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Die by the Sword Preview

Interplay serves up a party platter of carnage in this medieval action/adventure slasher


Die by the Sword - besides having one of the coolest names ever slapped on a computer game - has been one of most talked-about upcoming titles. Shrouded in public relations brownouts and pushed back more often than Sisyphus' rock (note that he has a reason for missing his ship dates), DBTS is a unique and potentially groundbreaking fantasy combat-adventure game that promises to feature the most detailed range of motion control ever available in a computer game. Utilizing the VSIM Motion Control engine, DBTS allows you to fully control the bodily motions of your onscreen characters in unlimited combinations - sword-arm movements, crouches, sidesteps, jumps, counterstrikes, footsweeps, the works. There aren't any preset moves here; instead, the game forces you to juggle two clusters of keys - one pertaining to movement within the environment, one pertaining to combat-related movements. Once familiarized with combat, you can even create custom moves in a training ground and record them, hot-keying them for future use in battle. Any player of who's ever wanted to calmly loll to one side and then clock his lunge-punching adversary upside his head from 90 degrees will be happy to see the range of possibilities in Die by the Sword, and any old-school role-player who still cringes at the term 'armor class' should be ecstatic at the way shields work here - as massive, dead-weight (albeit computer-controlled) plates that prevent damage up to a point - provided that you have a functioning (read still connected) arm to wield them.

In this newest incarnation of DBTS, the purely arena-style affair (best your opponents, win the king's favor) has given way to an expanded title - a true adventure game that just happens to have complex movement, true 3-D environments and polygonal characters, variable viewpoints (first- and third-person views with intelligent-camera movement), and dynamic interaction with the computer opponents as well as with the environments themselves: Swords spark and clang off other swords or glance off armor (or don't, see below); combat occurs in cramped corridors, inconveniently asymmetrical chambers and chasms (a la ), unstable subterranean dungeons, and other less-than-ideal locales. Being bigger and badder than your opponent is all for naught if some skinny, twitchy little goblin can rush you at the right moment and topple you into a nearby crevice; that Priapian broadsword will be good for little more than a few laughs when you're jammed nose-to-snout in the corner of some Zorkforsaken low-ceilinged niche; and in a real, dynamic environment, who's to say your enemy doesn't have a buddy waiting just beyond the cold, rushing curtain of that waterfall at your back? As if all this weren't enough, nobody's saying the environments themselves aren't actively evil, booby-trapped with rope snares and camouflaged pitfalls.

Now let's move on to what's really on most gamers' minds: Dismemberment. The way to separate the men from the boys in Die by the Sword is often to separate their limbs from their torsos, preferably while said limbs are holding weapons or helping said enemy keep his balance. Two parts Excalibur and two parts Monty Python's Holy Grail - that's the recipe (and to hear some tell it, part of the inspiration) for this ghastly funny fighting scheme. Strike a blow with proper aim and enough raw force, and the target arm or portion thereof can be sheared off completely. Ditto for heads and legs.

Multiplayer options in Die by the Sword include two-player serial connection, four-player LAN and two-player modem play schemes, each featuring eight different characters and arena settings. While this sounds like standard multiplayer fare, remember that we're not talking about your standard (if chunk-spraying) run-and-gun four-player Quake sessions here; we're talking about some of the grittiest, ugliest. and most complex (and hence most frantic) hand-to-hand and melee combat available for the PC screen. It's hard to be sure, but when up to four best friends/worst enemies - each missing various limbs - start clawing and swinging and blocking and even woundedly hopping around some dank dungeon like screen-testees for Freaks II, a number of, ahem, existing fantasy-combat titles out there might suddenly start looking pretty weak by comparison. Some heads are gonna roll this winter - no exaggeration.

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