Indie | A Parrot and a Pugilist
By Fraser McMillan
My Crusader has spotted his target. The Archer is perched atop a turret across the courtyard and I’ve managed to outflank him using the waterway.
He sits oblivious, identifying his own quarry and taking aim. I creep up behind him steadily, ensuring no other enemies are nearby. I dash up to the platform as quietly as possible, but he’d never hear us over the din of the surrounding battle. The target readies a long-tipped arrow and prepares to strike my fellow Agathia Knights below; one hefty swing later and his skull is bumping down the staircase, arterial spray gushing with vigour across the steps. Chalk one down for the bad guys.
The appeal of Source Engine mod Age of Chivalry lies in moments like this. But it can take some time to get into, with first impressions dominated by confusion at a few key design decisions. Why does the button labelled “sprint” equate to “light jog”? Why is the timing of each return to battle so sporadic? Why do attack animations take an age to complete? Why are the spawn points so painfully far from the battlefield?
//Straight to the Source
Though some of these questions are unfortunately omnipresent, the initial distaste wears off. Age of Chivalry is deliberately methodical; no, let’s go for jugular – it’s very slow. Not only is it the most plodding competitive multiplayer game I’ve ever experienced, though, it’s also among the most tactical. Age of Chivalry proves that we don’t need suppressed MP5s and Night Vision Goggles to be strategic – just the correct measure of pace and a bloody great axe.
And it’s wonderful, providing space for genuine battle planning alongside the enthralling, almost turn-based back-and-forth of combat. There’s a clear-cut feel to the whole thing, which some would call clunky – and in a sense they’d be correct. But much faster and it would begin to cater for the twitch audience, and there are enough PC games to satisfy that crowd as it is. No, Age of Chivalry is for the less instinctive player who relishes a good kill and can live with the inability to rack up 50 frags a minute, a slow burner that is tough to crack but makes all effort worthwhile afterwards. Mechanically, its basic scrapping is akin to that of Oblivion, or a simplified version of Dark Messiah’s superlative melee system. Coincidentally, it’s not too dissimilar to Source-based stablemate Pirates, Vikings and Knights II.
//A change of pace
It’s incredible how different virtually anything can become when the speed is increased. It renders films unwatchable, for a start. On a more positive note, a faster tempo lends live music an added urgency, and a margin of less than one second in a fifty lap race can be all it takes to seize glory. When applied to free, first-person, melee-based arena combat modifications for Half-Life 2, the rule remains firm. There’s little to pick between Pirates, Vikings and Knights II and Age of Chivalry in terms of gameplay, but a simple gear shift transforms the former into a instantly rewarding slice of hack-‘n’-slashery. It’s a dizzying and radical alternative to the meticulous strategising and weighty nature of its cousin. To what do we owe this?
Why, characters move faster. Have you ever played a game and rushed around for no reason other than an unnaturally urgent impulse that apparently flows from keyboard to fingertips? Every PVKII player seems to have been infected by this, and as soon as one enters a server it is abundantly apparent. Fail to pelt around like a headless chicken and, well, decapitation is not to be reserved exclusively for comedic analogy. It’s absolutely frantic, battering on like Age of Chivalry turned up to eleven. The trailblazing speed means tactics, sneaking and defensive combat go out the window.
The aesthetic of PVKII also highlights the stark contrast with AoC. Golden temples glitter in the sun, glowing lava almost bursts from the screen and exquisite, sky-blue ocean surrounds a vibrant paradise island in a bid to replace the subdued browns and greys of medieval times. Rather than heads, it’s explosive parrots which fly from shoulders, and the clinks and clanks of battle are replaced with over-exaggerated “YARR!”s and “KABOOM!”s. TimeSplitters-esque colour and character arguably represents a larger gap in execution than the tempo, but every aspect of the disparity can be traced back to that fundamental distinction.
Both titles are equally marvellous, but cater to wildly disparate play styles. The splendid humour evident in Pirates, Vikings and Knights II is little condolence for the fact new players are slaughtered without compunction, whereas Age of Chivalry is less instantaneously intriguing but more lenient in challenge. Anyone with a spare hl2.exe owes it to themselves to check each of these out, especially since it’s a time of substantial updates for both. To say there’s no real gameplay variation other than the character movement is probably a little unfair to the developers and undersells the mods somewhat, but it certainly plays an important role in shaping these two experiences. So, does slow and steady win the race? That’s up to you.