Daemonica (PC)

By Lucas Allmon

Published on Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Graphics: 4.50
Sound: 8.00
Gameplay: 6.00
Environs: 5.00
Replays: 4.00
Gamelength: 1.00

Great games are just that, and normally the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone has played a game that transcends its technical problems or limitations. For instance, I found Advent Rising for the Xbox to be an excellent game, even though the framerate would drop to single digit numbers at points. The question for Daemonica however, is how many technical fouls can the ref call before it negatively impacts the game?

I loaded up Daemonica, and the Gothic feeling it exuded was a good sign, same with the AE in the name, which is quasi-pretentious, and I love that kind of thing. Aethers, Aenima, Its great. Demonica is the language of demons, and our hero is Nicholas Farepoynt, an alchemist type of private investigator. He is brought to a small village to investigate the strange murder of a girl whose skin was taken off her back and left for dead, presumably by her boyfriend who was found raving mad next to her. He is hanged for her murder. You arrive and the mayor gives you a house to use as a base of operations, which is good because Nicholas is a little different type of investigator. He can use herbs to mix up a potion called Soulgreep, and provided he has the corpse of the person he wants to talk to, and knows enough about him, he can cross over and talk to the dead. You are solving the mystery that unfolds in this town as well as in yourself. What an awesome premise. However, it starts to fall away from there.

I am far from a graphics whore. There are two types of bad graphics, there are technically bad graphics, and then there are clearly uninspired ones. Daemonica falls into the latter characteristic unfortunately. For instance, World of Warcraft’s graphics engine is not very powerful per se, but the work is inspired and interesting, which makes it look fresh even running on a 3+ year old engine. Daemonica’s tiny little town is very bland and boring, which may work for the nature of the “small English village during the Black Plague” look, but suspension of disbelief is something developers need to take into consideration even in graphics. None of the graphics in the game are memorable in any way. They don’t have to be flashy and new to interest me, they just need to be interesting. They aren’t.

The story is played out by character interactions, as well as cut scenes that show picture of Nicholas doing an action while he talks about what he is doing. It’s an excellent use of storytelling to further the plot without needing graphics, and a good move to make up for the in-game engines lack of versatility. The storyline progresses by talking to characters, and finding out what they know about the murder, some being clues that you will revisit later. Once you visit a landmark, its marked on the map for a quick access, and by clicking on it you can jump across that location later. The caveat here though is it’s only worthwhile if you are jumping all the way across the map because the loading times are horrendous. I don’t understand the loading either, the game takes 15-20 seconds to load sometimes, and these are small, single roomed places such as your house. To add insult to injury once you enter a place such as your house, it needs to load again to enter your basement! So it takes nearly a minute to get from the Swamp to your basement. Some may think I am being picky, but when you are quickly putting together clues and needing to talk to one person after another in quick succession, the loading starts to show. 10 seconds to talk to a character, 30 seconds to get jump somewhere else. It adds up.

As the story progresses, the game throws random things at you that make proceeding difficult. Most of the time you can use deduction to move forward, but often you get stuck with objectives that leave you hanging, meaning that you have to run all over the town looking for the point that will move the plot. This is a double edged sword. On one hand the town is small, usually making short work of it. On the other hand, the town is small, meaning by three hours into the game you’ve seen Cavorn so much that you want to vomit. While I am all for exploration, these types of plot points should open up new areas to explore.

The saving grace to this repetition was the music. The music sounds wonderful and is duly complimentary to the attempted dark nature of the game. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and in fact all the audio was quite superb, which definitely helped the deficient graphics. However, the good seems to be coming with the bad. I don’t know who though up this combat system and implemented it, but it downright sucks. It consists of clicking on the enemy to attack, and space bar to block. Most battles consist of standing there, blocking and waiting to swing. Not dynamic, interesting or fun. It would have been better to have kept the fighting out completely, using your potions as puzzles to defeat foes (or just leaving it out). You also cannot remap controls, which might be my biggest gripe of all. What kind of game, especially on PC, doesn’t let you remap controls? I like to be able to reach everything without moving my hands too far. The game requires a lot of camera manipulation, being a 3rd person game. However, the only venue of moving it is with the arrow keys, which is totally unintuitive, especially considering space bar blocks and the mouse moves, you can’t just rest your hand on keys and the mouse and be set to immerse yourself. Inexcusable. If you aren’t going to allow key mapping, your control should be intuitive and easy. It’s not.

I know that I may sound like I am bashing the game, but I am just trying to tell it like it is. Nothing more. The game is interesting, fun in spurts, has an excellent storyline, some cool mechanics and totally surprised me. I thought I was getting some lame dungeon crawler, and its not what it is at all. However, right now I really want to finish it, but I find I’m having to force myself to play, which is never a good sign. This is a clear cut case of poor design decisions weighing down an excellent premise and storyline. Hopefully Meridian 4 can make better choices in their next title.

Overall Rating: 5.50

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