As the back of the Call for Heroes: Pompolic Wars box proclaims, "It is the darkest of times." Well, that's certainly true enough for anyone who installs and plays the game within. This action RPG from Quotix Software hits new lows in mind-numbing combat and ridiculously confusing level design.
Judging by the credits at the back of the manual, just two people made this one, and boy does it ever show. The twosome worked off a simple template of making a 3D copy of Diablo, but didn't include any of the depth or catchiness of that classic dungeon crawl. The single-player story (there is no multiplayer) about battling the monstrous hordes of a demon named Pompolic is told solely on the first page of the manual. There are no cutscenes, dialogue sequences, or anything else to tell a tale in the game itself. RPG elements are also MIA. Instead of rolling up characters, you make a one-or-the-other choice between a male warrior and a female amazon, and then bestow a name and a special ability (from a whopping list of three choices per class) upon the hero that you select. And with that, it's off to explore a succession of 15 generic fantasy castles and dungeons.
And you really do have to do some exploring. Unlike in most hack-and-slash dungeoneering games, levels in Call for Heroes aren't strictly linear. Instead of just cutting down skeletons and goblins from Point A to Point B, you instead must delve into every nook and cranny of each level to discover all of the dark soul artifacts and open up a portal to the next level before a timer ticks down to zero. Initially, this is refreshing. Far too many action RPG dungeon crawls are so slavishly devoted to linear level design that they play themselves, so finally getting an alternative could have been a very good thing.
Unfortunately, though, the alternative here is an absolute mess. There is no rhyme or reason to the level design at all, and there is no mini-map tracking your expedition, so you feel like a rat running around in a maze. Levels are also totally isolated from one another, giving you the impression that you're fighting through disconnected battle arenas, not making your way through any sort of story or campaign. Each level seems to have only a half-dozen or so noteworthy architectural elements, too, which leaves you adrift with no distinctive landmarks to indicate where you are at any given moment. Monsters also typically spawn in when you grab a power-up like a health potion or a dark soul, too, leaving you without a sense of place when it comes to specific fights. Welcome to a hack-and-slash treadmill.
Making matters even worse is the incessant, stupidly difficult combat. Packs of monsters constantly swarm you, forcing a lot of scrambly fighting and fleeing that further screws up your sense of direction. From the second level on, the number of creatures on your tail is so insane that you mostly just scurry away from them and hope that you happen to pass the dark souls before you get killed. All of this fighting does at least lend the game a certain white-knuckle intensity. It seems like you're forever stuck with your hit points in single digits, leaving you constantly afraid that a random swipe from some goon is going to send you on a dirt nap. Also, you have to restart levels from scratch when killed, which adds even more pressure to the hacking and slashing unless you've lucked out and found one of the rare respawn icons.
Still, everything goes on too long and is far too repetitive to be the least bit enjoyable. Each Call for Heroes level takes a good half-hour to finish, and you spend every second of that time either fleeing without any idea where you're going or click-click-clicking on the bad guys. There isn't any excitement in this monster mash, as you're whaling away on just a handful of types of beastie in each level. Creatures in the game nicely blend "kill-myself-if-I-have-to-kill-another" fantasy archetypes like skeletons and zombies with bizarro beasts like fireball-spewing floating orbs (the spitting image of Doom's cacodemon) and spindly-armed ET look-alikes, but there just aren't enough different monsters to prevent your brain from locking up with tedium. You'll wallop forty or fifty spiders in one level, then a few dozen one-armed zombies in the next, then a veritable Shriners convention of Doom balls in the next, and so on.
Variety isn't a part of your arsenal, either. Although you accumulate different weapons and armor along the way, there isn't that much of it. You generally pick up one good new weapon per level, for instance. Battles can be livened up by activating special class abilities that are picked when you level up, or by collecting coins that let you activate god mode for a limited period of time, but you don't need any of that fancy stuff; most of the time you'll be happy (well, "happy" is a relative term) to just click-kill your way through monsters.
"Happy" is also not a word you would use when describing likely reactions to the sound and video. The most memorable characteristic of the audio is the buggy musical score that occasionally flips out and spawns a choppy tune about as melodic as a fat guy belly flopping on a xylophone. This is a shame, actually, as the proper main theme is a great classical piece loaded with moody strings. Sound effects are subdued and nonsensical. Hitting a skeleton with a club results in a wimpy "whump" sound like you just hit a sack of wheat with a drumstick. The graphics up the awful ante even further. No collision detection means that you can run right through monsters. Clipping is a frequent problem, and objects flash in and out, especially around water. The camera gets jammed into the back of your head when you venture close to walls. Fonts go overboard when it comes to a gothic feel, making the "N" look like an "R," and the "G" look like something vaguely Klingon. Animations are herky-jerky, and the frame rate turns into a slide show whenever you get more than a half-dozen monsters on screen at once (which is pretty much all the time from the second level onward).
Call for Heroes is about as slapdash a PC game as you'll find in recent memory. There's just no excuse for taking something so half-baked and generic and shoving it into a box on the cheap. Call for Heroes ought to be recalled.