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It might end up being the year of the PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii, but at the moment 2006 feels like the year of games looking backwards.
Just think about it. Last week, we had a New Super Mario Bros. Before that we had the return of Sensible Soccer. Before that, we had Sin, an FPS that – gameplay wise – could have appeared in the last century, and Ridge Racer; a driving game that couldn't be any more a stripped back arcade racer if it tried. And now we have Titan Quest: the nearest thing you're ever likely to see to Diablo 3.
Of course, it looks a lot better than Diablo ever did. The team at Iron Lore has built a solid isometric 3D engine and used it to recreate Diablo's core gameplay in a gorgeous world of ancient legend. The high-resolution textures, lighting effects and reflective surfaces are everything we would expect from a cutting-edge RPG, and the overall presentation is as slick and modern as it gets. Fantastically, much of the game is set not in grimy dungeons but the great outdoors, and from the swaying grasses to the knotted olive trees to the crystal blue seas rippling at sandy shores, the world of Titan Quest looks wonderful. It's the Club Med of RPGs, offering exotic locations and beautiful weather to those tired of the usual green forests, medieval cities and misty mountain dungeons.
What's more, there is genuine artistry at work here. Barring Sony's mighty God of War, I can't think of a game that works harder to bring classical myth to life. The settings are rich and beautiful, the monsters brilliantly designed and powerfully animated. In the initial Greek chapters, we get skeletons straight out of Jason and the Argonauts, satyrs, centaurs, demons, cyclops, maenads, minotaurs and medusae. If you grew up on ancient tales and a steady diet of old Ray Harryhausen movies, then you're going to love this a lot.
And while I'm here, I really should mention that the sound is great. We get atmospheric, context-sensitive music, and an impressive range of guttural battle cries, thumping, scull-crushing fight sounds and ominous off-screen noises. The clatter of skeletons rising from the soil is enough to turn your blood cold, while the sound of rushing water makes you ache for a quick dip – though that might just be the heat of this uncharacteristically warm British summer.
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