The First Templar
Kalypso and Haemimont Games have a good relationship going. Kalypso, normally known for budget titles and odd simulation games on the PC, have substantially improved their image with the very well-received Tropico 3. Haemimont Games, who had been known for slightly obscure city-building games, created the humorous and enjoyable city-management game with Kalypso's help. It looks like they'll do the same with Tropico 4.
The duo is trying something odd with a new IP called The First Templar. This is a co-operative third-person hack 'n' slash using the Tropico engine. The Tropico engine is powerful enough for zooming into the city streets of a tropical metropolis, but can it survive a shift in genre?
The setting is eminently compelling. After the first Assassin’s Creed game, it became obvious that 13th century crusade-era video games were sorely underrepresented. The First Crusade takes a separate perspective from Assassin’s Creed. It’s a hack ’n’ slash title about a French crusader searching for the Holy Grail. Nobody knows if it's good or evil, but the relic represents actual salvation for our knight. It seems the Knights Templar, both a powerful military and economic institution in Europe, have made many enemies across the continent. From here players will branch out across Europe, battling soldiers, mutant humans, and even the Inquisition.
Unfortunately, The First Templar is not a pretty game. Textures are stretched across the landscape, and the environments look mundane. The character models are fairly unimpressive, and aliasing is a major visual drag. Some of the buildings appear technically sound, though, a detail worth noting considering their role as accurate historical representations of real buildings.
Combat is fairly standard stuff. Haemimont wants to make the game as historically correct as possible, so fighting is mostly sword swings. However, each of the characters have skill trees to upgrade stats, abilities, and special attacks. Special attacks are tied to the zeal meter. Since there is always at least two characters fighting together, players can switch back and forth to utilize each characters special skill sets. The action feels fairly basic, and isn't terribly fresh or new.
Thankfully, the drop-in, drop-out co-op looks promising, allowing players to roll with the French templar or one of two pals: a fellow knight and a sexy noble woman who has been declared a heretic. It’s a simple system that promises to work well due to its fundamental design.
The First Templar doesn't encourage high expectations; it just feels like a second rate game. Heamimont has a few months to fix any problems, but the genre shift may have caused them to lose some of the je ne sais quoi that made Tropico 3 so delightful. Hopefully they can get it together for the May 10 launch.