Three years ago I saw a pre-alpha version of a game called Dark Vengeance. It was a third-person fantasy shooter that was noteworthy for two reasons: It was a 3D-accelerated third-person game (this was way before Tomb Raider), and it boasted 12 playable characters. Then, as quickly as Dark Vengeance appeared, it vanished from my editorial radar, only to resurface a few months ago, under new management as it were. Graphically, Dark Vengeance hadn't changed much, although the scope had now been scaled down to only three characters. And while Reality Bytes was still the developer, the game was now being published by GT Interactive. Three years ago, Reality Bytes said the game would be done "next year." But three years later, GT Interactive has managed to push the game out the door, albeit as a less ambitious and more focused game.
Dark Vengeance is a very deliberate exploration and action game in the same vein as Tomb Raider, but with a little more combat and a fantasy theme. In that respect, it is similar to Heretic II. However, Heretic II is faster paced, and its gameplay is more akin to a first-person shooter. Dark Vengeance, in contrast, has less-populated levels, with no more than three creatures onscreen at once. Combat is very deliberate and enemies are quite ponderous. You won't see enemies zooming out of corners at you or jumping at you from shadows. Instead, enemies will lumber towards you, go through slow animations, and then attack. Combat is more like a slow meeting of swords. Nothing elaborate, just bash at what's in front of you. Dark Vengeance doesn't test your twitch reflexes, which is good, because the interface and controls are not at all conducive to fluid combat.
Moving is handled like in any other third-person action game, but attacking is governed by a combination of keys. You have to press the attack button and a directional button at the same time to execute an attack. Hit left and attack for a quick attack, up and attack for a medium-powered attack, right and attack for a slow but powerful blow, and back and attack for block. Ranged attacks are executed by simply pressing up and attack. However, you have to hold down the attack button for a while to steady your aim or your shots will fly everywhere but at your target. It's a good thing your enemies' rates of fire are slow as well. I couldn't set mouse sensitivity, and my gamepad actually didn't work well due to the Sidewinder's awkward directional pad. So, I had to use the keyboard. As with all games of this ilk, moving side to side or turning is frustratingly slow. This slow movement of the camera makes looking up and down a chore. Suffice to say that the combination of the slow turning rate and the main character model blocking the middle of the screen make combat very difficult to get used to.
However, if you have the patience to sit through an hour's worth of frustrating control schemes and an awkward camera, you'll find that the combat isn't too bad, especially because the pace of the game, and enemies, is so forgiving.
In a cliche that we've all come to expect, the game's three characters are a physically weak but magically endowed wizard (warlock), a physically and magically skilled middle-of-the-road character (trickster), and a powerful but dumb warrior (gladiator). There are 18 levels to the game, but each character's beginning level is unique. The gladiator starts in the gladiatorial pits and must battle his way out, the trickster begins in her slain mentor's laboratory and must escape to track down his killers, and the warlock stalks off from his sanctuary to kill the wizard who summoned the eclipse that cost him his delicate control of the demon Aggasaggoth.
The levels themselves aren't anything special. Usually you have to find a key to open a locked door or a cog to start a machine, repeat these gestures two or three times, and you complete the level. In most respects, the gameplay is the familiar key-hunting quests with monsters thrown in to provide obstacles and distraction. In many cases, the layouts of the levels are simply circuitous maze-like labyrinths that force you to run around in circles. The enemies that stand in your way are a mix of dark elf warriors and mages, undead horrors, and a few magic beasts. There aren't really bosses per se, but some levels do end with a battle against a powerful enemy, like a dark elf witch or a giant tree. Helping you throughout the levels will be two talking heads who apparently have great power but need you to do their bidding. A talking voice, a servant of the game's antagonist who is secretly aiding you, also helps by occasionally providing the obvious mission briefings. I must say that the voice acting for the two talking heads was terrible. The voices were bad, and the dialogue was even worse. The blue head, the doubting Thomas of the dreadful duo, says things like "Let's blow this Popsicle stand." Presumably, Popsicle stands are a popular enough sight in this realm of high fantasy that even this god-like talking head uses it as a metaphor for leaving an area. Thankfully, Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum don't appear often in the game.
Dark Vengeance isn't a bad game, but it doesn't do anything new and doesn't really provide any compelling reason for playing it, except for the enemies and the graphics. The three different characters provide depth of gameplay via their unique weapons and power-ups, but there is neither a compelling story nor innovative level design to keep this game interesting. Even the graphics, which are good, are still not state-of-the-art. Play it if you like games in the Tomb Raider style of deliberate exploration and combat, but don't expect to be too impressed.