Saffire Preview

You and a friend can team up to defeat mythical monsters and solve puzzles from antiquity in Saffire, a game about five lucky mortals who've been blessed with the powers of the Greek gods.



Superficially, Saffire doesn't look too far removed from Tomb Raider. The primary heroine is a no-bull character you control from a third-person perspective as you explore ancient temples and other mysterious relics from antiquity. Even when you delve a bit deeper, the game still has a lot in common with Tomb Raider--you even have to navigate a series of puzzles and challenges using a combination of items from your inventory. OK, so Saffire's a clone--there are worse offenses. The question now becomes one of whether or not Saffire's developers can make it more like the first Tomb Raider, instead of the series of overly complicated and poorly designed sequels it spawned. Saffire already looks more interesting than many of the other attempts to improve on the Tomb Raider formula, with its promises of multiple characters (each with different supernatural capabilities) and a two-player cooperative mode. Originally developed for the Nintendo 64, Saffire is now on its way to the PlayStation 2, courtesy of the developer/publisher of the same name.

Saffire will be a multimedia property--plans are already being made for an accompanying television show and a series of books. In an additional bid for credibility, the developers have nabbed noted author David Wolverton to pen the game's back story and plot--which attempts to weave mythology and modern-day storytelling together with a bizarre twist. As the story goes, Zeus, the god of thunder, finds himself growing weary of defending man from the supernatural evils of the underworld. He decides to put an end to the gods' time on Earth by sealing his enemies in Hades and retreating to the heavens, swearing never to return. All is well and good until man unwittingly unearths and breaks Zeus' ancient seal, unleashing an evil legion upon Earth that is virulent enough to make even Pandora blush. While Zeus longs to join the fight against his eternal enemies, his vow prevents him from returning to Earth to do so.

Caught in a disaster of his own making, the crafty Zeus devises a method of circumventing his self-imposed law--he decides to bestow the powers of the gods upon a few worthy mortals and let them do the dirty work. The game's main character, Priscilla, is handpicked by Zeus to be the leader of these godlike mortals. She uses Zeus' powers of lightning to toss bolts of energy at enemies, and she can also summon deafening thunderclaps. The supporting cast isn't too shabby, either. You can choose to play as Damien, the lustful and emotive musician who can make anything his mind can imagine materialize; Melanie, a buxom beauty who has an instant familiarity with any technological creation; Lyssa, a lightning-quick speed demon who can perceive enemies' actions before they happen; or Odysseus, whose mastery of solar power can light the way in any darkened area and create blistering infernos.

Saffire lets you and a friend (in the game's co-op mode) choose to play as any of the game's five characters in each level. The main difference between the characters is that some enemies and puzzles will be easier to overcome with one character as opposed to with another, but no single character will have an overall advantage over the others. Combat is handled with a bit more depth than what we're used to in games of this type. Each character has his or her own special move that can be pulled off a few times per level, and they all have special fighting combinations that can be performed with the correct pattern of button presses. Fighting isn't the focus of most levels, though--puzzles and enemy encounters are usually broken down into a series of infrequent challenges that will often require the use of character-specific abilities. For instance, when Priscilla is low on health and stumbles upon a group of energy soldiers, she'll want to avoid combat by summoning a powerful thunderclap that'll deafen her foes, allowing her to pass unchallenged while they're writhing in agony. If you're playing as Odysseus, you can deal with those same enemies by using his powers of luminescence to blind them, or, if you're feeling up for the fight, you can incinerate them where they stand. The speedy Lyssa sounds like the most fun of all--she can allegedly run rings around most enemies, dodging their weapon fire by using her powers of prediction and perception (à la Spider-Man's spider sense).

Powering the adventure is the Saffire team's very own SAGE engine. Screenshots indicate that the game has made the graphical jump from the original N64 design to the PS2 without becoming too simple or bland in the process. The levels are surprisingly large, with vibrant, colorful texture work and impressive lighting effects. More impressive are the game's characters, which are highly detailed and feature rounded polygons. The SAGE engine itself has some neat tricks up its sleeve--the in-game camera often shifts from a behind-the-back perspective to panning shots or static angles for cinematic effect, and it utilizes graphical effects like multiple shadows.

Taking Saffire from its humble beginnings as a co-op third-person Tomb Raider look-alike to a television and literary franchise is a tall order. On the other hand, making Saffire a fun-to-play game in a done-to-death genre is entirely feasible. The two-player cooperative play, teammates with unique capabilities, impressive graphics, and intriguing plot should all help give Saffire a chance at winning over jaded gamers when it comes out this summer on the PlayStation 2.

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