Saturday, July 02, 2011

Review: Garshasp: The Monster Slayer (PC)

Garshasp: The Monster Slayer was developed by Dead Mage Inc. and released in 2011. The game is notable for being developed by an Iranian development team using some Free Software such as Ogre or OpenAL. In the game, set in persian mythology, the player takes the role of Garshasp, a warrior who goes on a journey to take revenge for his fallen brother. The gameplay takes some strong influence from the God of War series and follows most of its basic game mechanics.

As in God of War the game is presented from a zoomed out third person camera view and the player has to hack its way through hoards of monsters and boss enemies. The camera is automatically controlled and the second analog stick is used for dodging. Light and heavy attacks are available and can be chained together or used to trigger special attacks. Certain types of enemies also require a finishing move that is done via a short quicktime sequence. Whenever there is an enemy encounters the environment will be closed up, either by doors or fire walls that block the player, defeating the enemies opens them up again. Pedestals are provided between every few fights to let the player refresh his health or collect experience points, which in turn unlock new special moves.

Progress through the levels is very linear and consists of mostly monster fighting, but is at times interrupted for a little switch puzzle or a short platform sequence. The game also contains a few race sequences where the hero slides down a wall and has to dodge obstacles along the way. Every now and then the game interrupts for a short little cutscene, those transitions between one scenario to the next, but do little to add much story. In essence the game really plays a lot like God of War, taking almost every mechanic straight from it. Some other reviews have compared it to Prince of Persia, but I really haven't seen any similarities with those, the hero looks a little like the prince in PoP: Warrior Within, but the game contains only very limited platforming that is pretty much exactly like God of War and nothing like the elaborate jumping sequences in a Prince of Persia game.

Graphically the game can't compete with modern blockbuster titles on a technical side of things, but looks none the less artistically quite nice, not to far away from the God of War it tries to imitate. It suffers however from a few technical issues, such as object and scenary pop-in or stuttering framerate when things get loaded from disk. While some animation look a little lacking or badly paced, such as the jumping and ladder climbing, and can make it a little tricky to get through the platforming sequences, the core of the game, the fighting, is animated extremely well, providing a wide varity of moves, combinations and different finishing moves for the different enemy types. The animations also deserve some praise for being very easy to read, thus blocking or dodging an incoming attack is very manageable.

One aspect that is rather lacking in the game is the tutorial, it lacks proper button prompts and only gives you the name of the action, which makes it hard to figure out which button on the gamepad to press. Explanation on the fighting is also lacking, while special moves are announced while unlocked, the tutorial doesn't explain much about the core fighting itself. It also doesn't explain very well how the upgrade system works, its mostly automatic anyway, so its not much of a practical, but it took a bit longer then I liked to figure out what all the bars in the HUD mean.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the game. While it is rather rough on the technical side of things, especially the loading hick ups where a bit annoying, it looks and plays surprisingly well. The enemy moves are easy to read and counter and all the boss enemies have some clear strategy to defeating them, thus combat wasn't just about button mashing, but actually figuring out proper strategies.

On the artistic side of things the game was a bit of a disappointment, while the scenarios, enemies and animations look nice, they also look a little generic, like a low budget western game, not something different with a lot of influence from a different culture. This is quite different then what you see from many Russian games for example, which, while also technically often riddled with issues, go frequently a very different directions when it comes to style and gameplay then the mainstream western games, which makes them much less accessible, but also much more interesting. Garshasp on the other side lacks those qualities and is really nothing more then a God of War clone, it is a quite solid one at that, but it really doesn't do anything extraordinary or noteworthy beside that. The story in the game is also rather flat, lacking a proper introduction of the characters or a real ending, it's essentially just a "brother gets killed, Garshasp goes for revenge, Garshasp succeeds with revenge, goes on to fight more stuff in cliffhanger ending opening potential for a sequel".

It's worth to note that the game is also unusually short, unlike other games in this genre that at least reach the 6 or 8 hour mark, Garshasp is just around 3.5 hours long, which given its low price point seems fine (as of this writing the game sells for $2.50 on Steam), but still gives the game, especially with its open ending, a bit of an episodic feel, without the game actually being planed or marketed as an episodic game.

Technical notes: The game complains about crashing Flashplayer installer on startup, I worked around that by replacing the Flash installer in its redist/ directory with a newer one. The game for me also crashed at startup, a problem I could solve by uninstalling the old PhysX I had on the system and using the one provided by the game instead.

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