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Review on:
Splinter Cell
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Snow-covered cavernHuman Head Studios's first game takes us to a scenario rarely used by computer games - into the realm of the Vikings and their mighty gods. Although one might be inclined to think that such a theme required a full-blown graphic adventure, you'll be (positively) surprised after only a short period of time: the Human Head Studios rely on dramatic sword fights, quarreling gods and a great deal of nordic atmosphere. That's the setting for one of the best and most motivating sword-swinging games since Drakan. Well then, gird your sword and shield, mighty warrior, and let the fighting commence.
Snowy temple pathThe graphics are based on the Unreal engine and come along with its well-known strengths. Be it dimly lit caverns, mountain paths thick with snow, mighty medieval fortresses or nordic temple complexes - the atmospheric localities were integrated with a love for detail. Therefore, details such as snowfall, footprints in the snow, bushes that rustle at your passing, correctly displayed shadows und lighting effects let the world of Rune come alive. Fortunately, a Pentium with 450 MHz is sufficient to play the game fluently at a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels. Besides this, the illustrious array of enemies and protagonist Ragnar were animated well enough, even though they don't come up to the likes of Lara Croft. The game itself is shown out of the Tomb Raider perspective so that you can see Ragnar's actions from behind. Since the cutscenes were also realized within the graphics engine, they are seamlessly embedded into the rest of the game.
Story & gaming world:
Captured YetiIt doesn't take very long to tell the story itself: the vile god Loki wants to free himself from his banishment and therefore intends to destroy the rune stones of Odin, father of all gods. In order to thwart the twilight of the gods, our hero Ragnar embarks on a quest to challenge Loki. Every now and then, Odin helps him by giving him some sound advice.
Having equipped himself in his home village, Ragnar goes on board a ship that is to take him to his first stage. However, he is shipwrecked and sucked into the depths of the underworld. Thus stranded, he swims and jumps through gloomy caverns and has to defend himself against bugs and creepers. From there, he passes the realm of Hel, Goddess of Death, whose complexes immersed in reddish light are populated by all sorts of undead creatures and goblins. In the snow-covered mountain ranges you'll visit a medieval fortress and fight against real Vikings. Also the next stage, Loki's temple, promises quite some action, from where you finally reach the realm of the belligerent dwarves, after you've mastered the winding mountain paths infested by yetis, of course.
Heavily armedTo avoid being slain by the bugs of the initial stage, Ragnar can choose from a whole range of medieval fighting equipment. At first, he only finds one-handed weapons and light shields such as short swords, axes, different mace weapons as well as wooden shields. In the course of the game, however, both weapons and shields get more powerful, e.g. the Roman sword, Viking broad sword or the metal shield. The mighty two-handed weapons - a double-bladed axe, a Dwarven sledgehammer - become available during the later stages of the game and cause quite some damage correspondingly. Analogous to that development, your enemies become stronger as well and require different tactics. For example, you have to behead Hel's zombies to kill them, the Vikings make use of their shields, and the Dwarves even throw their axes at Rangar. Except for the jump attack and the shield block, Ragnar doesn't know any sword combos, making wild hacking and slashing at your opponent the most promising way to emerge victorious. In case he kills several enemies within a short period of time, Ragnar goes into a frenzy and cuts anything barring his way to pieces. Besides this, he can throw his weapons at far away enemies and risk the chance that they are lost. Fortunately, you'll never run short of supply. By the way, all weapons are indestructible, only shields crumble beneath your opponents' onslaught.
Apart from conventional weaponry, Ragnar can also access the power of runes. Yellow rune stones restore his rune power that enables him - depending on the weapon - to conjure a more powerful shield, a flame sword, or a vampire weapon that transfers the life blood of his enemies to his own. Red runes help him fall into a frenzy immediately, green ones increase his hit points permanently, while blue ones have the same effect for his rune power. Ragnar refreshes his hit points either by consuming fruits, meat, and lizards (!) or by taking a gulp of strong mead. Lizards sitting at walls or ceilings can be taken down with an aimed throw of one of his weapons.
Human Head

Demo version

Action adv.

very good


very good

very good

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Pros & cons:
Fighting sceneLiterally speaking, Rune is bloody fun. Admittedly, the game won't be to everyone's liking - severed heads, limbs and lots of spraying blood make Rune quite unsuitable for children. Another negative aspect would be the game's linear structure, the lack of sword combos, and the fact that it solely offers lever and jumping puzzles from time to time. There are also no experience points and Ragnar's change of outfit has no influence on the game itself.
But rarely I have come across a more motivating sword-clashing game. Ever better equipment, opponents gaining in cleverness, daring jumping manoeuvres along ledges and ropes as well as densly atmospheric settings such as the snow-covered mountain fortress make Rune stand out among its competitors. The designers have also focused their efforts on spicing up the game with lots of surprises. At times, Ragnar is captured and stripped off his weapons, then ice gives way under his feet, falling rocks bar the way, or he is carried from one platform to another on gusts of wind. The game's highlight are, of course, the adrenaline-surging sword fights that become more difficult by the minute, as well as the tactical use of rune magic. If Odin permits, I will now go once more into battle with my Norseman companions.
© 01-02-2001 by CE