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Eragon

Score: 45%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: VU Games
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action

Graphics & Sound:

A few years ago a game named Drakkan: The Ancientís Gate hit the PS2. It wasnít the prettiest or technically polished of games, but it was a blast. As I played Eragon, I couldnít help but think how cool it would be if the game followed Drakkanís gameplay model. Sadly, that isnít the case. Instead, Eragon follows in the footsteps of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers only to return with a game that is less satisfying and less original.

Eragon has its visual moments, but for the most part looks bland for an Xbox 360 game. It is plain that this is a port. Characters are blocky, bland, and donít animate all that well; levels are flat and repetitive. Some of the kill animations are cool, although they are jerky and lack variety. Dragon rides are some of the best-looking parts of the game, mostly because of the design of Saphira.

Music is your typical fantasy fare, but sounds better than most games. The score from the film isnít used, but the orchestrated stand-in stuff is still great. Edward Speelers reprises his role in the game and does an okay job. Overall, the voice work is pretty bad.


Gameplay:

Eragon is the story of a young farm boy who, after find a dragon egg, must revive a long-extinct order known as the Dragon Riders and overthrow a cruel emperor.

Unless youíve read the book or seen the movie, donít expect to get much of the story by playing the game. Although the story sequences look neat, they arenít the best at explaining things. Of course, things arenít much better if you read the book since the game takes several liberties with the plot.

Similar to The Two Towers, Eragon is a straightforward hack-and-slash game. You always control Eragon with an A.I. companion fighting alongside you. At any time, a friend can jump in and take over the A.I. character. Levels arenít very interesting in their design and, although there are a few puzzle elements, the solution is always indicated by a blue hand Ė removing any thought from the process. Most areas follow a clear-cut pattern; fight a bunch of enemies, solve a simple puzzle, fight a few more enemies. The truly interesting parts are rare, and when they do happen, they are overdone.

Progression is story-based. At the end of each level, Eragon will either learn a new spell or acquire a new piece of armor or weapon. You have no control over how Eragon evolves throughout the game. Any progression is unceremoniously presented though a static card. The rewards arenít all that special either and, again, are more about the place story (this ties into one of the liberties the story takes; Iím sure fans will be able to figure out what Iím talking about).

When not on-foot, you are flying around on Eragonís dragon, Saphira. What should be some of the gameís more enjoyable moments is actually one of its worst. Dragon riding is presented as an on-rail shooter. Although you can move around, most of the steering is handled by the camera. At best, the cameraís steering is erratic; at worst, it is unplayable. The camera does its best to steer you into as many obstacles as it can, causing you to take unnecessary damage. This becomes a bigger issue than youíd think since health is a rarity and when you can find it, it is difficult to get to.


Difficulty:

Eragon features three difficulty levels which can be set independently for each level. For the most part, the game is easy. In fact, it wasnít until I was half-way through the game that I realized I was playing every level on the hardest setting. More difficult parts are dispersed within a few levels. Most of the time, the difficulty is a direct result of poor mechanics, planning or execution. Checkpoints are sprinkled between sections, though it is rare that youíll need them.

As previously mentioned, the on-rails shooter segments are a pain. The amount of damage is considerably less than what enemies inflict on you. Levels loop and on each pass, enemies respawn, killing any idea of progress.


Game Mechanics:

While on foot, combat is split between ranged attacks and melee attacks. You can use the bow to pick off enemies from a distance; however the damage isnít much unless you wait for a short controller shake. This takes time though, so your target may not be as far off as it once was when you are ready to shoot.

On the surface, the number of melee combo attacks looks impressive, but in practice, you only end up using one or two moves a majority of the time. Enemies take a few hits before then come down; although once you take care of one, two are already there waiting for you. Combat is repetitive and not all that interesting. It also doesnít help that the hit detection will render some of your swing worthless. Once you begin unlocking magic, however, the combos become useless since a few well-cast spells (like the Fire spell) mean instant death whereas combos usually take a few more hits.

I was actually disappointed that magic wasnít better integrated with the combat. With the exception of combining fire and ranged attacks, producing flame arrows, the two systems donít work well together. Once you build up a rhythm with your melee attacks, it is hard to stop and cast a spell. Also, spell targeting is rough, so even if you are beating down on some helpless soul, thereís no guarantee the spell will hit the same target.

Magic makes for some enjoyable moments, but also introduces a few balance issues. Telekinesis is the most used spell, and allows you to push or pull enemies. Usually you can quickly dispatch enemies by knocking them off high places. Once you learn the fire spell, things really spin out of control. Fire engulfs enemies in a blaze, causing them to run around like fools Ė most of the time over the edge of a platform. With this spell in your arsenal, thereís little reason to waste your time with others.

As you (and your partner) defeat enemies, two bars at the bottom of the screen move towards each other. Once the two touch, you can enter a powered-up mode, making your melee attacks deadly. In concept, and with a friend, this is a great idea and adds a big of friendly competition. When with the A.I., it is a chore since youíll likely have to work the bar all the way across the screen.

As movie licensed games go, Eragon is about as bad as they get. The concept is there, but nothing works. It is a simple matter of the concept not being a great match for the license.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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