When bringing an established license--like a movie, TV series, or novel--to the video game screen, a developer faces an interesting question: What kind of game should be made? Some licenses demand no more than the superficial run-jump-shoot treatment; the scores of summer blockbuster-cum-mindless action games that line the shelves are ample proof of this. Other licensed games deserve a more intricate development of ideas, however, and these games are usually more memorable than any number of gory killfests starring the latest Hollywood heartthrob. According to Ubi Soft, the fantasy novel series Dragonriders of Pern, written by Anne McCaffrey, is just such a deserving license. Through the development of Dragonriders: Chronicles of Pern, Ubi Soft in fact made the unlikely choice of creating an adventure game based on the saga, though the quality of its execution is open to some debate.
McCaffrey's Dragonriders presents an interesting blend of fantasy and science fiction. In the distant future, humankind has begun to colonize hospitable planets orbiting distant stars. One such inviting world is Pern, seemingly a perfect new home for its settlers. However, a passing comet brings a new enemy to Pern in the form of the Thread, an amorphous enemy that periodically falls from the skies and devours all organic matter in its path. The settlers use their technology to genetically alter a native species of fire lizard for flight and then, atop these newly made dragons, take to the skies to combat the Thread. As time passes, the colonists forget about their technology, much of which has been destroyed by the Thread, and they revert to a sort of fantasy literature-style existence in which the Dragonriders are the defenders of the land. This is a more complicated setup than in the average game, certainly, as it befits an adventure game based on such a rich series of novels.
Chronicles of Pern places you in the role of D'Kor, a young Dragon Rider who has bonded with a dragon named Zenth. There is unrest among D'Kor's wing of riders, because Nalaya--the group's Weyrwoman--has recently died. Nalaya was bonded to the golden dragon Morath, the only creature capable of producing offspring, and so under these precarious circumstances, a new Weyrwoman must quickly be found. As D'Kor, you'll accomplish this by conversing with all manner of characters, maintaining an inventory of useful items, engaging in a little rudimentary combat, and, as in all adventure games, performing a long string of small quests that will eventually add up to a greater whole.
As an adventure game, Dragonriders is pretty formulaic--all the trappings of the genre are here. Unfortunately, it suffers from a variety of issues that keep it from ever becoming a really solid, likable game. For instance, the camera system is almost unforgivable at times. It often lets you walk off the screen without actually changing the viewing angle, and you're left to fumble your way back onto the visible area so that you can see where you're going again. The collision detection between your character and the environment is also uneven, which makes the Resident Evil-style control even more awkward than it already is. The voice acting isn't very good, and the load time during conversations gets to be cumbersome. These problems are compounded by the amount of time you'll spend talking to other characters to complete your tasks. These problems sound fairly trivial individually, but taken all together, they detract significantly from the overall quality of the game.
Dragonriders is hardly a terrible game, but it has its share of issues and won't appeal to a large group of gamers. It's not without a potential audience, though--fans of adventure games or of the Dragonriders books (and especially of both) will surely want to check it out, and its sub-$20 price tag might expand its audience a bit as well. If nothing else, it's nice to see that some developers are still brave enough to make adventure games, so Dragonriders at least gets credit for that.