Eragon - PS2 - Preview
The Lord of the Rings spawned a new era of fantasy filmmaking. It showed Hollywood that you can take a classic story and make it better – even though they're used to doing the opposite.
EA followed up with several games based on the Rings property, re-telling some of the movie's greatest scenes with gorgeous polygons and wondrous interactivity.
It's been two years since that trilogy concluded, and now we've come to the inevitable: Hollywood has begun to catch up. One of many fantasy films in the pipeline, Eragon, is coming this fall. It's being hyped as the first in a trilogy – a line Hollywood has been happy to use ever since Star Wars returned. Whether or not the movie will be good enough to warrant two sequels remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain: just as The Lord of the Rings fever spread to game consoles, Eragon will see its share of video-game adaptations.
The first – the aptly titled Eragon (simple, expected, and effective) – is a button-mashing, graphic-intensive, cinema-style action game. In other words, it's borrowing heavily from The Lord of the Rings.
Eragon opens as if it were a spiritual sequel to the first Prince of Persia. The path laid out before you is rather linear, but its design gives the illusion of something more – something bigger. You have to traverse the environment by jumping, climbing, and cutting your way through any obstacles. It's not terribly difficult, and though I can't say the same for Prince of Persia, fans will surely notice the similarities. Even the way the character moves, and the way he fights, will give you an eyebrow or two in Persia's direction.
As this occurs, the game inconspicuously throws in a few gameplay details, including the explanation of three-hit combos (X-circle-X or circle-X-circle, among others). These combos are not only effective in dealing with enemies – who were curiously absent in this area – they are also necessary in dealing with giant, perishable obstacles. An imperishable object, it would seem, is a part of the world you cannot enter – either temporarily or to keep the player from veering outside the developed world. Perishable objects, however, block any area that needs to be accessed and must be dealt with quickly.
When enemies are too far for your sword to reach, leave the killing to your bow and arrow. This weapon has two ways of striking an enemy – the first, quick and deadly. The second, slow but planned and most certainly painful. Both ways are directed by automatic targeting.
The game cuts over to computer-generated sequences from time to time, all of which could be skipped in the preview build. It's not that I didn't want to know what was happening next, but I was eager to get right to the gameplay. And I figured that, if this was going to be an epic worthy of its trilogy status, then at least some of its surprises should be saved for its big screen debut.
Once the battles begin, kiss all other major duties goodbye. Worlds become less about exploration and more about confrontation. Enemies push through in droves, with a friendly, "Hello, here's my sword!" faster than you can whip out your first combo. A few minutes later you'll have gotten the hang of this enemy drop-in system, and be able to say, before their hellos, "Off with your head!" Figuratively speaking, of course. Right now, there is no beheading, and there doesn't really need to be. I'm guessing the movie will achieve that much-desired PG-13 status – the rating every studio exec and most filmmakers wish to acquire. Lower ratings reek of kiddie flick; higher ratings scream "adults only." Why do you think so many games strive to get a "T"? They're following Hollywood's lead.
Eragon's graphics are immensely lush, using nearly every ounce of the PlayStation 2's power. It's a wonderful sight – to walk through the woods for the first time and see the semi-dynamic, wholly automatic camera adjust itself, creating a cinematic scenario with breathtaking lighting, intricate environments, and a rewarding onslaught of PS2 pleasantries. From sunlight streaks and enormous, realistic-looking trees to high-end textures and a polished, organic finish, Eragon will follow in The Lord of the Rings's footsteps in providing a gratifying visual experience.
Like most other games releasing next month, Eragon is scheduled to ship on November 14th.