Quest For The Time Bird was the last adventure from Infogrames but, with this latest release, it's back to fantasy land. Empire's Sleeping Gods Lie hasn't exactly taken the world by storm, so why should Drakkhen, making the same 3D boasts, be any different?
If you have a fondness for green dragons you'd best steer well clear of this one, because the whole idea is to search out everything that breathes fire and kill 'em. You play the game in a strange world where dragons rule the roost.
Your goal is to find eight special stones which belong to the dragons. You must take these to the centre of the island where the plot is being played, and call up the Primordial Dragon in a scene somewhat reminiscent of a day out at Stonehenge for the druids.To collect the special stones you need to wipe out the dragon holding them and claim the stone located in its forehead. If you thought dragons were sexless beasts, forget it: according to the French programmers, there are good and bad dragons, male and female. The Dragon Princess is the most powerful of them all, but you only meet her towards the end of the adventure.
The island is divided into four different zones. There are two dragons allocated to each of these - one male, one female, some good, some bad. Within each zone are two palaces and two princes, again with some good and others bad.
Confused yet? This might all sound very daunting, but it's important because each palace possesses its own mysteries and plots as well as an endless variety of monsters, tricks and traps all designed to keep the eight stones out of your grasp for as long as possible.As if all this weren't enough, there's a time limit involved as well. The earth is being racked by earthquakes and volcanic activity which gets worse as the days go by. In a few months the earth is due to snuff it - and you go along for the ride.
As with any decent RPG, the game begins by giving you the opportunity to select the characters you want to use.
After choosing whether to play a male or female character, you describe each team member as thief, warrior, priest, magician or necromancer. This option allows you to dictate the areas where your team members will be strongest, and by creating a good cross-section of strengths and skills you can increase the likelihood of surviving at least as far as the first dragon.To allocate the attributes you're given a list of five random strength numbers (values between 1 and 20) and you must drag them over the five attributes that you need to specify. Force, dexterity, intelligence, resistance and instruction all need to be entered for every team member. After this, you must enter the weaponry that each of them will possess during the adventure, and the results are then saved to disk for playing future games.
With this done, you're through to the main playing screen which is where things really start happening. To move your team of your characters across the landscape you use a standard point-and-click method, choosing first the character to move and then the portion of the screen where they should go. There is a vast number of places which require your attention - from hotels and inns to darkened dungeons.
Travelling is frequently interrupted by giant dragons which leap up out of the ground or come at you from a distance. These are best destroyed by casting spells: but first you have to find a spell. Depending on the way you choose to attack the dragon and the weaponry you use, you can click on icons which respond by animating your attack.
For most purposes there seems little point in having your team members to direct, but you realise how important they are when you come across large buildings. Generally, it's best to move the team around together, but when you want to search the rooms of a house, you can split them up so that they wander off alone. Four team members also have their benefits when it comes to defeating the monsters. Either you can link up together and fire more ammunition or you can sacrifice a team member with an up-close intense attack. Only when all members of your team are dead does the game close.
At any time, you can call up an inventory of the objects being held by team members. This is helpful since it gives an indication of the strengths of different characters.
Along the way other obstacles present themselves and the only way to get around these is either to use spells or to make the most of items that you collected on your journey. Because it's not always obvious which items to use when, a limited amount of help is provided in the game book. Here, certain poems and sentences will help you to master the Drakkhen island. There are also additional clues located in places such as camps and inns.
As you wander around the landscapes, large fiery dragons leap out of the ground to attack you. Although these images look very impressive, compared to the background, they're often very out of place. Most of this has to do with the look of the game - grass is represented by solid slabs of green and there are no lines of gradation in the sky: consequently the detail of the monsters leaps out.
This doesn't follow for many of the interior scenes, particularly when you start to wander around the dungeons. These often have animated sequences which might not make much of a contribution to the gameplay but certainly liven up the action.
For an adventure game, a surprising amount of attention has been paid to animation. Whenever you move the characters, they are seen to walk rather than shuffle. They also have a different sprite depending on the weapon being held at the time, which is always a good sign.
In the version we reviewed there was no sound: Infogrames say spot effects using the ST sound chip will be added before final release.
Empire had problems marketing Sleeping Gods Lie because it didn't fall into any readily identifiable category - it was neither a true adventure nor an action game. Infogrames are likely to suffer the same problems.
This doesn't mean Drakkhen is another Sleeping Gods, though. For a start the graphics are more impressive, and it doesn't have the same kind of 3D playing area.
In Drakkhen you don't feel free to wander at will. 3D in this game means you can walk in front and behind objects - not nearly as exciting as Sleeping Gods. Nevertheless, control over four characters at once certainly makes it more unusual to play. This is important in a game where the 3D environment has to be backed up by extra features and quality graphics.
The adventure itself sounds very contrived and the fantasy scenario has surely been clubbed to death by now. But once you start playing, it's surprising how addictive your search though, rooms and camps becomes. But will the point-and-click environment appeal to enough people? Drakkhen is neither a great RPG nor a good action game. It derives its strengths and weaknesses from a mixture of both.