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28th January
2009
written by Tony
Scary! Grrrrrr?

Scary! Grrrrrr?

We subscribe to Gamefly, which, much like Netflix and movies, allows us to be a little more adventurous (perhaps less selective?) with our gaming choices. That’s why, despite the mountain of poor and neutral reviews that this game received, we decided to go for it anyway. The Battle for Assgrab (as Steph likes to call it) is essentially about a Viking who gets into Freya’s, the Goddess of fur coats (apparently), good graces and gets some nifty powers as her new pet. You fight the evil Horde of Hel, the Goddess of the underworld, and pretty much slash and burn like a good little Viking when and where Freya says so. Your biggest tasks are releasing Viking clans from the Horde’s grasp and summoning dragons to help you and the freed Vikings reclaim your old territory from the Horde. In a lot of (conceptual) ways this game reminds me of Assassin’s Creed, though is much less pretty, polished and engaging. The story is there, certainly, but there isn’t much to motivate you to put on your give-a-crap hat. Let me first say that this game is by no means the best, or really even close to the best, game we have played on the PS3, but it’s one of the few I’ve had the determination to finish in a while, so it gets a review. I’ll start with what the game does not do well and finish on a more positive note, because that makes me happiest right now. First, the graphics. They really aren’t that great. I mean, it looks better than any PS2 game I’ve ever played, obviously, but that isn’t saying much in the face of what the PS3 is capable of. No footprints left on soft surfaces, minimal bump and reflective mapping (so the textures really ended up looking kind of flat) and little diversity in the materials used to form the world and the characters lead to a “meh” in the graphics department. On top of the graphics, the sound design was pretty terrible. A lot of things in the game were either mastered too quietly or not all, adding up to a less than immersive soundscape. There was some limited voice acting, and it was okay for the most part, but the music was too quiet and the in-game sound effects were often missing or barely audible at all. The best description that I can come up with is that the audio lacked the visual equivalent of punchiness. It was just very flat and neglected. The gameplay was pretty repetitive, since you essentially did the same sequence of tasks three times across three islands. The quests were in fact almost, if not completely, identical on each island. They all had a quarry, a lumberyard, a farm, a watch tower, random settlements and a town to besiege. Ho-hum. The camera was okay, usually it stayed out of the way and did its job, but every so often it really cocked things up. Fortunately the game is forgiving enough that it wasn’t ever an enormous issue. Character movement was fine, if a little unrefined (The main character looked like quite the goober when he walked down a hill, that’s for sure), but did have one major flaw: fighting on a hill or on stairs was useless. Whatshisname seems to only swing his sword on one horizontal plane, so if your enemy was above or below you, forget it. Fortunately, this was a two-way street. Those seem like some pretty large obstacles to enjoying the game, and in fact are probably too large for many people to ignore. However, there were some things I really appreciated that this game did well and would quite like to see implemented in some of the more popular games. There was very little waiting for things to load. There was the initial load when you first start a session, but after that you could essentially play an entire island and never wait for anything to load, ever. I assume this was done at the expense of some things, like how various landscape elements were only continuously rendered a short distance from the camera, but all in all I appreciated not having to wait for every damn thing to load every five minutes. It seems only right, since the PS3 has an enormous hard drive and plenty of processor resources, that load times should be easy to minimize. The controls were pleasingly simple without seeming dumbed down (certainly more complex than, say, the newest Prince of Persia game where you hardly deviate from the X button). They were just easy enough so that you didn’t have to think a lot about what you were doing. There were all the requisites: light attack, heavy attack, jump and action. There were some simple combos, but nothing more than using R1 or R2 to modify existing moves. There was some magic, useful when facing a large number of enemies, though slow to refill. You could carry some simple items, again easy to implement. On top of this nicely pared down control scheme, the timing was extremely forgiving, not to the point of being completely brainless, but with enough wiggle room to pull off your move pretty much every time if you are paying attention. I can’t think of much in a game that frustrates me more than having to time something so perfectly that it almost is pure chance when you get it right. As the game progressed the timing for things like the dodge and counter attack changed a little, but it was easy enough to adapt to and really just required a little more vigilance to pull the old moves off. There were some mini-games based on button prompts, but these were infrequent enough to avoid being annoying. There was some limited leveling up of skills and health, nothing overly complex, but it was kind of moot since the enemies generally did not change over the course of the game. Combat with said enemies was generally satisfying, if not a little repetitive, with visceral dismemberments and effective combos. No enemy was too terribly difficult, though some did offer a satisfying challenge to overcome. All in all, this game was unremarkable in most respects, clearly being a low budget push that Sega just wanted on the shelves as soon as possible. Despite this, there were some aspects of the game that worked well, well enough for me to finish the game at least, and if the developers had more time/money/patience the game could have really been a contender. As it is, I feel like this game has a lot of unrealized potential that was wasted on a bottom line that cut out any chance of this being a truly standout title. 3.5 out of 5

2 Comments

  1. 01/29/2009

    This Gamefly service intrigues me. I think my son would love it if we got a membership. Are there a good selection of Wii games available?

  2. 01/29/2009

    We like Gamefly for the most part. It’s certainly cheaper than buying the games or renting from somewhere more conventional like Blockbuster (Our plan is around $15.00 a month). They are a little on the slow side, though they seem to be making strides to fix that, but for now don’t expect quite the same snappy service you would get from Netflix. They have a fairly complete selection for most platforms, far, far better than any rental store and even most sales places like Gamestop. So far we have been able to find pretty much anything we have looked for on the Wii, PS3, and PS2, though sometimes there are slight availability issues. Overall I think it’s a good deal, we’ve stuck with it for quite a while now.

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