Dead Mage Studio, the developer behind Garshasp: The Monster Slayer, has clearly played God of War. This third-person action adventure drinks deeply from the well of Kratos and company, attempting to emulate its cinematic use of camera angles, its quick-time events, and its hard-hitting combat. But where God of War is the master, Garshasp is merely the promising student, striking similar notes but lacking what makes its inspiration so easy to love. The problems are basic ones. Broken collision detection, limp sound effects, and stuttering animations dull the edge of combat. Sluggish controls and unhelpful camera angles frequently intrude as well. Garshasp echoes an epic adventure; the regal voice acting, the calls of French horns, and ambitious art design do their part to stir your interest. But the game's execution fails its vision: It's messy where it needed to be tight and awkward where it required fluidity.
Yet there's an admirable heart clearly beating within Garshasp. It's based on Iranian mythology and tells the story of its titular hero, who sets out to avenge the bloody death of his brother and eventually confront a monstrous ogre called Hitasp. The tale is recounted by an enthusiastic narrator in a sonorous baritone, which gives the game an air of grandiosity. This grandiosity is matched by the environments, where suspended walkways span rocky red-brown cliffs and wooden platforms float atop the waters of a murky swamp. Impressive cutscenes punctuate key moments--it's just unfortunate that they aren't enough to draw you in completely. You know your motives only because the narrator tells you of them; not because you experience any loss or anger firsthand. Looming spires and the beats of a bass drum provide the right atmosphere, but they aren't a substitute for proper storytelling.
And so you traverse those walkways and jump on those platforms, with the camera dramatically swooping about, doing its best to simulate a fantasy film. As in God of War, you have no camera control and must trust the scripted angles to accommodate the action. Sometimes the camera does just fine, drifting above while you pull a lever or pulling in close to emphasize battle. Other times, it's a disaster. Take the first boss battle, in which you slash away at a growling hulk while dodging or blocking its attacks. Should you dodge to your enemy's far side, you can't see your own character and must either hope you are responding to your attacker's animations properly or try to make your way back to the foreground. Getting to a more feasible spot wouldn't be so problematic if Garshasp's troublesome controls and collision detection didn't work against you. Whether you use a controller or mouse and keyboard, you don't always roll in the direction you think you should. And because objects, walls, and enemies seem to be surrounded by invisible padding, you often roll to a halt when it appears that you should dodge away cleanly.
The collision issues carry over to the combat as well. When you should be making contact with your sword (and later, an enormous bludgeon), it sometimes passes right through your demonic foes. Landing a hit looks much the same as a miss; thus, combat loses its impact, with the weak slashing sounds emphasizing the sloppiness. Though it may not be as tight as it should have been, swordplay is solid enough to satisfy on a basic level. You string light and strong attacks into combos, as well as unlock new moves as you progress. Encounters with weak but agile creatures are mixed in with stronger mutants protecting themselves with shields. Should you block at the right moment, the action slows for a brief moment, signaling a counter opportunity. It's fun to string moves together into ground pounds, causing monsters to stumble and giving you an opportunity for a killing blow.
Finishing off larger beasts entails quick-time key presses/thumbstick pushes. The ensuing acrobatics are somewhat dramatic, but the animations aren't smooth and the scale isn't sweeping, which diminishes the impact. While most such games try to make the keys you press somehow relate to your actions onscreen, Garshasp's quick-time events feel removed from the brutal assault you witness. It's also easy to fail the initial key press because the keys you push also correspond to movement control. If you are holding a movement key at the same time you initiate that fatal strike, you are liable to be the victim rather than the executioner. Even beginning one of these events can be a chore. When trying to launch your final attack, you might instead grab thin air, over and over again, because the monster slid into some invisible safe spot that made it immune to your grab.
You aren't always hacking and slashing. Garshasp: The Monster Slayer has a great sense of pace, alternating combat sequences with various jumping bits, some lever pulling, and other brief excursions, such as a moody raft ride through a misty marsh. These sequences, too, are hindered by fundamental flaws. That invisible padding around many objects complicates a conceptually solid sequence in which you leap over branches and spiked poles. Fortunately, it's usually easy to avoid deadly traps, apart from an interlude in which you slide down walls, steering your character and leaping back and forth to evade spinning blades. Garshasp's controls don't always adjust properly to compensate for its camera angles. Consequently, your character doesn't move as you would expect him to in this sequence, which leads to some frustrating trial and error. The game forces few of these annoying wall descents upon you, but none are any fun.
Garshasp's irritations extend beyond the game mechanics. A bug may cause you to get stuck in the geometry after one of the wall-sliding sections. Or the game will deposit you directly into the water after a quick-time event--a game-ending occurrence, given that the hero can't swim. And yet, there's a striking idea in here, struggling to be seen amidst all the faults. Garshasp: The Monster Slayer has the rich atmosphere of a dark fable. The square-jawed lead, the theatrical voice work, and the varied tempo could be those of any big-budget action game--impressive feats for a $19.99 independent release. Nevertheless, that price is attached to a four-hour game that only partially makes good on its potential.