reviews\ Dec 25, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Archangel - PC - Review

“Top of the world, ma!”

That was James Cagney’s final cry in the 1949 film “White Heat” when he knew the end was coming and so went out with a bang. Some games give game players that sense, ending rather abruptly in death, while some programs allow players to linger on and on, with little or no consequence to dying. Archangel isn’t one of those latter games. It is made rather apparent toward the front that should you die, evil and darkness prevails, and the rest is lost.

But that’s all right – you’ve already died once.

The game, a PC release from JoWooD and Metropolis Software, is a game that combines role-playing elements and shooter elements. This is a program that has some big stumbling blocks, but get past them and you will find an enjoyable and challenging game underneath.

The game begins with a driver coursing through the night. Ahead lies a 90-degree left turn. He is fiddling with the car stereo. Unbeknownst to him, a semi is coming, slightly out of control, from the other direction. The two vehicles meet at the turn. There is a thundering crash of metal against metal, then the camera pulls back to see the young man lying on the road. Cut to the monastery of the Azure Order. The young man, still in the prone position from the highway is on a bed of straw. He is sent for, learns his name is Michael and he is the chosen one.

The Lord of Light has selected him to wield the Sword of Light, and to defeat the evil that has come into the world since the return of the evil one.

Even the monastery has felt the effects of the coming evil, with the head abbot recently going insane, speaking that the order’s “time is nigh,” and then perishing when struck by lightning while on the tower. A young girl, found by the river, and almost dead was beyond the once-powerful magical aid of the order. But Michael seems to be the promised one, who’s coming was prophesized, as the warrior against the darkness.

You begin the game by learning how to use the interface. Part of that is battling and defeating evil phantoms during training (Ok, that might be part of the monastery’s problem – harboring evil phantoms on the grounds is hardly conducive to keeping the grounds pure from the taint of darkness). While the sword is a formidable weapon, it does cost mana to wield. When it uses too much, it becomes a powerless ordinary sword, hardly capable of striking a blow for righteousness.

Your initial mission is to venture to the village and find out what is going on. Along the way, you are intercepted by a glowing, apparently naked female, with solid wings of light. The Lord of Light is awaiting you. You are transported to a plane where you get a quick overview of what you were selected for. As a bonus you are given the choice of one of two special abilities, a ghost (high in the stealth department and you can attack from a distance with spiritual missile attacks – akin to a magician or sorcerer), or a warrior (better physical attack, tougher to kill, but you won’t go unnoticed and only get half the damage points). Then it is off to the front lines.

The initial view of Archangel was one of a game with too many problems to be worth it. Using 5.1 speakers only produced a stuttering soundtrack through the initial cutscenes. At a resolution of 1280x960, the game moved ponderously slow, and the mouse controls were lethargic. Cutting back to a four-speaker system helped the audio, and dropping the resolution down to the 1152 range gave sharp environments while allowing the game to flow.

The cutscene animation is stiff, eyes roll in mask-like faces, and the vocal animation is – for the most part – unconvincing. Michael accepts his fate too readily, no skepticism there, although he does complain occasionally of “the pain” without much emotion (guess, it doesn’t hurt that bad).

The game also does have clipping problems. At one point Michael’s mana was too low to generate an attack with the sword, so instead of dying then and there, the best plan was a hasty retreat across the barrier that marks the different map levels (aka load times), and recharge, then take on the monster on the other side. When Michael crossed back, the monster was waiting for him and it took a moment to find the beast because the avatar was floating several feet above the ground – probably from occupying the same basic space as the bad guy. Downed foes will merge with rock or other environmental elements.

The controls are also tough to manage or manipulate. You can remap the movement keys to the keyboard arrows (from the WASD configuration), but trying to remap the crouch key from the left Alt key to the right one, or even the L key failed to work. With the mouse acting for free looks, using the arrow keys, moving the mouse and trying to use the left Alt key either requires very long fingers or three hands.

But get past all that and you will find the in-game animation quite good and the environments rich in detail and lush, even if there is a tint of darkness covering the world. In fact, Michael’s journeys will take him to three completely different environments, beginning in the past and advancing to the future. The goal is to find three stones which to use against the lord of darkness.

Though the storyline is basically the same old tale (evil has returned and you are the last chance), putting a more religious spin on it is nice, and the game combines the arcane with the real. Michael is the only one that can wield the Sword of Light, but sometimes he will need to pick up a rifle with a sniper scope and take out the bad guys that way. The monsters used in this game are quite different from the standard fare as well.

Archangel takes a while to get comfortable with; there is little doubt about that. The initial reaction was not a good one, but once into the game, it became immersive and intriguing.

This game is rated Mature for blood, strong language and violence.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 7.5
The action is intense and the maps are large although some of the environments have seams running through them. The cutscenes are not that well done.

Graphics: 7.5
The cutscenes are actually the weaker part of the game. The game does have some clipping problems (and other setbacks as noted above), but the in-game animation is very good and the overall look of the environments is excellent.

Sound: 7
The musical score, ambient sounds and special effects are very crisp and full. Some of the vocal work is fine (such as the head abbot and the guardian, Ivy Rose) but some of the principle characters are not convincing.

Difficulty: Hard
You die and the game is over. The game does have three difficulty levels and you do have to find health packs along the game path to sustain you. But this game is a challenge.

Concept: 6.5
The tale told is old, though immersing it more into the spiritual side is a nice twist. The player interface is easy to navigate through although the game does have problems with key remapping.

Multiplayer: N/A

Overall: 7
This was a tough game to score. There are several problems with it that all but overshadow a solid gaming experience. The game is challenging and fun, with some great environments, but offering elements that work poorly shouldn’t be tolerated. Even when inserting the game disk (after doing other things) and clicking start the game generated a screen that stated the game was about to be uninstalled. Oops. Archangel is a good game; if not for its problems, it could have been a terrific one.


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