Remember the uproar over Dungeons & Dragons? Some parents hated it and its heavy uses of magic, violence and role-playing in general. Even as the hubbub was dying, a Christian fantasy role-playing game came out, where players had to use good works to complete quests - while slaying the occasional evil on the side, equipped with the "armor of the Lord."
Fast forward a couple of decades to the present. Violent video games are coming under fire, for many of the same reasons D&D did. And as the hubbub seems to be dying, here comes a Christian first-person shooter where the player fights demons and evil Roman soldiers in the early days of the church.
There's nothing wrong with a game about morality. Ultima IV was arguably the best game in the series, and also one of the best of all time, wherein players had to embody virtues like love, honesty, sacrifice and justice, providing a good example to the fictional residents of Britannia. Catechumen could have been like that, with the player doing good deeds for its world's residents. Instead, it's simply an outdated shoot-'em-up.
The plot is thin. The player is a Catechumen, a Christian student whose mentor and brethren have been captured by Roman soldiers. Lucky for the player, an angel appears with a sword that shoots God's power. Nothing of this sort happening is found in the Bible, but whatever. We'll go with it.
Anyhow, that's the plot. The player wanders through Roman catacombs shooting evil soldiers (who drop to their knees to the strains of "Alleluia") and demons while freeing the prisoners. Levels are strictly find-the-key, as in Doom 2. The whole game has a Doom 2 feel, right down to environments that can't be interacted with and doors sliding into the walls instead of opening. There's armor of the Lord, and healing is provided by scrolls of Bible verses. Laying around Roman catacombs. Despite the Roman persecution of ... oh, just give up trying to make sense of it.
One big point of contention: Catechumen's creators distinguish it from other shooters by saying this game lacks the kill-'em-all gore and violence in those others. This is partly true, what with the soldiers being converted instead of killed. But demons explode into puffs of brimstone or sulfur or whatever. And really, the only strategy is to shoot at everything. So the bloodstains are missing, but not the mentality.
This could have been a good, if not great, game. Let the player truly play the part of a Bible student, engaging in debates with the soldiers instead of shooting them. Teach the players as the character learns and grows. Take out most of the shooting and add in quests that show good deeds speak louder than violence. Maybe the creators hoped to hook first-person shooter lovers and then expose them to the Bible, but Catechumen won't work that way. FPS vets will avoid it, and the Christian teens who play it - if any do - won't really learn anything by flashes of verses.
I'm confident there will be another good, moral game in the Ultima IV vein at some point. But this isn't it.
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