In the first month following a new video game system's release, an undue amount of attention is paid to subpar games that would otherwise come out and quickly fade into obscurity at any other time in the system's life cycle. Azurik: Rise of Perathia is one of those games. If you already own an Xbox, don't bother picking up the game, and if you're considering buying an Xbox, don't judge the console by this game. Every system has its share of dogs, and like a painter writing off bad paintings for being "good to get them out of your system," it's good for the Xbox to get this one out of the way early.
In Azurik, you play a young apprentice mage who channels elemental powers to his magical staff to initiate special attacks and create defenses like armor. You begin the game with these powers, only to lose them after evil forces strike the stronghold where you study and live, and then you must regain them to stop your enemies from claiming the world for their own. The key selling point for Azurik is that you mix and match your elemental abilities to create special attacks and skills by hitting the correct combination of jewel buttons on the Xbox controller. For example, a mix of the fire (red button) and water (blue button) elements will melt ice walls, while another combination will create an ice attack that will extinguish any fire-based foes you encounter. Once you regain your elemental powers, learning the different combinations (which is easier said than done) makes the game's combat much more interesting, but until then, it's repetitive and unexciting, revolving around jabbing, swinging, and attacking while jumping. Yes, it's one of those games that hides its better parts past the point when most people have given up playing.
The elemental realms in Azurik's world are massive, and much backtracking is necessary to solve their many puzzles, even though shortcuts are at times provided. The puzzles involve such basic tasks as jumping onto a floating platform to gain access to a key, and they are shamefully straightforward in comparison with those found in similar action-adventure games, like Soul Reaver II. Dull as they are, the puzzles are even further undercut by the game's strange physics. Need to jump onto a platform? Better plan in time for your character to float in the air for a bit before landing. Need to climb up on a ledge? Better expect a few tries before your character is able to grab hold of it. If key collection wasn't enough of busy work in and of itself, carrying out the actual task could barely be more tedious because of the sloppy physics and lackluster combat.
At first, Azurik both looks and sounds very sharp. The opening sequence is narrated well and is visually impressive, and the theme song is excellent. The environments are modeled well and are clearly defined, and they carry excellent textures at times. Things go downhill from there, though. The character designs look like a fantasy version of the CG animated cartoon series, ReBoot--an aesthetic, middle-of-the-road that's neither striking nor unpleasant. It's not until the characters start moving--like jumping or swimming--that they look terrible. You'll also notice a peculiar lack of light sourcing in the game, outside of some of the spell effects. For example, if you walk into a dark cave, you'll be able to see yourself and any nearby foes as if they glow from some internal incandescence, but otherwise you exist in complete darkness. Likewise, the water and snow effects are also awful looking. The only ways that you know that you're underwater are that your character is now set horizontal instead of vertical, the ceiling is a lot lower than before, and a few minor ripples were cast along the surface when you jumped in. Snow is much the same way. When you might walk waist deep into a snowdrift, no ripples appear around you--the lower half of your character just disappears into white. Elements like these detract greatly from what otherwise would have been a fairly decent-looking game.
The sound effects in Azurik are also extremely basic and unvaried. Each creature has a cry that it repeats over and over again until dispatched, and most are so bad that you won't want to hear them the first time. The environmental noises are quite remedial as well. In one instance, you'll walk up to a bridge and hear it creak in the wind. When you walk over it, you'll hear the same sound repeated as if your weight upon it hasn't affected it at all. The guidance you receive from the game's narrator is also a problem. The voice bears a reverb effect, perhaps to make it more dramatic, but in reality, it's just hard to understand. You'll often have to listen to his tips several times to make out what he's saying.
Another major sticking point in Azurik is the camera, which you control with the right analog stick. The camera will stay in whatever perspective you shift it into until you move into an area where the computer takes control, which is where you usually swing it around into a slightly less-than-ideal view. Even if it doesn't take back control, you travel throughout many varied elevations and into tunnels, so you constantly have to jimmy the camera around to see where you're going. The camera does center with a push of the right trigger buttons, but its centered view isn't always an ideal perspective. For instance, if you're swimming underwater and you push the button, you might end up with a view of the water's surface, with your character nowhere to be seen. The camera is so much work for you throughout the game that it feels like the developers gave up on it and decided to just let you control it. In fact, that's the impression you'll get throughout much of Azurik--it comes off like a game rushed out the door before completion.
The best thing that you can say about Azurik: Rise of Perathia is that it's a big game with much to see and do, but its gameplay is so frustrating and dull that few players will push on that far into it, a fact that detracts from the game's overall value. Azurik does pick up steam after time, but the first few hours of it are so awful that players shouldn't have to put through with the bad before the better. Fans of the action-adventure genre will likely be better served waiting for Crystal Dynamics' Blood Omen 2 (and hoping that the company will port Soul Reaver II to the Xbox).