By Relkin 0 Comments
Hey! So like last week, the point of this post is to share my thoughts about an old game I recently played that I did not have any prior experience with. Did it age well? Can someone who didn't play it around the time of its release enjoy it now in 2014?
This week's game is Stonekeep, by Interplay. It's a first-person dungeon crawler with real-time combat, some interesting ideas, and a slew of issues. After a painfully bad and apparently ridiculously expensive(look under Development) opening cinematic, a goddess plops your character into Stonekeep without weapons, armor, or even a shirt. Outside of vague directions to get to the end and a brief meetup with the big boss, there isn't much in the way of direction. In terms of a story, the game falls short from the get-go. This didn't really bother me, as the game is entirely linear and it doesn't take more than a few seconds from getting in before one finds themselves in a fight. By about five minutes in the player will have found weapons, armor, miscellaneous items and...the first problem in the game: the combat.
As stated earlier, the game has real-time combat. This was pretty fun at first, as each stab of the blade felt deliberate. I even found some interesting reactions to attacking enemies in different parts of their bodies: sometimes stabbing a goblin in the head would cause it to freak out and clutch at its eyes desperately, giving one ample time to kill it without fear of reprisal. The problem with all this is how easily gamed it is. All one needs to do is to stab the enemy as they close in, then back up. They won't be able to land a blow, and will advance once more to try again, allowing the player to rinse and repeat the same tactic. A version of this ploy even worked on the first boss of the game, this crazy tentacle creature in the screenshot to the left. I swooped in, stabbed it, and then backed away, only to repeat the process. I defeated it, unharmed.
So the combat's a wash. That's not necessarily a deal breaker in this type of game. Normally the story, atmosphere, art, character customization, item management and the enjoyment of exploring would make up for deficiencies in an RPG. Well, scratch half of that list. The inventory is clunky and inefficient. One can only see five different item types at once, and it doesn't take long before the player has dozens. Scrolling up and down to see them all is frustratingly slow, and organizing it all isn't feasible. Exploring the depths of Stonekeep becomes stale and repetitive quickly, and I've already talked about the bare-bones story. A good example of the exploration issue is the screenshot to the right. In the first few floors of the game, every single secret will be behind the brick that occupied the hole in the wall. It doesn't matter where you are; each wall will be the same, and if there is a secret, it'll be there.
I did find a fair amount of good in this game, even if the entire post up to this point implies otherwise. The game looks fine, even today. The music, and the atmosphere are both great. Even after I had killed everything in the sewer (as seen in the screenshot with tentacle beast) I still felt uneasy walking through it. There are little things about the game that impress you. Discovering an illusory wall, figuring out how an item works by trial and error, getting trapped by a cave-in. The game is full of little things that surprise and delight. Another great addition to the game is the Journal. Whether one is marking a location on a map, replacing the description of an item, or jotting down a random note, it's always a good experience. I would take a journal like this over an automated Quest Log in almost any game.
It's not surprising that Stonekeep is a bit of a wreck, considering it's development cycle(I'll direct you back to that Wikipedia page, if you missed it the first time). While there are bits and pieces of a good game scattered through the first quarter of the game that I played, the meat of gameplay is...poor. I do wonder if switching to a simpler turn-based combat system and implementing a more traditional set of menus would have produced a more enjoyable experience for me, or if Stonekeep would've just become a bland, forgettable game. I may not like the game as it is, but if anything else, it is unique. It'll always have that.