Review by bakusan

"A great yet overlooked gem for fans of rpg's and Ultima: Underworld alike."

One of my favorite games on the PC has just been released to the Xbox and rest assured when I say that it is a faithful port.

Story: Arx is a grand city (not really grand, but it's pretty big compared to most cities in video games) that rests in the underground caverns the Dwarves of old once created. After the sun mysteriously burned out and the surface world became nothing but frozen wastelands, the citizens of the surface world; Goblins, Humans, Trolls, and Ratmen all moved into a new world in the underground caves that the fellow Dwarves helped built. With the help of the Snake Women, the Humans forged the most powerful civilization known as Arx. While their disposition with the Goblins remains neutral, Human's have a surprisingly high connection with the kind trolls (standard fantasy rules try to tell us that all trolls are big, stupid, ugly, and evil... all of those are true in this game except the evil part). Ratmen are pretty much hostile to anyone, and you have the strange Ylside's; huge men decked out in the biggest armor you'll ever see yet can move at the speed of light (slight exaggeration) that are also hostile to everyone.

The story picks up with your character, Am Shaegar (which is an ancient language for ''he who has no name'') being ''warped'' into Arx and captured by Goblins (also referred to as ''Gobblers''). After you escape your cell, you find out that people are being sacrificed to a strange god known as Akbaa and you seem to have the ill fortune of always being caught up in other people's affairs. From here starts a relatively grand journey to discover who you are and stop the evil god.

While the story is nothing special, it is told in a very miraculous way. The voice acting in the game is spot on; Goblins have a very guttural sound to their voice and speak in broken english (''You human?'' ''Trolls strong, mine gemstones. Goblins clever, sell gemstones.''), Trolls have a very dumb sounding voice, almost like a slow drawl, and human's are your standard affair (if not a bit whiny sometimes). Cinemas are your standard affair and are accompanied by some strong script writing and equally strong acting (except for a few select characters like Carlo who sound like they forced their bits). Sometimes the game will go into a weird ''comic book panel'' type of cinema where they will display a still screen while telling the story. My only problem with the games cinemas is that there is rarely any action in them. Most end up having the camera revolve slowly around a group of characters talking and this might get boring for some (thankfully, cinemas are often short and far and few between). You shouldn't expect a grand, sweeping story in here, but you'll like what you get.

Gameplay: Here is where the game truly shines. Exploration takes place in a first person view and that's a good thing because you'll be doing a lot of exploring. There are lots of secrets to uncover in Arx and you have the ability to perform a lot of actions. The coolest feature (all though useless because you heal your hp at an alarming rate and health potions are quite easy to find) is the ability to make your own food and items. Get a piece of flour, mix it with a bottle of water, and bake it to get bread. Take flour, mix with water, then roll the dough to get a pie crust. Fill the crust with apples and wine, then cook it over an open flame and you get an all American baked apple pie (with extra healing additives due to the wine you mixed in). Combine a rope to a rod and you get a fishing rod that allows you to catch fish. You can even make your own swords, enchant items with effects like being unbreakable and even enchant rings with effects like invisibility. There are dozens of different possibilities with the items in this game. Buy a shovel and you can literally uncover buried treasure. Buy a pickaxe (a very important tool) and you can mine gold and gems off of cavern walls. It's little things like this that make you feel like you are part of the fascinating world of Arx.

Combat is different from other rpg's because it's all real time. There are no dice calculating to hit rolls and damage; instead when you swing your sword and it hits the enemy, then they take damage from it. You can hold the attack button down to charge up for extra damage and it's quite useful if you make a weak character. Magic is a bit harder to pull off, but it actually makes the game easier and more enjoyable (if you can't caste at least level 3 spells in Arx Fatalis, prepare to have a rough journey). You cast spells through runes that you trace on the screen a la Black and White. Certain runes have certain names and effects that you utilize. Trace aam, yok, taar (create fire missle) and you'll cast a fireball. Trace aam, morte, vitae (create life death) and you'll summon a zombie to your aid. Trace mega and movis (improve move) and you'll cast a speed spell on yourself. The spells and their effects are graphically cool as well and casting Slow Time (the highest level spell) will slow everything down giving the game a cool Matrixy effect (but you'd better have some huge mana reserves to cast it).

There are a couple of other innovations to the game in the terms of gameplay. NPC reactions are quite cool; talking to the same guy over and over again will make him mad and he'll threaten to attack you sometimes. Tossing objects to make noise will initiate funny conversations with characters and how they talk to themselves a lot. Even listening to them mumble to themselves might instill a small chuckle. While stealth is a possibility in this game, it slowly becomes useless (unless you like stealing from people) because most enemies can ''sniff'' you out. The AI is very good and creatures will often run away to find help if you hurt them too much. The game is plagued by a few bugs that might (and this is rare) mess up your inventory or cause creatures to sometimes disappear. While these bugs are rare and don't cause much in the way of damage, they can be annoying.

Graphics: While the game's graphics aren't top quality it does present a very believable atmosphere. Models of creatures are generally blocky, textures on weapons and items are grainy, and animations are very stiff and sometimes ugly (when a creature dies, it always dies in a same pose unless you manage to decapitate it). Blood is a common effect but even that is used poorly (slash a person and you'll see their blood run down the walls twenty feet away). There are a couple of nifty spell effects and this is one of the few first person games where you can look down and see your feet and hands. Textures in the environment are pretty decent, and there are a couple of creatures (when you see the game's VERY disturbing Demon, Dragon, and Giant Worm you'll be pretty surprised at first glance) that excel in terms of design.

The game excels in it's excellent atmosphere. This is the first game in a history of 16 years that has successfully creeped me out. The world is very dark, you'll be seeing things through dim torches and campfires, and you often get the feeling of claustrophobia. Many times you can sort of smell the area around you, and open rooms are usually a sign of trouble. Bats frequent the caves and will suprise you many times by simply stirring up tension (they don't attack you but they do add to the creepiness factor). All though it's safe, I didn't even trudge through water because I was too afraid of what might pop out. Assassins will appear all throughout your adventure and you can turn a corner only to have a Ratman appear, throw a poisoned dagger your way, and then leap into the shadows. If there is any game that excels in terms of recreating an incredible world, it's this one. There are a few instances of clipping, but this is easily overlooked.

Sound: Music is non existant in this game (for the most part). Replacing it is some of the best ambient sounds you will ever hear. Walking through a large cavern will issue an echo to your footsteps and you will often hear the rushing of wind from outside sources. The type of armor you wear will determine the type of sound you create when walk; chain mail gives off a clinking noise while metal boots make a heavy, metallic ''thud.'' Audio cues are extremely important as they tell you what's around the dark corners. If you hear a soft squeek, rest assured a Giant Rat lies around the corner. Giant spiders (one of the best creatures in terms of models and animation) make a low, bass-like thumping noise when they walk. Enemies like Goblins and Human guards provide the best sound cues. They will often grumble to themselves, complaining about how their boots or helmets are too tight, they tell jokes about other character's mothers, they complain about wanting to play cards, and they sigh and mumble to themselves often giving away their position. This is an excellent effect and adds to the atmosphere of the game.

Replay: There isn't much replay in the game. It's short compared to most pc style rpg's but you could replay it if you wanted to to try out a different character.

Overall: Arx Fatalis is a great game for fans of Ultima: Underworld, rpg's, and action games alike. If you enjoy a good dungeon crawler filled with incredible npc's and monstrously hard battles (until you gain a few levels that is) then this is the game for you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 12/24/03

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