messiah disk 88.
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Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, a DVD-ROM in English by Arkane Studios for Ubisoft, distributed with a 27-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP or better and a 2.6 ghz Pentium 4 PC or higher, for ages 18+, NIS 219.
Technical Rating: ****
Moral Rating: 0 stars
It is painful to contemplate the fact that so much effort, skill and imagination have been invested in a game that will turn your stomach and offers no social benefit except perhaps catharsis. This first-person action fantasy game has been created with artistry - and quite a few bugs - with all effort aimed at impaling enemies with your swords and daggers, kicking them from behind into ravines or pushing them into fires. "Drive your sword through him!" you are constantly advised, but you can also hurl crates, spiked wooden boards and bodies at antagonists.
You play the role of Sareth, a young warrior with a mysterious past who is sent on his missions by a sinister bald and mustachioed wizard named Phenrig. In a mandatory tutorial, you are dispatched on a mission to retrieve ancient crystals and other artifacts, and the brutality gives you a taste of what is to come. As it is a first-person game, you can't see the character you play, but only your arms and legs.
After initial training, you are sent to a castle by Phenrig. Suddenly, while riding your horse to the entrance and showing your explanatory message to the guard, the ground begins to tremble and the building begins to collapse. Your horse, in fright, throws you to the ground as townspeople scream "Cyclops!" You are dragged indoors, seeing only your feet and wonder where you will end up.
Unfortunately, the fainthearted (like me) are unable to turn off the blood in the options section, and the red stuff is everywhere. Many of the enemies you slay are ghouls, zombies, trolls, orcs, giant spiders and dragons - but some are humanoid in suits of armor; these are too human for my taste in a game where your aim is to slash, slash, slash (unless the game developers' aim is to cultivate anti-social perverts). You are accompanied by a voluptuous woman/guide/adviser named Xana, who is dressed in a low-cut gown with a slit down her right thigh. She provides commentary and tips during your 11 to 15 hours of linear game-play, whose strong point is action rather than plot.
If you get tired of plunging your weapon into your enemy's heart, you can always come up from behind and put an end to him by cutting through the artery in his neck or by cracking his skull. Even a sadist would get bored by these missions after a while, but the game is saved by the magnificent graphics and audio, which make it come alive. Although the environments look a bit amateurish when you're outdoors, they look incredibly authentic - if sometimes monochromatic - when you're inside, passing through rooms carpeted with skulls and skeletons. Thanks to Valve's Source engine (developed for the popular game Half-Life 2), even the characters' speech is synchronized with their lip movement. Bodies of water shimmer so stunningly that they look as if they have been shot in video, even though they are all animated, and the background music and ambient sounds of wind, water, thunder and conversation are perfect.
But it can take several minutes for scenes to load, and sometimes, text that you must read appears as unreadable, blotchy white script. Unless you're lucky or have an extremely powerful computer, you will be knocked back to the Windows home screen more than once during play. And the artificial intelligence of the enemies often leaves much to be desired, as they may stand around waiting to be killed instead of taking cover or fighting back.
As much of the dialogue is oral and does not appear as text on the screen, gamers whose English is not excellent will have a hard time understanding what is going on and what they have to do. That's a relief - although not intended by developers who produce their software mostly for a native-English-speaking audience - as Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is thus fortunately beyond the ken of impressionable teenage Israeli boys.