Multiplayer games, especially those with complex graphics, demand a high-speed connection to run effectively online. Rune: Halls of Valhalla is a strictly online multiplayer title with beautifully detailed graphics and an insatiable appetite for bandwidth. This product should come with a big orange warning sticker screaming out to the buyer: "do not buy this game if you are using a 56K or slower modem." While the game is polished and fun, it is not accessible to everyone.
The game installs over existing copies of Rune or as a standalone program. The original cast of Rune is joined by about another dozen characters and put in the arenas of Valhalla, the final destination for deceased Viking warriors who battle and feast every day, with their wounds healing by morning. The legend is heaven for a battle hungry society, just as the continuous in-your-face melee battles are heaven for Internet and LAN warriors.
The levels are mostly standard deathmatch fare with seven of the 30+ maps designed by fans of Rune. The arenas are stocked with several weapons and runes, the meat of the game. Due to melee nature of combat (although weapons are sometimes, albeit rarely, thrown), the weapons list is filled with a wide assortment of swords, hammers, maces, and the like. Each item can be imbued with the power of runes, stones with archaic magical markings on them, for unique effects, particularly the rune that lights up swords like light sabers. Other runes give health and bloodlust or the ability to take additional damage without harm. Finally, shields have been enhanced to provide more depth than a simple hack, slash, and slay strategy, although matches often end up as bloody slice-fests with no finesse.
Even though deathmatch games are action packed, they often lose players from the repetitious gameplay. To allay boredom, Human Head Studios added several features such as localized damage effects, four styles of gameplay including Headball, a gruesome basketball version using severed heads, and more levels and skins available on the Internet. Unfortunately, players cannot spawn bots to battle for offline practice and must seek out live challengers for hand-to-hand action. In the end, however, it is still the same old game in a new outfit.
The game utilizes the Unreal engine and is a pleasure to behold. You can roam levels while not online to simply explore and experience the excellent lighting and water effects without the threat of decapitation. This beauty, however, comes at a price -- hefty system requirements and a ninja fast Internet connection. Even with most of the graphics turned down and all other unnecessary background programs turned off, those with faster machines and connections will run past and circle behind you for the kill. By the time you receive the message that you're dead, along with the inevitable taunt that follows, the culprit will have long since moved on to other targets.
Overall, Rune: Halls of Valhalla is a solid title and those with the appropriate means will find it challenging until the bloodlust has worn off and repetition sets in, which, for some, will take quite a while. For the rest of the population hemmed in by slow ISPs, the game will be little more than a source of frustration. When affordable high bandwidth becomes the norm, the game will be a fine addition to any gaming library. Until then, satisfy your Viking urges with the original Rune.
Graphics: The graphics are well done and you can expect the same attention to detail as that found in the original game. The downside is that the lush graphics hurt online game performance.
Sound: You get the clanks, roars and gruesome deaths one would expect from to-the-death melee battles. Odin wouldn't have it any other way.
Enjoyment: For those with a speedy Internet connection, the game is a nice change from the usual parade of first person shooters. Fights are up close and personal, which gives added excitement.
Replay Value: After several hours of slicing and dicing, the game gets old. No real storyline is provided and there's nowhere to really explore once you've learned the arenas.
People who downloaded Rune: Halls of Valhalla have also downloaded:
Rune, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, Serious Sam: The First Encounter, Serious Sam II, Shade: Wrath of Angels, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Quake 4, Second Sight
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