Friday, March 16, 2007

Determinance Review

Determinance, developed by Mode 7 Games and published by Garage Games.
The Good: Fun fast-paced gameplay, flying adds strategy, easy to join multiplayer matches, multiple game modes, useful tutorial, AI bots are a good challenge for beginners
The Not So Good: Controls beget a really steep learning curve, accurate blocking is very difficult, no tangible variety in gameplay, limited weaponry (for now)
What say you? Once you learn the controls, this flying sword fighting game is fairly addictive though repetitive: 5/8

Special effects-driven movies have been around for a while, but I would say the zenith recently hit with 1999’s The Matrix. Not surprisingly, games were quick to cash in on the bullet-time concept in titles such as Max Payne. At least on the PC, there have been few (if any) flying martial arts games, and Determinance (a game title that my spell checker does not like at all) hopes to fill that void. Featuring sword combat in three dimensions, Determinance is a multiplayer game where your sword motion is directed by the mouse, like games on that console with the funny name.

Determinance goes for the minimalist approach when it comes to graphics and sound. The game is in 3-D, but the environments are essentially just surfaces with water you fly around: there aren’t any realistic settings here. But since most of the action takes place in the air, you won’t really be paying attention to it anyway. The character models are pleasing, however: they are highly detailed and exhibit good animations, such as coats that fly in the breeze. Really, the game looks decent enough for what it’s trying to accomplish, and as long as you can see your opponent and their sword, that’s all that really matters. The sound is typical: campy dialogue (namely “bloody hell!”) and techno background music, which is pretty much what you’d expect. While Determinance won’t win any awards for presentation, the game looks and sounds decent enough to be playable.

Determinance is a third person sword-fighting action game. Unlike most games that use key combinations to dictate the action, all of your sword motions are driven by the mouse. You move the mouse left to right, the sword swings from left to right. It seems simple enough, but it certainly takes some getting used to. While attacking is intuitive, defending is a different story. In order to block attacks from your enemy, you must adjust the angle of your sword to be perpendicular to that of your enemy’s. This can be done by using the mouse wheel or holding down the middle mouse button and moving the mouse. While there really isn’t any other way of doing it, this is by far the most difficult part of the game. In this sense, Determinance is not a pick-up-and-play game: although you can attack with ease, it takes a lot of practice to defend effectively. New players are usually beaten by experienced ones (including the AI) because they don’t have the blocking mechanics down. The game comes with an auto-move system for beginners so that they can concentrate on attacking and blocking, but I’d rather see an auto-blocking mode of some sort that would block a certain percentage of incoming attacks. In order to reduce attack spamming in the game, you are limited in the number of swings you can take in a period of time. You can also employ power moves (called charge blocks and attacks) that use up a lot of energy (and have a large recharge time) but deal a great amount of punishment. There are also customized special moves you can use in the game to finish off your opponent.

Determinance takes place in a 3-D world, and includes movement in all three dimensions. This makes it unique when compared to other fighting games that are restricted by gravity. There are some interesting tactics you can employ to avoid or sneak up to your enemy when you include vertical motion, and this makes the game far more enjoyable. Swords are the only weapons available now, although the developers plan on adding daggers, axes, and spears in the near future. While Determinance is intended to be a multiplayer title, there is also single player action available against AI bots. They provide a good challenge, especially for beginning players. You can unlock them in a series of fights that increase in enemy intelligence. Multiplayer is done through the game’s matchmaking service and it’s easy to join a match. You can play in free for all mode, a timed dual mode, a scored hunters mode, and team versions of each. Multiplayer matches are fast and intense, with lots of swinging, maneuvering, and blocking. It’s initially quite fun, but the monotonous nature of the game starts to wear on you if you don’t have a great interest in the genre. There is really no difference between any of the game’s levels, and the repetitive gameplay of Determinance is quite similar to arcade fighting games of 15 years ago. It tries to up the ante with three-dimensional movement, but it’s still lacking the replay value that’s present in many contemporary games.

Determinance is a unique offering to the action genre, and that should be commended. It’s successful combination of mouse-driven attacks and three-dimensional movement is something I haven’t seen in any other game. The AI provides a good opponent for beginners, and although the blocking mechanics take some practice, it’s worth it if you like the genre. People who enjoy this type of game will find value in Determinance, although everyone else might find the gameplay a bit repetitive (but what action game isn’t?). Since the levels in the game are not important, each game plays out generally the same, with the outcome dependent on the strategies employed by each of the participants. While 3-D makes for more possibilities, I think that most people will play for about 15 minutes, say “that’s neat,” and move on to more well-rounded games. It’s not that Determinance is a poor title; it’s just that the novelty wears off quickly. Still, there is some fun to be had in Determinance if you’re a fan of action games and you’re looking for a distinctive experience.