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Sword of the Berserk: Gut's Rage (DC)

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      25.07.2007 12:24
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      Gutless

      The cost of modern gaming is as high as I can ever remember it being for quite some time, with consoles costing £200-450, snazzy motion-sensitive pads setting you back £30 each and new games creeping worryingly close to the £50 mark. Thus I decided to take a bit of gamble – a generation side-step if you will, by complementing my long-suffering PlayStation2 with a £20 Dreamcast, which has thus far proven a sound investment.

      With the Dreamcast’s most productive period coming between 1999 and 2001 (when my PSOne was still in its relative infancy), it’s been great to experience first-hand classics such as Soul Calibur and Sonic Adventure, as well as more obscure delights like Ikaruga. The flipside of this however is that, like all formats, the Dreamcast has its share of turkeys too – and Sword Of The Berserk: Guts’ Rage is a bit of a prize-winner in that respect.

      Still, avoiding such games is made more difficult when the gaming press not only fail to spot the glaring (and numerous) problems suffered by the game in question, but actually go on to sing its praises – I could only wonder if these people had been playing the same game as me. Either Eidos performed the ultimate brainwashing exercise on the world’s journalists or (more feasibly) it gained bias through its (then) ‘next-gen’ standing. No reviews have come close to articulating just how bad Guts’ Rage is. Oh well, lucky I’ve got the space…

      Even taking into account the fact that it was a relatively early DC title, arriving as it did in 1999, it seems woefully dated and utterly bare-about-the-bones in terms of its gameplay mechanics and more crucially still, fails to generate any true feeling of enjoyment or engagement at any stage.

      The story is a passable if rather generic tale based on the Berserk manga that sees you assuming control of a mysterious one-eyed warrior named Gattsu, who roams in search of a cure to an evil curse that threatens to engulf the land, causing humans to become deformed and zombie-like. He also fights to save the life and mind of his beloved companion Casca. This sets the scene for a one of the most incompetent and least satisfying hack ‘n’ slash adventures in recent memory.

      The snazzy, involved cut-scenes belie the fact that, from the point of view of it being a sixth-generation game, there is unbelievably little to Guts’ Rage – and what is present tends not to be very good. All of the potentially interesting bits take place in the vast number of cut-scenes that leave you with nothing but a series of extremely tedious sword fights. You can’t talk to anyone; you can’t interact with anything; you can’t even upgrade your character or discover better weaponry. All you can truly be sure of is that when all the chatting is done, somebody or something new will have picked a fight with you – whether it’s zombies, beasts, knights or some savage shrubbery.

      What the Dynasty Warriors games have since gone on to do well, Sword Of The Berserk on the whole does very badly. Considering fighting is literally the only thing you do in the entire game, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Eidos would have at least made sure it played without any glaring troubles. Sadly, they are plagued with problems that make for some frustrating gameplay. Though you’ll often find yourself surrounded by foes, cutting through them proves a laborious task as the lack of a lock-on feature (or remotely co-ordinated controls for that matter) means as often as not, Guts will carry on slicing away straight past an enemy, leaving him exposed to a pummelling from all sides. The combat controls are all over the place at times, and sadly this becomes most apparent in the tougher situations – such as the boss battles. A couple of the bosses show a commendable degree of intelligence, with seemingly random attack patterns making then tricky to read. However, using tactics seems increasingly pointless as the camera is unhelpful at best and Guts’ slide/dodge technique is just as likely to land you in trouble as get you out of it, and simply hammering the attack buttons seems as effective a method as any.

      Indeed, it seems that if you treat Guts’ Rage with more intelligence than it strictly deserves, you may make life unnecessarily difficult for yourself. You can stick around to fight the hordes of enemies in each area if you choose, though it is rarely a requirement and hardly ever truly beneficial – it just increases the chance of you dying. Sure, running past your foes is hardly the most enjoyable of pursuits, but it does at least provide some relief from the ill-conceived combat.

      Many environments featured within the game are cramped for space – chiefly streets, alleyways and underground passages and this makes fighting especially problematical as whenever Guts tries to strike an enemy near to a wall, his sword ricochets off it, once again leaving himself open to attack. You become uncomfortably aware of your confines – I’ll never understand why they included such settings when the protagonist’s sword is about seven feet in length.

      Guts has a limited number of moves at his disposal during fights including close-range explosives and healing potions, whilst his ‘Rage’ move (activated after enough damage has been dealt) sees the screen go an ominous crimson and the lead protagonist go berserk – with twice the speed and power at his disposal. But it’s all a bit lightweight at the end of the day – these abilities would have seemed unremarkable on an early PSOne game, and on a Dreamcast, you feel distinctly short-changed.

      Next on the long list of problems is the chronic lack of longevity. There appears to be around an hours worth of cut-scenes, though it is debatable whether this duration of time is matched by the actual gameplay. Indeed, such emphasis is placed on lengthy cut-scenes, you get the impression Guts’ Rage is straying towards ‘interactive movie’ territory – except the movie in question isn’t all that good and not the least bit interactive. For some reason, Sword Of The Berserk doesn’t auto-save and instead requires that you quit after ‘reaching a new stage’ – something that occurs only three times. Yes, you read that correctly – there are only three chances to save between the beginning and end of the game, which means (barring total failure to progress) you’ll have a maximum of four sittings before the credits start to roll.

      Softening the blow slightly is the inclusion of a ‘Prize Box’, which hosts a slew of unlockable content that includes, among other things, a gallery; a movie-viewer and a cute (if only very briefly diverting) mini-game starring Guts’ flying elf side-kick, Puck (I thought it was faeries that could fly, not elves?). Plus, if for some reason you enjoy mental trauma and wish to receive another bout of haemorrhaging, you can always try the game on higher difficulty settings. I wouldn’t advise you play it at all though, to be honest.

      Sword Of The Berserk’s good points are few and far between, though its best elements are its graphics and sound. Neither are world-beaters, though they are at least respectable. Though Guts himself looks slightly odd, the majority of the cast is well-realised; smoothly animated, with some nice facial expressions and a generally good standard of detail. There are some very pretty locales as well – it’s just a shame the best of them are seen only in cinematic form. Music and voice-acting are similarly atmospheric and fit the bill nicely – the presentation in general is very pleasing.

      In hindsight, Sword Of The Berserk: Guts’ Rage is perhaps one Dreamcast-exclusive that we can be thankful remained so. It’s extremely short, extremely basic and beyond its raft of cinematics, offers little more than an hours worth of stabbing the ‘attack’ buttons. Games have come along a great deal in such a short space of time, but that is no reason to forgive Guts’ Rage’s shortcomings, even by the standards of 1999, as this was, after all, the year the world was introduced to the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill, and considering what these games managed on a console that was a generation behind technologically, it goes to show how poorly Guts’ Rage utilises the Dreamcast hardware. Avoid.

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