Blades of Time
Have you ever heard the one about the dragon, the treasure hunter and the air ship?
There's not a really punch line for that - sorry for getting your hopes up - but Blades of Time attempts to meld so many different strands and elements into it's story that at some point you expect one to appear.
The spiritual successor to X-Blades (same developer, different publisher), Blades of Time tweaks itself enough for it to never be a noticeable follow up. Gone are the cel-shaded graphics, gun blades and good/bad skills. Now, Ayumi, the game's heroine, is just a regular mix of polygons and handles her guns and weapons separately. Her attire however is still on the remarkably skimpy side - make of that what you will.
The game wastes absolutely no time in getting Ayumi to where she needs to be, starting with an awkward CG cutscene that sees her whisked off to the mystical Dragon Land. Once she's acclimatised to this new dimension with the line "I may be in Hell... Oh well, who knows", she has two things on her mind: Treasure and her partner Zero. Obviously, these take less precedence of her nifty one-liners.
The story may be a flimsy excuse for the level designers to indulge in creating whatever came to mind - jungles, deserts, temples - they all make an appearance due to the classic plot device ‘the portal', but it's still hard to get invested in a lot of the exposition. The plot itself seems to forget about Ayumi's motivations, switching between scoring treasure and finding her partner whenever one makes more sense than the other.
Ayumi, along with the majority of the cast, has developed a rather bizarre British accent and coupled with some irrational plot twists and desperately awkward one-liners, the narrative just becomes white noise that takes place between the scraps.
It's up to the gameplay to pick up the slack then and it seems this is where developer Gaijin has applied the same tactic that they did to the story. Chuck everything you can at it and don't stop till the credits.
So, while the game starts with a little simple hacking and some pleasant slashing, as you progress through the early levels, you get access to guns, magic combos and most importantly, time-warping abilities. If you played any game which involves hitting a button to swing a blade, you'll feel right at home.
While the main combat leans dangerously close to the button-mashing side, with little in the way of strategy, the other additions to your arsenal help to create some engaging and clever ways to spice up the rote combat. They can also hinder the flow of combat in a way that seems par for the course in the game.
As the game constantly makes you aware of, you can rewind time to create a ‘past' version of yourself. In a similar way to Echochrome, the actions you carry out can then be replayed in the present. In practice, you can create covering fire for yourself and then rewind time to give yourself chance to rush enemies. It works surprisingly well and when the game lets you figure out strategies like this, all its apparent flaws start to lose their significance.
Magic combos, which are slowly upgraded throughout the game offer an interesting visual experience compared to the usual animations that you'll get to see again and again. Gun combat, on the other hand, is stodgy and counter-intuitive, and you can't perform a dodge while holding up a gun or go into melee combat.
There can also be no excuses for some of the cheap boss battles or the camera that has a horrible tendency to wander away from the action. When you are on your last legs, it can be maddening for the camera to swing around and hide the vagabonds who are trying to cut you into pieces.
The levels themselves are relatively big and, as mentioned earlier, the designers have tried to indulge themselves as much as possible. That seems to be the only reason you shoot from a temple to a scorching desert. In a stand out moment, you have to navigate through shadows to ensure you're not burnt to death. It has a heavy whiff of the hail level from Gears of War 2, but it's also got its own goofy charm that just saves it from being a derivate copy.
Despite the lofty determination of the design, the actual production values can let the levels down. The graphics are functional, but they aren't pushing the bar set by God of War and the soundtrack barely registers amongst the inane voice-overs. Slow-down can also plague the game when enemies start to pile up as well.
If you find yourself enamoured with the combat, there's also an online mode to try out, which is designed for either co-op or competitive play. Unfortunately, I had trouble getting into any match, but when I finally got into one, it was a solid extension of the gameplay, but nothing that is going to have anyone rushing back to the game.
There's an emergent theme throughout Blades of Time and it's of ambition. The game, rather admirably it has to be said, sets out to do much more than it can possibly manage. The story keeps piling on the twists until you can hear the TV squeak under the weight of plot, the gameplay never stops trying to add gimmicks and unique situations to keep you involved with the combat and the fact there's a multiplayer at all is surprising in itself.
That's the problem, with all this ambition; it's no surprise that the game collapses like a house of cards on multiple occasions. It simply can't handle the weight of its lofty aims. Watching it pick itself up and try it's best to impress you again and again at least gives this the same mild curiosity value of trying to finish off a house of cards.
- System:PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer:Gaijin Entertainment
- Offline players:1
- Online players:1-2
- Age limit:From 16 years
- Release date:23 March 2012
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