Grolier Interactive and developer Silmarils have teamed up to make Asghan, a 1st/3rd person adventure where you play the title character on a quest to stop his evil uncle Morghan from calling him a big baby. Or something like that. Now, Asghan has to be one of the worst titles for a game in recent memory, second only to the upcoming Varginha Incident. I wish developers would learn that vaguely disturbing nonsense names tend to make a bad impression on most people. Asghan boasts to have been "Inspired by the works of the great J.R.R. Tolkien" (the name Silmarils was directly lifted from his books), but in reality it feels like any generic fantasy world most of the time, and a boring one at that.
Although it is billed as a 1st/3rd person game, Asghan is really just a third person adventure. It was a cool idea to allow both perspectives, but the first person view is only used to shoot arrows and is fairly worthless for doing anything else although you CAN use it more often. As a result, the inevitable comparisons to Tomb Raider come up, and Asghan does not compare well.
Upon starting the game you are presented with an options screen that was lifted directly from the Tomb Raider series (which actually stole the system from Alone in the Dark), with the spinning 3d objects that go around in a circle. All of the menus are in this style, and are a good indication of the amount of innovation and quality that can be expected from this title. To put it simply, the graphics are weak. To put it slightly more complexly, the game supports 3dfx, D3D and software rendering, but as far as I can tell only in 640x480.
The engine suffers from horrible clipping problems, with arms and weapons constantly going through walls. As for nifty 3d effects, they are non-existent. Whenever you kill something a puff of smoke comes up-- a 2d puff of smoke. This trend continues with trees, bushes, torches and assorted background items all using 2d sprites. Needless to say this is not a plus. Textures are a mixed bag. Some of them are very pretty and high-quality. When I first started the game there were these beautiful cliffs surrounding me, and I thought to myself "What a wonderful world. I hope the rest of the game has textures like this." Well, my wish was granted, as the rest of the first level proceeded to use and abuse that same texture over and over until it was nothing but a bloody pulp lying on the ground.
Sound in Asghan is fairly boring. Oddly enough, I happen to thoroughly enjoy sound, at least when it isn't being blasphemed like it is here. There is some decent 3d positional sound stuff going on, but its all for naught as the actual effects are boring, repetitive and flat, much like the rest of the game. One thing worth noting is the voice acting, which isn't so bad. My favorite character is this fairy that you meet throughout the game who sings you songs about what you do next. I'm gathering that the music director was drunk the day they wrote the songs, because they're the most crack-infested pieces of dementia I've ever heard in an otherwise serious game. After a bit my only motivation to play was to see if I could get to the next part with the fairy.
Presumably the people that designed Asghan haven't played a computer game in at least three years, if ever. You see, half of the game is spent solving clever puzzles, which invariably amount to pulling this mysterious device they call a `lever' and hoping it doesn't send you to the beginning of the dungeon or any number of other annoying things. In the first dungeon alone there was somewhere approaching 40 of these miraculous `levers'. If only other game developers would take notice, it could revolutionize the way games are played! Seriously though, these puzzles weren't particularly fun in the original Tomb Raider, and they certainly aren't fun now. The other predominant puzzle type is jumping over and around various obstacles or traps. What makes it so difficult isn't that you need skill or timing, its that the jumping interface is so awkward that its a challenge to even do the simplest things. I truly wish companies would start taking a cue from Nintendo's Mario 64. That game wasn't so damn fun because of the graphics or gameplay. It was the jumping, pure and simple. Unca Wongmo is going to fill you all in on a little secret about 3rd person games: If running around and jumping is fun, the game will be fun. If not, the game will suck. Just go back and look at any 3rd person game you've ever played, it holds true for all of them (except for Zelda 64, that's the one exception).
The controls are uniformly bad. It is keyboard only, with the mouse used to adjust camera angles, and there's no way to change the key settings. On the issue of the camera, I'm working under the assumption that Silmarils hired their janitor to code the camera portion of the engine, its not possible that an actual professional programmer could write something so sloppy. Combat is particularly frustrating. You can only use your sword from the 3rd person view, and during fights the camera has a tendency to shift around until you can't see anything. Perhaps this is just a form of clever AI, with the enemies moving your camera angle to force you to stop attacking and fix it. Finally, there are many bugs and glitches throughout the game. At one point I tried to jump up on a ledge, but my player got caught in mid-air and just started doing this weird Macarena twitch. At another point I was able to make a monster walk completely into a wall. The list honestly goes on and on with small annoying glitches that could easily have been caught in beta testing.
It is obvious that Silmarils wasn't setting out to make a bad game when they started work on Asghan. The plain fact that there's a detailed and lengthy background story for all of the characters in the game shows that they had their hearts in the right place. They also even had one or two neat ideas, such as setting the game in both the 1st and 3rd person. Something just went wrong, and they ended up grinding out a poor excuse for an adventure game (unless your idea of adventure is frustration and tedious, repetitive gameplay) with an outdated engine and very few redeeming factors.
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