I’m serious, I’m getting sick of the notion that we get in this marketing driven industry that movies automatically translate in to good ideas for games. Eragon, our latest entry from developer Stormfront Studios and publisher Sierra only furthers my point here. It’s a bland brawler that barely holds up in comparison to the previous efforts of Stormfront Studios. Odds are you’ve played their games before; they were the hand behind the Lord of the Rings titles developed for EA. Well take what made those games decent and strip them down even further. Eragon is a game that smacks of a boring battle system with a number of broken moves and hiding spots, ugly graphics that a progressive scan mode cannot help in any way, and a story that really seems like it would fare better as the backdrop to an RPG.
For those who have seen the movies or read the books then you know the story behind Eragon. It is actually a trilogy of books that follows the story of a young boy who is destined to be the next “Dragon Rider.” I don’t want to give much away as I don’t know what kind of spoilers the game holds so I will just refrain. But for the game itself the storytelling feels very sparse. All of the information is delivered in horrendous cut-scenes that look like they jumped off a late PS1 titles.
At times the game is absolutely hideous and I hate to be so critical, but at this point in the PS2’s life cycle this is almost unacceptable. We have seen what companies are capable of, and Stormfront Studios is no exception, they have had good looking games. Again progressive scan mode does nothing to help how this game looks.
Whether this game was the victim of a short development cycle or a skeleton crew I cannot say but either way, this game suffers. And it’s not just the main game that looks ugly, even the HUD is a mess with blurry character portraits and a nice green line that stretches across the center of the screen to signify your Fury Mode meter between you and your ally. The only real saving grace here is the main character models for the heroes, they actually look good if you get a look at them up close, but considering how this game plays, that is not a very common occurrence. And as I have said before the cut-scenes of this game, absolutely atrocious. This game also has a number of graphical issues whether it be seaming, shaky textures, or missing shadows, it’s a bunch of little things that really bog this title down. And as I’ve heard before, it’s the little things that kill.
Audio uses a lot of cuts from the movie which I will say is a good thing. I actually enjoyed this music and it does a good job of adding atmosphere, though it doesn’t flare up very often. The voice acting uses a few snippets from the movie and at times can get to be a bit grating. Hearing Eragon call out most of his moves is a less than pleasing experience. It also feels like the enemy drones are just voiced by one person, causing for even less enjoyment. Aside from that there isn’t a whole lot going on the sound department, so let’s just move along.
This game breaks down to a whole lot of hacking, and a whole lot of slashing, and if you happen to be a friend going over to visit a buddy with a copy of the game, demand to play as Eragon. This will get your friend so bored playing as the back-up character that they will want to turn off the machine and go do something a little more fun. So while there is the useful feature to have a second player jump in and out of the game at any time, they are usually stuck playing second banana. This is really not fun at all as they don’t have as expansive a move list as Eragon himself. Eragon gets to use magic and such, and has his base combo system, while the companions just have the base combo system. So while Eragon is taking advantage of his powers and using telekinesis to toss enemies over ledges, your buddy (who won’t be one for long if he has to suffer through this game) will have to resort to simply wailing on baddies until they die. That’s not even hard to do either, seeing as how there are a few simply broken moves in the game. The first move that comes to mind is the grapple. If you get an enemy in it, they’re dead, end of story. Other than that you’ve got a combo tree that consists of four combos and that’s with two buttons mapped out for attacks. Each combo is also only three buttons long, so get ready to see a lot of the same attacks over and over again. The game also likes to zoom in for dramatic kills, which you’ll see a lot of as well, whether you like it or not.
Perhaps to compensate for the ease at which foes can be dispatched, the developers thought it to be a good idea to make it difficult to recover from being knocked down by enemies. This leads to a lot of cheap deaths that really are not the fault of the player which only adds frustration to the equation. Couple this with a really poor partner AI and you’re looking at minimum fun. I’ve watched the partner AI decide it would be a good idea to run towards the screen away from combat while I was getting mobbed by about five enemies. Not a good time. Boss battles aren’t all that difficult either, they usually revolve around a skill that Eragon uses and that’s about it, nothing special.
To kind of put a break in the hack and slash monotony there are levels where you actually get to ride a dragon. Too bad the thing handles like a Mack truck. During the training missions with the dragon I had a hell of a time getting the stupid thing to maneuver towards birds that it meant to eat. From there it became a difficult flight attempting to track down enemies and move the story forward. It was still a nice diversion and I wish it was used a little bit more often.
In an attempt to throw in some replay value there are secret eggs cleverly hidden in each level, with one per stage. They are actually well hidden and I almost kicked myself for missing them each time through. Especially when this game does it’s damnedest to keep you on a very straightforward path. This is very little to deviate from in this game which you kind of feel teased with at the start of the game. The introductory forest makes it seem like there is a little expanse to explore but no, it’s fairly constricted. The levels are also very short, meaning that this game really should not take more than a good seven hours to complete, adding a bit of sting to the fact that money was wasted on this title in the first place.
Eragon is a title I saw on the EB Games website way back in January of ’06 and I wondered what was, and considering how far in advance it was announced I was thinking it could be something interesting. I didn’t know it was a movie license until about a month before it came out, and then all interest I had dropped. After experiencing this dogged title that comes late in the PS2 life cycle it’s impossible to recommend it, if you are really fiending for any kind of brawler or beat-em-up then pass on Eragon and just pick up God of War or wait for its sequel to come out in March.