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Hard To Be A God Review

21 Apr 2008  by   Paul Younger

‘Hard To Be A God’ is a strange title in many ways. Brought to us by the same team that“Well it is quirky, I’ll give them that”created ‘Fantasy Wars’ you would be forgiven for thinking that this would be a special – albeit quirky – title. Well it is quirky, I’ll give them that…

I started the game with no clue who I was, where I was or even what I was. No, this was not another game where the protagonist has conveniently lost his memory, it’s just that there was no introduction or background story at all. I had managed to work out that I had been dropped in the middle of some sort of Feudal society where Dons (the noble type not the Godfather type) were the individuals who held the power and I was merely one of the peons to do their bidding. For mist of the early part of the game this view didn’t change at all. Sure, there were some weird scenes where you argue with your Doppelgänger/future self /alternate version of yourself, but he made about as much sense as the rest of the characters.

It didn’t get any better when I attempted to work my way through the game by speaking to the main quest givers. Not only was the translation extremely poor, the voice acting for the characters was even worse. I’m not sure if it was any issue with the material they had to work with, but I’m pretty sure Shakespeare would be turning in his grave if he knew the depths to which acting had sunk. I found myself relying on map icons to tell me where to go and even when I got there I wasn’t sure if I was meant to kill my target or talk to them!

In order to make the mediocrity of moving from one goal to the next a bit more exciting I was“I wasn’t sure if I was meant to kill my target or talk to them!”able to slaughter random gangs of bandits and feral wildlife that had the misfortune of crossing me. Combat is simplistic to say the least and comprises of blocking until your opponent lunges for you and then swiftly finishing them off. Not exactly rocket science. Still, if diplomacy is your thing you can always disguise yourself as one of the bandits to ensure that they don’t attack you. Heck, they’ll even help to fight of the wolves if they are around at the time you are attacked. Don’t expect a warm reception from villagers when disguised as a bandit though – for obvious reasons.

As with ‘Fantasy Wars’, ‘Hard To Be A God’ couldn’t handle anti-aliasing well on my computer and the textures become warped and stretched if this option was enabled on my graphics cards. It could be my SLI setup, but numerous other titles cope with these settings fine. Other than that, I had no trouble running the game with its highest graphical settings. Unfortunately, ‘highest graphical settings’ doesn’t automatically translate to fantastic visuals. If anything, the developers either didn’t have enough time to polish the graphics or they simply couldn’t be bothered.

Many of the more detailed aspects of the game visually are actually two-dimensional pieces of work plastered to the floor. Numerous examples of this appear throughout the game, but the most noticeable early on is the detail inside of the military tents you come across. The bedrolls look more like paintings than physical objects and this detracts from the atmosphere somewhat. Clipping is also a major issue throughout play and if you decide to kit your character out with a cape it is clear to see.

To be fair, these are the only the negative aspects of the game’s looks and there are some“I was able to slaughter random gangs of bandits and feral wildlife that had the misfortune of crossing me”positive aspects as well. The look and feel of the water is pretty good, although you don’t actually get a chance to have a dip in the numerous bodies of water that you have to traverse. In fact, most of the specula effects in the game can be pretty impressive and the camp fires that litter the landscape are testament to this. It’s just a shame that the rest of the visuals weren’t as carefully implemented.

As mentioned earlier, the voice acting in the game is enough to make you want to hit mute. With the translation from the source material being as poor as it is, introducing voice actors to give ‘life’ to characters is just asking for trouble. The music accompanying the gameplay is flat and lifeless too; a generic lute piece introduces the game and variations of this continue through the game proper. It is only when there is impending danger that the score changes to something more dramatic. Even then, this is over when you slaughter the last threat to your well-being.

At least the background ambience is a little more bearable. Rowdy drunks belch and pass other bodily gasses in the local taverns, children giggle and shout playing in the open spaces and wild animals howl in the wilderness quite convincingly. Alas, it is not enough to make up for the rest of the poor audio and I resigned myself to playing with sound effects only and muting both speech and music. It’s better that way. Trust me…

It is very rare that I sit down to play a game and find myself so frustrated with it that I just switch it off and walk away – and I have played some God-awful titles let me tell you! ‘Hard To Be A God’ promised a mixture of science fiction and fantasy gameplay with a story that would keep me enthralled. The reality was that I spent most of my time mindlessly wandering from one quest to the next trying desperately to work out what the h** anyone was saying. I tried sticking with it I really did, but in the same way you can’t continue to smack your head against a brick wall for fear of causing permanent damage, I couldn’t endure long bouts of playing this game. If I ever find myself able to play the game through in it’s entirety I may review my final score. Maybe…

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