Developer : Cinemaware
Publisher : TBA
Release Date: Q2 2003
When I heard that Cinemaware was releasing “Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown” for the Playstation 2, I was immediately taken back to the ‘80s, when this title initially debuted on the Commodore 64, a computer that saw its prime in the ‘80s and was considered the top-of-the-line system for games. In the C64 version of Defender of the Crown, most of the game was text-based, and you were only treated to pure 8-bit graphics when an action would occur. Enough nostalgia, let’s get to it.
In Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown, you take on the role of Robin Hood as well as some of his companions, like Maid Marian and Little John. Each character has a different set of actions that he/she can perform (Little John controls your army, while the delectable Maid Marian is your personal spy, etc.), and you must use each character if you want to be successful. I really enjoyed this because every character complements the other and makes gameplay truly seamless. Many games that offer multiple playable characters tend to focus more on the main character and give the other characters next-to-useless actions, and the gamer tends to not use them at all or even finds them to be a hindrance to gameplay (*cough* Kingdom Hearts *cough*).
The story behind Robin Hood is well known, but for those who do not have a clue, here’s the skinny. King Richard gets capture while he’s fighting in the Crusades, so his evil little brother Prince John takes over and tries to conquer England. Robin Hood sets out to stop John and free King Richard while the prince tries to prevent you from accomplishing this task. You start out in Sherwood Forest, where you must claim that county from the Sheriff of Nottingham. Once you claim Sherwood Forest, you’re off to take back England.
The gameplay is a combination of turn-based strategy, action/adventure, and first-person shooter. Normally I tend to not play turn-based video games, but Defender of the Crown focuses on management of units and territories in a manner that is reminiscent of RISK, which is near and dear to my gaming heart. The object of the game is to capture all of the territory in England, whether the land is inhabited by Prince John or other land holders who also want to claim England for themselves. Here is where the turn-based strategy aspect comes into play: each person has a turn to either take over lands, stage tournaments, raid castles, or build strongholds. You can do a number of things within one turn so that you don’t have to worry about wasting your turn just to hire units for your armies. Speaking of armies, you have two different types, campaign armies (attacking) and county armies (holding your lands). When attacking with your armies, your units are displayed on a battlefield map with one object representing which unit you are using, and the amount of units is displayed under the object. Doing battle with armies actually takes strategy in this game, and you can’t rely on safety in numbers, because a well-placed catapult can take out a large chunk of your armies. Your armies can consist of 5 different unit classes, but we won’t get into that in this preview.
Laying siege to a castle or raiding one encompasses the action/adventure aspect of the game. Laying siege gives you the ability to control the catapults to break down the castle’s defenses, as well as the ability to select and control the units of your army that will attack. When raiding a castle, the game gives you control of Robin Hood, and you must fight your way through the castle to get the gold, which is needed to acquire troops and siege material. Initially, raiding castles is child’s play, but don’t get too comfortable and take things for granted. Once you make it to the large map where you are raiding other lord’s castles, you risk the possibility of being captured and being thrown in prison.
First-person shooter comes into play during tournaments and raids on caravans that carry much-needed supplies or gold. Tournaments have you taking on the other lords in England in combat for fame, money, and land, while raiding caravans call upon the legendary archery skills of Robin Hood.
The graphics in Defender of the Crown are excellent: vibrant colors, sharp textures and smooth character models are all present and accounted for. Special effects such as polished weapons and armor, the lighting in dungeons, and facial expression are excellent and really help to put you in the game.
The audio was not totally complete and working; sometimes it would cut out, or a character will still be talking when a scene finishes, but in the finished product I can see it being a killer aspect of the game. Swords clang, bows swish by, and horses gallop. I would be remiss if I omitted the soundtrack, which is already excellent, and I would like to see what additions, if any, are put into the final version.
Controls are extremely easy to master, and a tutorial is provided before each action to give you the gist of what needs to be done. Simplified controls and tutorials make this game easy to pick and start playing immediately.
To sum it up, I like Defender of the Crown and many of the aspects displayed in the old C64 version have made their come back into this 21st century representation of a classic. Whether you’re an old fan or a new convert, check out this title when it hits the shelves … you won’t be disappointed!