Monday, February 07, 2011

Magicka: A Review

I recently invested in a new computer, as the laptop started giving me trouble when I had more than two applications open apart from the ones I generally use for work. The new Infernal Machine has afforded me not only the ability to begin exploring the multimedia development side of things (the ability to watch Blu-Ray movies, as well as fooling around with audio recording software and equipment), but I can now dive back into the world of (modern) gaming.

I admit, my investment was spurred on by good friend and co-host, Shane, giving me the Obsidian gaming bundle from Steam for the holidays, which included Fallout New Vegas, among others. (As an aside, I think the game is as good or better than Fallout 3, with the open world, and ability to actually influence the game through one's decisions, both in conversation and through one's actions.) When not working, letting my mind wander to think of role-playing adventures, or reading (and yes, there will be a number of upcoming reviews of books given to me by another close friend and hermit), I enjoy fully immersing myself in various games. I find them fun, sometimes challenging, and make no apologies for this pastime.

Due lack of a capable computer, my tendencies toward gaming had become casual at best. A rather hypnotic game of Zuma here, or a frenetic round (or five) of Plants Vs. Zombies there. Apart from that, I would dive into the world of console and (older) computer emulation (one cannot deny the staying power of some classics like Phoenix or Mike Tyson's Punch-Out). Going through older games and exploring the origins or what made certain games so popular many years ago is one of my favorite excursions through history (mostly because the resident canine refuses to dress like Mr. Peabody).

On a whole, I leave the action gaming realm to the consoles. Yes, I had my late-night bouts with Diablo II back in the day, and Doom (and it's various clones) if one wants to go back even further, but for the most part, I never really got much out of  said games. The stories were weak at best, and I could only hear someone doing a bad Sean Connery impersonation telling me to "Stay a while, and listen," every single time I came within a few pixels of the character.

Well, last week, I saw an advertisement for a game that intrigued me. It allowed the player to combine various elements to create spells and cast them in a rather linear world. It had connections with social networking, but I wasn't sure how deep that went -- I certainly didn't want yet another Zynga or PopCap variant on my hands, because I just cannot get into Farmville or some sort of Mafia Wars. I like my games to be something other than a very slow ProgressQuest.

On Saturday, after reading a good (though one-sentence) review, and seeing the price point of $10, I decided to take a risk and download a full copy of Magicka, and thus far, I've been really pleased with this "action" game.

The whole point of the game is that the player takes on the role of a robed (and hooded) wizard, traveling through the realm to aid the surrounding kingdom from an infestation of goblin armies, ogres, and many other comically ferocious beasties. The camera angle is isometric, and the role playing aspect is minimal.

"Hypocrite," I hear you saying. "Didn't you just state that you didn't care for Diablo-esque games?"

Well, yes. Don't get me wrong, I don't care of the mentality of one-button hack n' slash games for the sake of getting gold/items/magic to use on Battlenet (or whatever the meeting space is called now), just to die and lose everything. However, Magicka is unlike that in many ways.

First of all, the ability to play and not be forced into situations that require one to cooperate with others (my teachers in elementary school were very right in their comments) is a huge plus for me. The solo adventure is quite satisfying, and you can play with others only if you so choose. Magicka isn't designed as a massively multi-player on-line game, and is contained to your hard drive. You can opt to play with others, but it's completely unnecessary in order to have an enjoyable experience.

Now for the particulars.

The graphics are bright, colorful, and non-threatening. Some might think they're a bit cartoonish, but given the setting of the game, I personally would be a bit put off if the designers made them a bit too realistic. The sounds are rich and detailed, without much repetition in music or audio effects as one travels throughout the countryside.

The game play mechanics are very simple. You are in control of the elements (fire, water, earth, lighting, etc.) and can combine them in various ways to create spells (the game encourages exploration). The game is also smart enough to include alchemical opposites -- you can't combine fire and water and expect to cast a spell, and harnessing lighting in the middle of a rainstorm is a great way to cause your character to explode.

One can also pick of various wands and weapons to enhance how effective one is with fighting or casting certain spells. A scythe will do more damage than a spoon, and a frost wand will enhance freezing spells better than spells to light candles on a birthday cake.

I think the thing I like most about Magicka is that it goes well-beyond not taking itself too seriously. From your mentor Vlad, who doesn't-quite-try to mask that he may be a vampire, to monsters from Dungeons & Dragons, the Diablo and Dungeon Master computer game series appearing, to borrowing lines and actions from movies, books, and songs (at the sight of an invading force, one rural inhabitant screams, "Run to the hills! Run for your lives!") popping up all throughout the game, Magicka will have you laughing even as you're shouting expletives at the screen because you are being trounced. The (subtitled) language may be best described as Simlish, though if you listen carefully, one can hear a consistency in what is said, and certain words aren't exactly clean (though they are heavily masked as this fake Northern European dialect).

The game even has "achievements" that one can earn. My little wizard, for instance, acquired a machine gun on one of the levels, and opened up fire on an invading group of goblins (unfortunately for the townsfolk, there was a lot of collateral damage in my heroic endeavors) and suddenly the little announcement of "New Achievement: First Blood" appeared as bullets mowed down everything in my path. (In the very same game, after defeating a dark wizard specializing in electricity, the king picked him up, sparks flying everywhere and cast him down a pit -- because games like this wouldn't dare dream of appealing to geeks by borrowing from nerd culture of every meme out there -- See the "I put on my robe and wizard hat" achievement or the "It's a trap!" scene.) The game nods not only to its predecessors and the internet, but also Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Tolkien's works (but what doesn't, in this genre?), Highlander, classic science fiction, and so much more!

If you like casual gaming, and want a break from the post apocalyptic/deep space/the world falls apart games -- or if you want something more substantial than Angry Birds without having to dedicate late nights just trying to complete a single level -- all served with a more than generous helping of humor, I highly recommend Magicka.

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