a bit stale after following through the 5 or 6th characters storyline. While there were a good number of levels to fight in, they get re-used for the different characters…which is fine, but again just a bit repetitive. Otherwise, I have no real complaints. The game is a blast to play, especially with a few friends in the multi-player mode (the action gets REALLY intense). This is definitely a title that Powerstone lovers should check out or any fan of frantically paced fighters…it certainly delivers the goods!
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'Barbarian' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Tom Rooney © Absolute PlayStation
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