The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard
It's action adventure time again, folks, and by golly these developer-type chaps are getting the hang of it. Redguard, created by US-based RPG stalwarts Bethesda Softworks - the people behind the gigantic but flawed The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall - is such a game, and if truth be told it's actually bloody good.
The angle in this instance is of a 'pirate' persuasion: Jolly Rogers; bandanas; swashbuckling; and copious amounts of rum spilt on bare torsos down at the docks. Those familiar with the world of Tamriel, the location of Bethesda's exclusive campaign setting, will not be au fait with this kind of thing, but you can rest assured that it works very well and fits neatly into the Elder Scrolls series of games.
Search For Sister
Cyrus, the lead character of Redguard and your vessel for the duration of the game, is a surly, mercenary bloke living out a self-imposed exile on the high seas. Having left the continent of Hammerfell after an unfortunate incident in which he accidentally killed his brother-in-law (oops!), hearing news of the disappearance of his sister Cyrus now sets out to return. Whatever, it sets up the story and the main quest in the game (to find your sister, dummy), and Cyrus sets sail for the island of Stros M'Kai, which is where his sister Iszara was last seen.
In something of a departure from previous Elder Scrolls adventures, Fledguards graphics are this time generated in complete 3D. Gone are the dodgy bitmap sprites - the ones that always faced you, regardless of where you were in the room - and in come the polygons. Characters, objects, buildings and cut-sequences are now all modelled in three dimensions. This becomes apparent from the outset (or at least after the cruddy pre-rendered intro subsides) as Cyrus's ship slips over the particularly effective texture-mapped seas in the first of countless movie-like scene-setters. It works okay - characters nodding their heads as they converse (but not moving their lips, as seen in Half-Life), and gesticulating in a fairly human manner - and is a far better way of telling the story than with pre-rendered alternatives, because the impact of losing control of your character is dampened.
A Lot Of Chat
The island of Stros M'Kai - or, more specifically, the docks of Hunding Bay - are Cyrus's starting point in the adventure. Walking around, exploring and talking to people is very much in the vein of Tomb Raider and Mask Of Eternity, and is achieved using a simple combination of cursors and 'action' keys. The view is third-person. You can run, jump, walk, climb and fight, and in no time at all you're leaping from roof to roof and plundering goodies from houses you're not supposed to be in.
As you soon discover, the island of Stros M'Kai is well-populated, and there are plenty of people to talk to at the outset. Of course, approaching them with a view to gaining new information is your first priority. Although there is a heck of a lot of chat to get through, talking to these people is fun, and the way the story unfolds as a result is commendable. The plot itself is quite linear, but the fact that you're completely free to explore the island and question its inhabitants at your leisure goes some way to mask that. At first there seems so much to talk around that you do feel a bit overwhelmed, but this calms down a little once you've met everyone.
The action elements of Redguard are secondary to the adventure elements, although you're unable to progress unless you master them. Combat takes the form of a simplified sword fighting system which at first seems to require more luck than judgement. Persevere, though, and you do get the results you need. Jumping, too, initially seems a bit hit and miss, but again practice makes (sort of) perfect. For the purposes of this particular adventure game, it all works well enough.
In fact the game as a whole works extremely well. The most striking feature is arguably the exceptional graphics. All the buildings are superbly modelled (inside and outside), and give a real feeling of scale when you're walking around the place. Nice little touches, such as screeching seagulls swooping past and day/night lighting effects, really add to the atmosphere, and at times you really feel like you're down at the docks mixing with burly sailors (cough). The free-roaming camera also helps you to get the best view of the action, and on a high-end PC with a good 3D card the whole thing looks exceptional.
A Few Glitches
But it doesn't end with the graphics. The fact that saving and loading is fast and problem-free helps enormously, especially before getting to grips with the combat system. The voice acting is very good, and the dialogue is witty and well-written (for example: asking an in-game prostitute about a man called Tobias garners the response, "Tobias? Yes, one of my best customers...").
Redguard is not perfect, however, and there are a couple of criticisms that prevent it from rising to Classic status: such as the graphical/AI glitches (zombies walking on top of grave headstones, for example); the crashes that occur from time to time (we were playing version 1.0, by the way); the incompatibility of software/hardware savegames (like, duh?); and the fact that some people may find the gameplay a touch too 'light' for their liking.
At the end of the day, though, Redguardis worth recommending because it's an engaging and engrossing adventure game that should appeal to pretty much every kind of gamer out there.
It might even be the sort of game that could interest those for whom gaming is "not really my sort of thing". Which has got to be worth something in this daft old world of ours.
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