the writings of a mind

Title: Dragonriders: Chronicles of Pern
Genre: Adventure/RPG
Big Word: drags
Strap: A fantasy game. Not my fantasy game. And not that sort of fantasy game either, pervert.

First impressions really count. It’s all very well preaching about not judging an individual by initial appearances, but if you march into a roomful of strangers dressed in a blood-stained apron, and wielding a dripping chainsaw, people are going to grab at quick opinion. It’s fair play to them.

Dragonriders first impression is an incredibly rushed opening titles sequence, narrated by someone reading so fast it sounds as if she was desperate for the toilet, but wasn’t allowed to go until she had this finished. It leaves you spinning as you are requested to take on board the entire back-story to Anne McCaffrey’s novels, and thence be immediately ready to run.

Second impressions also really count. Oh dear.

For those no au fait with McCaffrey’s legend, a Dragon Rider is a man or woman charged with the requirement to defend the planet Pern from the infrequent attacks of a mysterious space, er, thing, called Thread. In previous generations, man genetically modified fire-lizards to create the dragons of ancient Earth mythology, and a Dragon Rider is one who… oh, you guessed.

The most immediate problem for Dragonriders is a lack of identity. The novels do not lend themselves to a first person shooter, so the only direction left to turn was down that rather rickety rope-bridge of ‘adventure RPG’. And is that ever a tired old format that has never worked? Yes. RPG is an elaborate and complex genre, and is not adequately represented by allowing you character to occasionally get better at stuff. And adventure is an intricate balance of puzzle and dialogue, not merely getting stuff that characters ask you for.

Dragonriders falls into the clichéd traps of both these genre, but things get worse when you realise the struggle to even find this out. The engine was developed in-house, and looking like a broken version of the original Unreal engine, is absolutely dreadful. D’Kor has a turning circle larger than a juggernaut, and since you are allowed to walk off screen, finding yourself again can be a tiresome and lengthy struggle. Combine this with the invisible barriers, out-out-sync lip-syncing, and disorientating camera angles, and it begins to feel like you are looking at the game through a kaleidoscope.

And then to rub salt in the already salty wound, the awkward controls are fixed, not allowing you to select your own setup, and causing you to pour hot coffee into your keyboard.

There are too many similarities with The Longest Journey (fantasy, adventure, dragons) for the comparison to be ignored, and measured against its peer, Dragonriders wilts embarrassingly. Longest Journey was funny, beautiful, and wonderfully plotted. This however, isn’t. Presumably fans of the series will be curious despite any warnings, but it’s safe to say that even they had better avoid

Margin note:
Read My Lips

Lip syncing is not the most important thing in the world – few games have it, and the absence is not long noticed – but when it’s there you really want to get it right. And Ubi Studios have! They’ve just forgotten to align the near-perfect mouth movement with the sound of the words being spoken. It’s distracting to say the least.

 If there is a decent story underneath, the shoddy and broken engine hides it well.


Tech Specs:

Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Ubi Studios UK
Price: £30
Minimum System: PII 300, 64 Mb RAM, 600Mb HD, 16Mb 3D card.
Recommended: PII 450, 128Mb RAM, 32Mb 3D card.
Multi-player: No
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