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May 16 2011

Review of Garshasp: The Monster Slayer

For our first review of the week we have the recent God of War wannabe, Garshasp: The Monster Slayer, by the Texas indie developer Dead Mage. This title is a character action game retelling of the Persian legend of the titular hero Garshasp on a journey to retrieve a legendary mace from the Deevs (Persian demons). These types of games on the PC aren’t incredibly common with the platform usually just getting ports of console titles as much as a year after the fact so to see one that is (for the moment at least) PC exclusive is kind of neat. The question here is being a budget (20 bones) and exclusive title its only hook or is there a quality product here as well, read on and find out.

The game opens with Garshasp just chilling on a mountain with literally no context as to why, just kind of the way Garshasp rolls I suppose.

So we might as well start off with the story as generally that’s the biggest differentiator between these kinds of games, I mean c’mon if you’ve cut up one group of dudes with light and heavy attack combos than you’ve cut up a million. So the story here as I said earlier is that of Garshasp fighting against the Deevs to recapture a legendary mace; basically what happens is that early in the game a relative of Garshasp who was guarding the mace is murdered by a Deev called Hitasp who takes the mace and plans to do something awful with it that is never adequately described and Garshasp sets out to retrieve it. This vague kind of story telling is unfortunately the type Garshasp seems to use the most never really explaining much of anything. The game just assumes you either know the original legend and are piecing it together or that you’re kind of going with it which honestly really removes the impact of the story. The game never takes the time to set up why Garshasp, Hitasp, or even the mace they’re fighting over really matter and as a result I ended up feeling no investment towards the characters or the plot in general. In fact in total there is maybe a page of exposition in this whole game and most of it is just explaining what you are or about to be doing, not any back story or anything that really fleshed out the narrative. The ending is a real bummer too with the narrator pretty much saying “hey you found the mace but shit still be bad” at which point Garshasp just kind of looks grimly at the screen, jumps on a conveniently near by passing dragon, and then the credits roll; it’s like the ending was written Michael Bay or something, just completely unsatisfying and obviously wanting of a sequel. So in the end I did not like the story here, it’s certainly serviceable and it wasn’t offensively bad or anything but it just does not feel very well written and is generally not very compelling.

One thing to be said about the visuals is that CG cut scenes look really nice, especially ones featuring boss characters like this dude.

It’s a little better presentation-wise but there are still some issues, mainly with the graphics. Generally things look pretty good, a little on the low rent side maybe but good none the less. There’s a fair amount of variety and it’s very thematic, I definitely felt the game kept well to its atmosphere throughout and every enemy design and environment worked well with the Persian mythology theme giving everything a Prince of Persia meets God of War kind of look. That said it may stick to its theme just a hair to closely as I found the game to be not incredibly varied in its overall design. The environments in particular suffer from this with the game mainly being set in the same brown mountains and foothills; while there is a swamp and a forest level the majority of your time will be spent in dusty mountain towns, dusty mountain ruins, and dusty mountain mountains. The biggest issue I saw though was a technical one and that is the fact that this game has some very rough edges. Now don’t get me wrong the game looks pretty nice but on a quite a few occasions I saw things like the seams between textures, the skybox peeking out from inside a wall, and other small but noticeable things that while totally excusable and not diminishing the gameplay really stood out and broke the immersion. The sound design as well is perfectly fine, nothing outstanding mind you but appropriate to the action.

Powerful as rage attacks may look they are generally just slightly more powerful than your standard attacks with a bit of added knock back.

Gameplay-wise this is exactly what you expect for the most part, it’s your standard God of War style action title; chopping dudes, mild puzzles, and platforming, all well-worn roads we’ve walked before. That’s not to say the action is bad in fact the comfortable old pants that are the gameplay of character action games are something I’m always willing to slip on. If anything the gameplay is fun  but inconsistent in quality meaning while certain parts were impressive while others didn’t fare as well. Thankfully the bulk of the game, which is the combat, works pretty good and is fairly tight with a unique take on QTE kills that helps it adapt to PC controls. What it does is map the QTE commands to WASD keys (or the analog stick if you’re playing on a 360 pad like I was) rather than the attack buttons and while the game never actually explains this to you it’s easy enough to figure out. That said being intuitive is not something this game does well with many of the more subtle aspects of the controls and the gameplay left unspoken; it’s hard to describe what is and isn’t explained well but put simply I felt the experience could have been slightly more guided. This isn’t helped by the sometimes imprecise controls that make the non-combat parts of the game less of a joy. The platforming in particular can be very loose and as result incredibly frustrating, Garshasp doesn’t move with the speed or grace of his contemporaries like Kratos or Dante and seems to have a hard time mounting ledges and covering distance like they do. On the whole though the gameplay is fine it just doesn’t really have any major hooks, there is a rage system but it’s just a way governing special attacks none of which are really game changers; it all works it’s just not as fresh or interesting as it could be.

All in all Garshasp is a more than adequate representation of character action games and while it may not be anything special if you’re a fan of this genre you’ll get some enjoyment out of it. Really the only major possible deal-breaker problem with this game is its length which sits at a short 3 hours and for the price of $20 that feels a little light. So for a perfectly competent character action Garshasp: The Monster Slayer gets a 3 out of 5 stars; while certainly not perfect it makes me excited to see what this studio does next as this is a pretty impressive as a first title goes.

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