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Cinemaware were one of the most innovative and influence publishers way back in the heady days of the mid eighties to early nineties, during the reign of the 16-bit machine (Atari ST and Commodore Amiga). One of the first games I had on my old ST was the original Defender of the Crown, which at the time set new standards in graphics and was the first game I ever played that had a somewhat cinematic feel to it. (The only other game I can think of that might claim to be the first with a cinematic feel to it is Dragons Lair, but that was virtually unplayable so doesnt count in my books.) I even played it quite recently using the STEEM emulator, and though a little simple it still looks and plays pretty well, even with the old 320x200x16 colour (as in 16 colours, not 16-bit colour!) display and emulated Yamaha sound chip. (Head on over to www.cinemaware.com to get the original ST / Amiga / PC disk images for FREE you have to register first but this is also free and there are no drawbacks that Ive experienced, you just get an e-newsletter occasionally you can download the STEEM Engine emulator for free at tamw.atari-users.net/steem.htm - Amiga emulators are out there but are illegal unless you own an original machine.)
I first heard about Robin Hood Defender of the Crown through Cinemawares site, and waited impatiently for it to come out. Its now here and, while there are certain similarities with the original game, I am pleased to say that Cinemaware have succeeded in producing a fine game that stands on its own merits.
First impressions were of wonderful graphics but very jerky movement, which made the game somewhat unplayable. However this was remedied by using the old trick of switching to 16-bit colour, which improved things no end, without much of a noticeable difference in the graphics. Check the system specs (at the end of the review) carefully before you think of buying this game. However, to get around this problem, there are several resolutions available, right down to 640x480x16, so you should be all right.
Once Id started getting into the game, I began to find out the different aspects within it such as archery and sword fighting when on raids, buying different units for the armies, and using the battle system. Later on more combat units become available (though there are only 5 in total Peasant, Archer, Foot Soldier, Knight, and Catapult), more battle options become available (3 per unit eventually), and you can also do things like jousting to gain reputation, wealth, and territory. At first you only battle to Nottingham but once that is won, you have the whole of England to fight for and of course Richard needs to be released somehow
For each aspect of the game there are Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced tutorials, that become available as you reach the stage that you can use them. These give you enough information to know what you need to accomplish and the basic tools to do them, but leave you to find out how to use them to your best advantage. Different characters (such as Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, etc) are introduced throughout the game, consistent with both your progress in the game and the progression of the storyline, which is brilliantly woven into the game.
You access the various options by first selecting a character, then the option, then actually do what youve decided. For instance, clicking on Robin lets you access his journal (where all the info about what to do and what has happened so far as to the storyline is available) or Raiding. You select a county to raid, and if it has a castle you are taken to the sword fighting, otherwise transported to a tree where you will attempt to pick off riders and wagons as they pass underneath you, using your archery skills. Each of these raids has either a Trivial, Challenging, or Perilous difficulty rating, and a comparative reward level. If you get struck by three arrows while raiding a convoy you are wounded and have to escape with no gold to show for it, similarly if you are defeated while sword fighting you are imprisoned, and either have to escape or bribe the jailer. The country will have changed somewhat in the time you were in the dungeon, and you may not have all the territories and armies that you had before.
Each type of menu / action sequence can be controlled with either mouse, keyboard, or joystick / joypad, though in general I found the keyboard best for sword fighting and sieges (gotta love using the catapults!), while the mouse worked best for everything else. The battle interface takes a little getting used to but is fine once you have.
This is the real problem with the game its just too easy. While you dont actually need to master every aspect of the game to complete it (there are about 4 different endings, btw so just because youve defeated Prince John doesnt mean youve completed the game to its full extent), it is quite easy to do so in general each part of the game can be mastered if you find out one crucial point about it. (No, Im not going to tell you what any of them are!) I kept asking myself if the fact that Id played the original DotC game so often helped me to master this one more quickly but I dont think thats the case, there arent really that many similarities in the actual gameplay.
The inclusion of different difficulty levels or the ability to compete with online players may have added to the overall difficulty. Id completed the game (with every possible ending, as far as I can tell) in about 10-15 hours of playing time overall. (Sorry but I wasnt actually counting as I went!) I found it to be quite disappointing how easy it was, especially considering how much I like pretty much every other aspect of the game.
Oh, and the jousting is much too easy very unlike the original game, in which is was nearly impossible!!
As you would expect if youve ever played a Cinemaware game before, the game is not only visually stunning but also quite beautiful. The whole thing is very atmospheric, and along with the excellent (and very stylised) graphics and superb animation, excellent voice-acting, strong storyline, and dry wit, this makes it a game you experience rather than play. This is not your traditional happy, smiley, loves the rightful king Robin Hood that Erryl Flynn portrayed though theres a lot of humour in the game its also quite dark in its tone in some places. The interactions between the different characters in the cut scenes is often very amusing too.
The music from the original game has been crafted into a fine orchestral suite that suits the game perfectly. (Suite and Suits in the same sentence can you better that?!?) The sound effects are crisp and effective, and add to the gameplay.
Attention to detail is what really stood out to me though for instance, if you shoot an arrow into a nearby bough, the arrow doesnt simply disappear but stays stuck there. You can still see the arrows in your victims as they slump forward. (This game has a 12+ rating for the violence and occasional swearing its nothing that terrible but it aint for kids.) Motion blurs follow sword swings. Pieces of wood fly into the air as your boulder hits a structure within the castle walls. And the presentation on the jousting is wonderful. Little details like these make you feel much more involved with what is happening in the game.
Although all the castles you raid are made up of the same basic components, they are rearranged each time in such a way as to make you believe you are in a different place each time. The use of different camera angles in the jousting helps keep it interesting. Overall, this is one of the most visually impressive games Ive ever played.
The game uses DivX video for the cut scenes, and very nice it is too. Is has a slightly blurry quality to distinguish it from the game itself, which is very crisp and clear. You can skip these sequences with the Backspace key.
Will You Still Be Playing it in 6 Months Time?
Funny thing this, but although the game is much too easy and completed in a matter of days, I think the answer to this question is yes. And the reason why is, there are so many different things you can do, and while the challenge is lacking, theyre just fun. And the humour will keep you coming back for more too, I think. So its one of those games that youll have a quick go at every now and then when youre bored of whatever it is that youve been trying for months to complete.
Is it Worth the Money?
Unless you know you are never going to play it again once youve completed it, it is worth your money for sheer entertainment factor. But if you only play games up to the point that you complete them, probably not.
Graphics: - 94% - beautiful graphics and animation, though youll need a very good 3D card to make the most of it.
Sound: - 92% - excellent voice acting, music, and sound effects.
Playability: - 88% - most aspects of the game take a very short time to get used to, tutorials are effective.
Longevity: - 55% - Youre probably going to complete this quite quickly.
Replay Value: - 75% - its the sort of game you come back to every now and then even though youve completed it.
Value For Money: - 77% - a wonderful game while it lasts, but it doesnt last long enough.
Overall Rating: - 83% - What could have been an amazing game is marred due to being far too easy, but its still great fun to play occasionally even when youve mastered everything.
Minimum recommended specs in Bold (my system specs in parentheses if relevant I had no problems apart from very occasionally losing the sound, which was remedied by saving my position and restarting the game)
OS Win 98, 2000, ME, XP (XP)
CPU 500MHz P3 (2.4GHz P4)
RAM 128MB (512Mb)
Hard disk space - 250Mb
CD-ROM - 4X or higher
Sound - DirectX 8.1 Compatible sound card
Graphics - DirectX 8.1 T&L (GeForce 4)
Video RAM - 16Mb (64Mb)
Age rating: 12+
It should be pretty easy to get hold of this game a good deal cheaper than the RRP now (in fact it's on Amazon Marketplace from just £1.89). I got it from "Game" quite a while ago for £19.99. I couldn't even find it on play.com. Seems that it maybe wasn't as popular as it deserved to be!