Shadow of Zorro, The Download (2001 Arcade action Game)

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Now, let's see: a game based on an extremely popular movie - is it destined to be a success? That depends on the several things. First off, true fans will surely be thrilled with the idea of involving themselves in the exciting adventures of the famous character of Zorro. As for the rest of the gaming population, I think it's safe to say that they will enjoy the game as well, but for a much shorter period of time. Why? Well, that's what you're about to find out. Also, I believe that because of certain visual flaws, the game will come as a disappointment to some.

The story is as follows: 1822, Don Alejandro, Diego's father, thinks he recognizes the new head of the Pueblo garrison. It's actually Fuertes, an infamous war criminal know as the Saragossa Butcher and long believed dead. As the game goes on, the plot unfolds and you'll find that it has many unpredictable twists. The interesting story behind the character of Zorro is also going to be unveiled as you advance through the game.

At the beginning, I'd like to highlight a few details, thanks to which this game may hold your attention for several hours. The graphics are satisfactory and the model of the main character looks quite good. During the sword-fighting scenes, the characters are nicely animated, which makes them very life-like. The movement of the camera during these battle scenes creates a cool atmosphere and it reminded me of the exciting action from the series (or the movie). Furthermore, the reflections and shadows on Zorro change as he passes through different environments; for example, when he creeps slowly through the clear night, the moon's glare will cast nice shades of purple and blue on his clothes. Obviously, a lot of effort was put into the making of the main character. However, it is sad that other characters in the game did not receive such attention. It is also a pity that there are only a few types of soldiers throughout the game. Even though most of the NPC's are nicely animated, their models could've been considerably richer in texture detail. Plus, the environments have a few lame aspects, such as the poorly presented water surfaces and some blurry wall-textures in several in-door settings. As for the in-game sounds, they are genuine and posses an admirable quality. On the other hand, most of these effects are often too repetitive and may get on your nerves. Just hearing those same relentless roars of the sentries for the hundredth time made me want to puke.

The concept of gameplay offers a few interesting features. Zorro can move around and take care of enemies in various ways. He has the option of stealthily avoiding unpleasant encounters with the guards. Luckily, some of the guards enjoy sleeping on duty, which makes them easy targets. When you spot such a laidback sentry, you can take him out either by using the gun (this is when the view changes to first person), or you can sneak up behind him and knock him out with a simple blow on the head. There's also an amusing way of luring the guards with a whistle, thus misleading them and running off in a different direction. This would be the best moment for using Zorro's sneakiness - specifically, Zorro can hide in a murky corner, crouch down, and therefore make himself almost undetectable. If you're very careful and patient, you can slip past the sentries without making yourself exposed at all.

Of course, sword fighting is in most situations an unavoidable method of battling it out with the opponents. There's no doubt that the fighting sequence deserves praise when it comes to the animation. However, I expected more freedom in terms of combat. When you engage in a duel, you are required to press the right combination of arrow keys that appears instantly on the screen. Other than that, the player cannot perform any other movement or action throughout the swordfight. OK, there's a certain challenge presented as the player advances through the game. Mainly, the number of required arrow keys increases as Zorro gains experience - sadly, that doesn't improve gameplay in any way whatsoever. It's true that good reflexes are essential to a successful outcome of a battle, but that's just not exciting enough (it even reminded me of old games such as Space Ace, in which the player gets a minimum amount of interactivity).

It's commendable that the developers have induced many alternative ways of avoiding contact with the enemy; nevertheless, the sword fighting was supposed to be the pinnacle of the whole gameplay concept (I have to say they blew it). Perhaps, the only exciting thing about combat (besides the excellent animation), is the fact that a few times you will have to fight against more serious adversaries - these battle scenes can last a bit longer and they necessitate a great deal of persistence and endurance.

All throughout the game, Zorro gets to achieve various tasks that are harmonized with the game's storyline. Although, some of the missions seem very simple, in the end, they turn out to be a huge disappointment. This is largely due to the unclear function of certain objects. Sometimes, the player can't tell whether items serve some purpose, or if they are merely an integral part of the environment. Consequently, you'll end up completing a task simply by accident, or else by hopelessly clicking on everything you see on the screen. Quite a drawback, for sure. Another major flaw in this area is that you sometimes cannot even see the things you need to pick up or activate. And that's mostly thanks to the feeble camera movement - for no clear reason, the camera cannot shift up and down, hence it will be quite difficult for you to eye an object placed at a certain location. On top of that, the viewpoint in the game occasionally fails to capture the action on screen and you might not be able to notice an enemy approaching.

Regarding the enemy AI, there are a few apparent glitches that are worth mentioning. For instance, every so often enemy troops won't notice you at all; they will shout out for help, but they will pass right next to you like they are blind or something. Besides that bug (which occurs rarely) the AI works pleasingly. When you're spotted by the opponents, they will scream, run towards you, and occasionally even hurl a bomb in your direction.

Prior to the game's release, the developers have revealed that Zorro will not be killing anybody throughout the whole game. If the enemy troop is defeated, he will simply pass out for a short time. After a while, this aspect becomes a drag, because it often happens that you have to continually pass through a particular area - this obliges you to fight the same enemies over and over again, until the path is clear and you can go on. Regrettably, the guards will be unconscious for a few seconds, which doesn't give you much time to get outta dodge.

There's no use of beating around the bush. Zorro can be fun to play. But for how long? Are you enough of a devotee, who's prepared to sacrifice his/hers precious time for a game that has serious flaws in the visual department, as well as some major stumbling blocks in the gameplay concept? There's no doubt that fans might find the game rousing. Although, I fear that after you've played the game for a few long hours, it gets the strong tendency of becoming extremely tedious. In the end, it's obvious that I was mainly let down by the lame combat mode. Like most of you out there, I was eagerly waiting for this game just because of the swordfights. However, once you realize that you don't have the freedom of moving about, or doing anything else during combat, the whole game becomes rather monotonous.


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