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Armored Core 2
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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine


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by Ritual and GoD

So I’ve been playing Ritual Entertainment’s Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale. And if you’re like me, then maybe you’re hoping that this game will finally vindicate the “Blair Witch” franchise with a powerful story and characters worthy of the creepy, atmospheric tone created and exploited by those zany kids over at Hexan. After all, Elly transports players back to the time when and the place where all this damned witch mess started. But if Elly follows the trajectory of the other “Blair Witch” releases, then we’re in for trouble. Let’s face it, the “Blair Witch” phenomenon has been The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle all over again, but without Sydney’s smack and those plane tickets to Rio.

To be honest, the game looks good so far. It employs the Nocturne engine and generates brilliant atmospherics and real time climate effects. In this reviewer’s regrettable remarks on Nocturne, that previous review didn’t really address how beautiful games created with this engine can look. Now I’ve got a second chance. Snow falls flake by flake in the streets and forests; gnarled tree trunks and limps cast jagged shadows on the forest snowy forest floor; river water glints and burbles under the moonlight. All in all, Elly looks very believable. In fact, the environments are so realistically pretty that the characters can, at times, look awkward and cartoonish in them. This potentially jarring visual vocabulary wasn’t really a problem in Nocturne, in which the overstated characters suited the noirish feel of the game. And in Elly, accurately rendered effects like cast shadows and powdery clouds of exhaled breath seem to integrate the characters to their surroundings.

So who are the characters? Well, players maneuver Jonathan Prye through the game. He’s a disaffected cleric who’s turned to hunting witches in order to rediscover his faith. Yes, he could’ve easily worked for Kenneth Starr or the Bush campaign. And then there’s a small cast of characters: a parson, a magistrate, an accused witch, and the town drunk. There’s also an Indian mystic, Asagaya, who befriends Prye. The voice acting for all is very good, especially for the jailed witch and the mystic. Prye sounds like Robert Goulet. As mentioned above, though, they aren’t very good looking models. And for some reason—must be the designers’ running joke—the witch is always telling Prye to slip her something, or give her something, or just, you know, do something potentially provocative to her. And when she talks, the camera focuses on her amply rendered bosom. Maybe I’m reading into things, but when a game camera cuts off a key character’s head and zeroes in on her bazooms during five minutes of dialog, then I suspect something’s up.

Okay, so the setting’s really beautiful and the characters aren’t quite so pretty. How’s the gameplay? It, like the model rendering, is okay. The same control problems that plagued Nocturne persist in Elly, namely, the clumsy controls (standard keyboard-mouse combo) become inoperable during heavy action sequences. So save often, and be prepared to witness Prye getting his entrails sucked out by zombies over and over again. The zombies raise another specter that haunts gameplay in Elly; it’s boring. Players spend a lot of time walking Prye through woods and killing zombies. Fittingly, the otherworldly camera control makes it easy to get lost in the woods, and the zombies are undead pansies and easy to incapacitate. The problem is, players will end up spending most of the game destroying zombies when they could be solving more puzzles or casting more spells. When they do get to these more challenging moments, the results are spectacular, graphically as well as audibly. The sound in Elly, by the way, is eerie and well produced.

All in all, Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale goes the distance in fleshing out the “Blair Witch” mythology. Ingenious surprises abound, especially in regard to the Native American elements that become essential to the Blair mythos. If forced to choose between, say, Nocturne and Elly, however stick with the Stranger and his minions. The older game provides much more gaming excitement and novelty than this latest, first chapter of the “Blair Witch” saga. If Elly came with a collectible figure of that accused witch, then maybe we could talk turkey. But until then, consider other places to cast your black cat bone.

Greg Matthews

Snapshot

Ups: Beautiful environments; unpredictable story; compelling variations on “Blair Witch” mythos; great audio

Downs: Same old Nocturne control problems; goofy-looking characters; repetitive; distracting witch breasts

System Reqs: Windows 95/98, 233Mhz, 64mb RAM, 4mb 3D Video Card

 

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