In addition, eighteen months have not been kind to Dark Messiah in some really key respects. Ubisoft Annecy deserves credit for adapting the game so well from keyboard and mouse to gamepad, and for streamlining some of the levels and game mechanics for a console audience. However, it’s a simple fact that this Source-powered game no longer looks a match for other FPS games that have emerged in the last year. Yes, the water effects still look great and there are some lovely open vistas from time to time, but put Dark Messiah next to Gears of War, Call of Duty 4 or Bioshock, and its slightly dull textures and murky scenery just don’t cut the mustard. The lighting is bit flat and uninspiring and the implementation of HDR is plain weird. There’s no subtle fade or sudden bloom between the stygian gloom of many interiors and the bright outdoors scenery, just a nasty artificial switch. Up-close, many of the monsters and human enemies look surprisingly rough.
Worse, there are several technical issues holding the game back. The most irritating is loading times between levels and when reloading saved games or checkpoints. Nothing spoils the flow of gameplay more than a lengthy wait after every death – particular in the more difficult sections of the game. Stuttering frame rates and the odd visual glitch really shouldn’t happen on a game that doesn’t look all that cutting edge, and the game has crashed more than once while trying to load a cut-scene. Usually I’d put this down to pre-release software, but here I’m not so sure.
Even some of Dark Messiah’s best gameplay features suffer in comparison to what we’ve seen in Bioshock. After freezing, flaming and electrocuting our way through Bioshock, Dark Messiah’s more obvious and prompted uses of spells and environmental kills no longer seem quite so brilliant.
Despite all this, Dark Messiah isn’t a bad game – it’s just an inconsistent, irritating and only occasionally brilliant one. The single-player campaign is fairly lengthy, and the multiplayer options, which put the emphasis on Battlefield-style teamplay, are intriguing (though a shortage of players curtailed my exploration of them). If you’re a fan of fantasy and FPS and you’re prepared to turn a blind eye to the dated visuals and some of the more tiresome chunks of gameplay, then there are elements of Dark Messiah: Elements that you’ll definitely get a huge kick out of. Those are some fairly big caveats, however, so if you’re just looking for a good, solid action game or an epic adventure to lose yourself in, look elsewhere.
A fantasy FPS/RPG hybrid packed with good ideas, but let down by inconsistent pacing, difficulty and visuals. Hardcore dungeon delvers may enjoy it, but mainstream FPS fans have better options to consider.
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