|Here at GamesFirst! we like to do
a first impressions piece when a big game comes out.
And as we all know, its very important to make a good first
impression. So its puzzling to us that Daikatana--a game that arguably brings more
negative baggage to its release than any game ever--seems to go out of its way to make a
bad one. Playing through the first act of Daikatana is astonishing, like watching your
future brother-in-law show up to meet the folks drunk.
Look--as anyone who reads the newsgroups knows--its hard not to have an opinion about Daikatana before playing it. Its taken four long years for the game to make it to the table, and during that time Ion Storm built themselves a pleasure-dome in Dallas and embarked upon a PR campaign that redefined the term hubris. Several members of the development team left in a soap opera-like huff, and John Romero died. No. Wait. He was just rumored to have died. Whew. But I was determined to stay objective about Daikatana, and even after the demo flopped, even after I was less than impressed with the game at the last two E3s, even after my friends all lost interest in the game, I was determined to judge Daikatana on its own merits. Now Ive played through the first act of the game, and all I want to do is forget the whole ugly mess.
So far its not just a bad game--its a weirdly bad game. Its got all the usual problems bad games have, like subpar graphics, lousy AI and pathing and crashes. But Daikatana throws in some truly odd bad stuff, too--like a nightmare save game system, a monochromatic palette that makes Quake IIs look like a rainbow, and a hero (named Hiro) who is ostensibly Japanese but who speaks in a standard Deckeresque American accent. Worse, some oriental bad guys speak in a Me rikey velly much stereotypical accent--and others dont. Add to this the fact that youll spend most of the first act shooting inexplicable mechanical skeeters and frogs, and youve got to wonder if anything in the next three acts could possibly redeem this game.
Graphically, the game is seems dated and extremely blocky, and animations are stiff and limited. I mean, I know were not using the Unreal or Q III engine here, but Ive seen some pretty terrific graphics wrung out of the Quake II engine (think Kingpin), and Daikatana is nowhere close. Everything is angles and edges, and whoever picked the wall of green look for most of the first act was misguided. Look, there are studies on this kind of thing--and they all conclude that people just dont want to stare at fluorescent green expanses for long periods of time. Thats why we moved to CGA monitors back in the 80s. Ion Storm could have looked that up, but then again they could have just asked someone off the street. They did neither. Even worse, this monotonous palette affects gameplay--its very hard to pick out the mechanical skeeters from the background. This may be a conscious design decision, but its a bad one--mostly because its just not fun.
And there are bug problems as well. My game crashed to the desktop twice during the first act, and NPCs and MoBs often behaved, uh, strangely--sometimes creatures would get stuck on obstacles, sometimes animations would go into hyper-jittery mode. Even worse for game play, aiming and ballistics can be problematic. While launching magnetic C4 canisters, I found that if aimed anywhere near a wall, they would stick in midair. I dont mean theyd stick to the wall; I mean theyd just hang there in the middle of space. Then theyd blow up and kill me.
The interface is pretty simple, when it works (more on this below). But itll take you a while to figure out how it operates, because the manual is short (only seven pages dedicated to gameplay) and unhelpful. I mean, for Gods sake Ion Storm you had four freakin years to draw up a manual, and nowhere in it do you include the keystrokes on how to allocate experience points or issue orders to your sidekicks? No, dear gamer, youll have to winkle that out by looking at the keyboard configuration under Options, and then youll have to figure out the aforementioned controls are listed as HUD previous HUD next and HUD use. By the way, there is no mention of a HUD (heads-up display) anywhere in the manual. OK, its not impossible to figure this stuff out, but it takes some time and is a pain in the ass and the gamer should not have to do it.
As for AI, well, ugh. Enemies sometimes try to evade, but too often theyll take a damn the torpedoes approach. Im hoping that as the game progresses, the AI gets savvier, but Im not betting the house on it.
Im sure that when Daikatana was first conceived in those dark days after Pearl Harbor, stuff like sidekicks and adding RPG elements to FPSs were novel ideas. But these once revolutionary features are now pretty standard. Half-Lifes Barneys and Kingpins thug buddies were sometimes stupid, but at least marginally helpful. Unfortunately, the same cant be said for Daikatanas sidekicks. Theres no sugar-coating this: so far, their implementation is wretched. Here are some examples of sidekick retardation from actual gameplay: Sidekick and I must move through big sliding door. I order sidekick to stay. I move through door and shoot stuff. Next thing I know, sidekick has moved directly under door, decides to stay there as it closes and crushes him. Sigh. OK. Reload. This time order sidekick to follow. Again I move through door, shoot stuff. Again he moves directly under door, is crushed. Reload. Third times the charm; this time we make it through door. High fives all around. But unfortunately theres another treacherous door in the room, this time a swinging one. Sure enough, he stands in doorway as it swings shut and is killed again. Need more examples? OK, he also likes to shoot me and/or move into my line of fire during combat. Pathings a problem, too--once, while following me through the obligatory air vent maze, my sidekick decided that following was less interesting than pacing back and forth. Hmmm; OK, order him to do something else. But now for some reason I cant access the order menu, even though Im standing right next to him. Since I cant move past him, only option is to frag him and try again. Again, same thing happens. Since you can only save at beginning of levels or when you use a save gem, this gets very old very quickly.
Im trying to figure out how this game went so wrong. I figure maybe since the game took four years to produce, each of the acts reflects the technology of each of those years. So act one looks and plays like a game made in 96, act two like a game made in 97, and so on. But I know this is just a pathetic rationalization by a guy whose job is to play the whole damn thing. At this moment, my co-editor and ex-friend Al is playing the Diablo II beta, Shawn and Sarah are playing Perfect Dark, Normandy 1944 is sitting on my desk, and Im stuck playing what may well be the most disappointing game of the century. Well have a full review up after I finish the game--but to be truthful, if I didnt feel obliged to play the whole thing, Id return it to the store. I cant imagine anything in the next three acts making up for the absolute misery of the first act. I can imagine a lot of folks feeling the same way, though.
Look, I came to this game with an open mind; Ive got nothing against John Romero or Ion Storm, and wish them the best. But thus far this is a truly bad game, and you should know that before you buy it.