Die By the Sword
Developed by: Tantrum
Published by: Interplay
Reviewed by: Zachary Rounds
'Tis but a flesh wound!
When I first heard of Die by the Sword (DBTS from here on), I was a bit skeptical. Here was a game claiming to simulate sword to sword combat in a realistic yet playable manner. Since to my knowledge there has never been a game like this, I had my doubts as to whether it could be done. Fortunately, Tantrum has succeeded in making not only what seems to be a fairly accurate (at least to me) simulation of broad sword fighting, but an extremely fun game.
That thing called plot.
The story in DBTS is pretty basic. A soldier turned mercenary named Alric is sitting around the campfire with his significant other, Maya, when some kobolds show up. Alric, being your basic medieval hero, goes off to chase them. When he gets back he finds that Maya has been kidnapped by some other kobolds. He follows the trail into a nearby cave, at which point the game starts. The manual goes into more detail than usual about the backgrounds of Alric and Maya, detailing what they did before they met (primarily killing) and how they finally ran into each other. The manual is also kind enough to explain that an evil (of course) wizard is going to sacrifice Maya for some reason or another. It really doesn't matter, but it's nice to have a bit more purpose than, "See that? Kill it along with any other moving things." The plot is advanced between each level by cutscenes that show what is happening while you are busy with the killing. The story is pretty standard fare though, so don't expect some sort of moving tale of good and evil. Besides, you don't play games like these for the plot. You play them because they're fun.
Dragon's Lair, meet gameplay.
The best way to describe DBTS is by calling it "Dragon's lair becomes a game" (this is not to say that I don't like Dragon's Lair. It's just not much of a game.). In quest (story) mode you progress through seven levels moving in a fairly straight line between rooms (there's an eighth level but it's only one room). Most of the rooms are populated by a couple of enemies, ranging from quick but weak kobolds to axe wielding, pig-headed orcs, to huge and deadly Ogres. Rooms that don't have enemies usually have a puzzle to solve or a couple of traps to navigate. DBTS manages to balance the two nicely so that you never feel that the game is getting redundant. The only time any of the puzzles become frustrating is when they are jumping puzzles. There are a few of these, however most of them can be successfully navigated after only a few tries. This brings us to the game's first weakness, the save game feature, or lack thereof. Instead of allowing you to save whenever you want the game saves automatically at certain points. Unfortunately this means that if you screw up at the end of a jumping puzzle you will be forced to repeat the whole thing. This gets tiring fast.
The other method of play is in one of the special arenas that have been made specifically for combat. Multiplayer games are held in these rooms as well as a street fighterish style competition where you select a character to play as and slug it out with other enemies from the game. The arenas are fun to play in and often have their own traps. One such room has a spinning, +-shaped floor. If you fall off the floor you plummet into spikes at the bottom. This method of gameplay adds an amazing amount of replay value into the game once you have beaten the quest mode.
Controls are handled in a number of ways, ranging from the keyboard to the mouse to the joystick. How realistic you want the combat to be will determine what kind of control you want. If you want the control to be ultra realistic you will probably want to play with the joystick in VSIM mode. If you just want to run around and have the sword swing in a few basic patterns, then you should play with the keyboard in arcade mode. I played with the keyboard in VSIM mode and got quite good at it after about an hour. The main difference between the different control methods is whether you are using the arcade mode or VSIM mode. In arcade mode there are preprogrammed swings built in, so if you want to swing middle and you are using the keyboard, you'd just hit 5 on the numeric keypad. However, to achieve greater control over the sword you will need to play in VSIM mode. In VSIM mode you control the position of the sword and create your own swings. For instance, by first hitting the 4 on the numeric keypad and then hitting 9, you would swing your sword from your left middle to your high right. By creating swings you can aim for enemy body parts with ease.
This brings us to the main selling point of DBTS, the ability to take off heads, arms, and legs. Whenever you hit an enemy with your sword, the part of the body hit shows damage. If you keep hacking at a leg, sooner or later the leg will come off and the enemy will have to hop around to attack you. By using VSIM mode you can swing your sword with the accuracy needed for beheadings, bearmings, and belegigngs. This is most satisfying after a battle when you can pick of the body parts of your fallen foes and use them as a weapon (although I wouldn't suggest this... the sword is stronger).
What are you going to do, bleed on me?
In the graphics department the game is fine, supporting 3D acceleration, although this seems to be used mostly to increase the frame rate. I never saw any amazing visual effect, but in this game, it's gameplay that counts, not graphics. This isn't to say that the graphics are bad though. The level graphics set the tome very nicely, ranging from dark caves to a green waterway to an abandoned temple. The enemies look very nice and perform very well. When you hit an enemy with your sword blood will fly, and there's nothing like hacking off an arm and watching it fly across the room. The only real flaw with the graphics shows up whenever a cutscene begins. The cutscenes were made using the game engine, but then turned into movies. The end result is a movie that looks very grainy and blocky. I can't help but wonder why they just didn't leave the cutscenes as movies run from the engine, as it looks better.
As far as I could tell there was no music in the game, but the sound effects are great. Whenever your sword hits flesh it has a nice hacking sound, and steel clangs off steel noisily. Alric also comes equipped with a slew of comments for when he gets hit hard or deals out the hurt. The comments range from bland to fairly entertaining, my favorite being "Ha! The other white meat!" when you kill an orc (they have pigs heads). Other sound effects are nicely done and add to the total atmosphere excellently.
Okay, we'll call it a draw.
DBTS also has a great multiplayer mode, where you and some friends can enter one of the arenas and have at each other. I found that the multiplayer was easy to get into and fun to play. The only problem I had was that you can be killed in less than a second if someone hits you just right, as they will either behead you or send to into a trap that kills you instantly. However, it is still great fun, and a welcome addition to an already excellent game.
In the end, DBTS is a worthy title to your collection. The only other problem I had was that the quest mode was too short for me, but that's why there's the arena and multiplayer. Overall, DBTS is a blast.Our rating out of 10: 8.5
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