George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is some of the best fantasy fiction since Tolkien stopped producing his magical worlds. The brutal, unforgiving, mature world of Westeros and the surrounding lands is vividly imagined and shows more complexity than we could ever truly need from a work of fiction. But this isn’t a book review, we’re here to look at how that deep, intricate world has been translated into interactive fiction in the latest videogame from Cyanide Studio.
It’s not good news, I’m afraid.
Cyanide has shown a willingness to intertwine their story with the one that will be familiar to anyone who read the first book in the series or watched the first season of the Game of Thrones television show. There’s a very obvious love for the fiction and desire not to deviate too far from the elements that make Martin’s series so compelling.
This all adds up to a narrative that is expertly crafted, at least in the later stages. The story has elements that will compel and engross you, complete with a few of those shocking sharp turns that the series is known for.[drop]Unfortunately, the work required to pick your way through the lengthy game in an effort to uncover that extra narrative material is too much. Mechanically, this game is far too complex and fiddly for how ultimately unbalanced it is. It spends far too long trying to explain the intricacies of an overly complex combat system and the character building of the two pre-set playable characters (some customisation for fighting style, etc. is possible) and it delivers that fairly engaging story through the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard.
Characters are monotonous, mis-timed and completely devoid of personality. At times, it seems as though dialogue was built with spliced together lines from disparate passages read into a microphone in a rented lock up on a rainy industrial estate in some drab, grey town.
They probably weren’t of course, Cyanide probably has a very professional studio set up and they probably paid good money for this abysmal delivery of their script. Which makes it all the more frustrating. That a decent enough script, expediting some really quite good, if a little slow in flowering, plot progression could be entirely ruined by such utterly terrible delivery is tragic.
Not only is the exposition delivered by emotionless automatons, much of it is behind loading screens that are all too common (and a lengthy, compulsory, progress-bar-filled install on PS3). Loading screens are often a necessary evil in modern videogames so we all kind of learn to live with them but when they only serve to load another terribly clunky piece of vocal work or an audio track that doesn’t transition so much as stop dead and loop back to the start again, patience is likely to wear thin.
The audio isn’t the only area in this game’s development that seems to have been rushed, it looks exceptionally ugly at times too. The problem with setting the game in a kind of semi-licensed set from the hit HBO translation is that people will already know what it all looks like. The scenery models and supporting characters here are often really awful to look at, although settings are varied enough and can occasionally look okay.
The major locations from the original literature are accounted for, in varying degrees of interactivity, from The Wall’s glacial splendour to the streets of King’s Landing. There’s also an entirely new location imagined in the run down town of Riverspring which acts as the hometown of one of the playable characters.
It’s a common, and almost always misguided, criticism of many sub-standard current generation games that they look like PlayStation 2 games. In certain instances though, this is true of Game of Thrones. Some character’s faces and in particular the dog you might have seen featured in trailers, are simply awful. Animations are also a bit wooden and jerky, so that it feels dated and clunky.
Added to that is the bizarre overacting of character animations so that during lines of dialogue they often pull odd poses like some unseen fashion photographer is instructing them to put hands on hips or shrug emphatically.[drop2]Repeating character models in crowded scenes – and even some uncrowded scenes – would be acceptable if it was masked more competently but some models aren’t just strikingly similar, they’re identical and quite close to each other in a scene. It feels shockingly lazy.
Stock animations for cinematic kills – a-la-Skyrim – would perhaps be a nice touch if there was more than one per weapon. It’s difficult to see where the years of development time went before this was rushed out to piggyback the TV show’s popularity.
The combat system appears relatively complex, at least for most console gamer’s sensibilities. It’s a kind of pause-and-queue, round-based system that should be quite familiar to fans of Dragon Age or multiple other, usually PC based, RPGs. You slow down (but don’t fully stop) the action by hitting a shoulder button and then you select a list of actions from a radial menu. You can switch between characters in your party to approach things from a more tactical angle but the system is hampered by lacklustre implementation.
It’s a little bit fiddly and feels very tactically complex to begin with but you’ll likely notice that most combat scenarios exist on repetition rather than tactics. You select the same set of moves in order to get through a situation and then the same, or at least a very similar, set is the best to get your through the next situation. There’s no incentive to adapt your tactics in most cases so it just feels like a decent grounding for the combat system was wasted by not having enough ideas to fill it up and tune it to the gameplay.
- A well plotted narrative that improves as it goes on.
- Nice but unobtrusive ties to the best known section of the series.
- Looks quite ugly, plenty of poor models and animation.
- Voice work is awful.
- Music is forgettable, except for the inclusion of the excellent TV show theme.
- Every good idea is killed in the implementation.
Game of Thrones and the wider Song of Ice and Fire could translate well into a videogame, and hopefully one day it will. That day is yet to come, though. This effort has a few interesting ideas and a reasonably accomplished plot, fairly well progressed but it stumbles mechanically over every good idea it has and douses it in some genuinely shocking presentation.
That professional actors, hired off the back of their great performances in the HBO series, could be made to seem so pathetically untalented, robotic and emotionless is almost admirable, if laziness and crushing mediocrity was ever something to be admired.