Genre : Action/Adventure
Developer : Krome Studios
Publisher : Konami
Release Date : November 16, 2004
Epic films have lost their luster. While many of the major film studios thought they could put together their own epics and make the same kind of money as Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s tales, almost every single release in the genre besides those films has either met with mediocre ticket sales or completely tanked. One of these films released a few months ago: Jerry Bruckheimer’s box-office disaster, King Arthur. As with any film that requires the masses of extras, exotic locales, and expensive costumes and set pieces, the budget was huge. There was no way that Bruckheimer could have broke even on the release. And now, perhaps in a sad attempt to add at least a little money to the small pile of cash King Arthur has taken in so far, Konami’s videogame of the same name has only now seen release. While its sales will likely impress no one, it will at least garner a few impulse and gift buys from the uneducated public, giving both Konami and Bruckheimer’s studio a little bit more cash to save face with after such a miserable financial failure.
A slight profit margin is all this game deserves – if even that much. While its presentation as a cinematic piece is passable, and sometimes impressive, as a videogame it meets a bar far below that of nearly every other release in this competitive fourth quarter shopping season. Any good intentions on Konami’s part are soured by the unbalanced level design, and then completely dissolved by the glaring flaws present in the basic controls. These factors, along with the unavoidable problem of dealing with the boring character designs forced upon Konami by the license, ensure King Arthur’s status as a bad egg in a nest of great winter releases.
King Arthur’s problems begin with its controls. I am fully aware that this is an action game, but it is not one with much depth to it by any means. So why are not one, not two, but five attack buttons needed? The answer: They aren’t. You’ll never need to use more than two of the attacks, maybe three if you’re feeling a bit peppy. Why Konami designed the game this way is a secret that will surely never be discovered without some crazed Rosetta Stone of game development – it reads like hieroglyphics for all but the creators of the game.
Horseback battling, sword-swishing, and long range assaults make up the three different forms of combat available to players in King Arthur. All three are put to mundane use: Kill as much of everything in an extremely unchallenging and boring manner as possible. Oh, and make sure to stay alive. Many classic games have been built on this concept, from Robotron and Smash T.V. to Doom and Gradius V, all of which I count among my favorite games of all time. King Arthur doesn’t make this loft list because of the shaky nature of its execution. While Gradius V has some of the most ingenious layouts – they lend themselves to both memorization and “twitch” play, something missing in this age of memory shooters -- King Arthur has nothing more going on than random enemy hordes attacking you, and you trying to stay alive. Even Dynasty Warriors has more going to its credit with its polished layouts and perfect controls. King Arthur exhibits neither of those traits, and its stiff, overly complex controls don’t help matters any.
Battles on horseback are oddly flawed. One would think that being on a horse instead of walking on one’s feet would make for some fast-paced, frantic action. It should… but not in King Arthur’s world. While on foot characters control fairly well and employ a multitude of quick-hit attacks to mow down enemies by the dozen, riding on horseback is sluggish, and the control is completely dull. The horses seem to be lacking in the amount of animation needed for such a large animal, and their controls are so stiff that fighting enemies is even more of a chore than it already was when dealing with the extra level of control afforded by avoiding four-legged creatures.
Graphics are where King Arthur excels in some areas, and loses face in others. Mostly, the game is artistically sound. Cut-scenes are either rendered within the in-game engine or presented within the collective 20 minutes of FMV straight from the King Arthur movie. During the in-game sequences, the action shifts flawlessly from cinematic to playable segments.
The in-game models, however, suffer slightly. From far away, they are impressive little weavings of texture and polygons. The problem is, they show their artistic weaknesses very clearly when the camera gets a bit closer. The environments are the same way, except only portions of the game are of the same caliber as the playable characters – many of the landscapes are extremely dull and mapped with average textures that give the game a cheapened look far from the license that it is trying to stand up to.
As with any game carrying a full license from a major movie studio, King Arthur sounds simply perfect. Professional voice actors (most of whom are live-action actors as their main profession) lend their pipes to every spoken line and every little grunt that is heard. Best of all, the orchestral soundtrack from the movie is fully intact here. It is not put to the best use in terms of mood all the time, but it is usually close enough that only the most astute listeners would care to fret about the mood of the music in this release in the first place.
King Arthur was released in a precarious position; as a matter of fact, most of the games that released anywhere between September and now basically released at the wrong time. With Halo and Grand Theft Auto knocking heads straight on for the first time, it has been and extremely tough season for games without Master Chief or a certain violent criminal being at their forefront. Even the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Metroid have taken serious blows because of the massive hype surrounding those two titles. For King Arthur, already a Johnny-come-lately, since its accompanying film released months ago, it may have been a good short-term business move for Konami to release the game in its current form. With the problems it has – an overall unfinished look, unpolished controls, and unbalanced, boring gameplay – many developers would have let the game boil for a bit longer before setting it on the dinner table. But Konami had to get the game out for Christmas, and that they did. Whether or not anybody is buying is the real question. And should you? Only if you are a massive fan of the film, and, looking at the box-office performance of that title, it is very unlikely that you are one.
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