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Dark Messiah of Might & Magic

Slow motion, violent death has finally come to the fantasy genre! Raphael Colantonio, Arkane CEO guides us through the Oblivion killer!

To be honest, I don't really know what Errol Flynn looked like. Although I'm pretty sure he had a twirly moustache. Perhaps a jaunty green triangular hat as well. What I'm certain of however, and I'll check with my gran if any objections are raised, is that he spent a large proportion of his time waving a sword on spiral staircases, slashing ropes connected to precarious chandeliers and shouting "Aha!" after every deft manoeuvre. I mention this because, however he looked, Dark Messiah makes you feel just like Errol Flynn: it buckles swash like nobody's business.

To my knowledge however, and again grandparental advice can be gained on the matter, Flynn was never picked up by the neck by an orc, thrown into a rack of barrels and made to stare up through his prostrate legs at three screaming fantasy beasts. Nor did he pick himself up, fire an arrow at a nearby rope to release a huge weight that swung from the ceiling to knock one orc flying into a bottomless chasm, then duck underneath the weight on its return swing (just before it slammed the second orc into a brick wall), pull out a sword, turn on his internal adrenalin mode, and neatly cleave the third greenskin's head from his shoulders in a cascade of dark red blood. They just didn't have the special effects budget back then.

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Swash And Buckle
I namecheck Errol since Dark Messiah is about to nail, fundamentally nail, the thrill and excitement of first-person, blade-to-blade combat. Ingeniously crowbarring a vast array of ingenious weapon-specific moves into the traditional confines of the WASD set-up, blending spike- and chasm-packed environments seamlessly with combat and making full body awareness an integral feature rather than a gimmick - Dark Messiah has taken traditional hackand- slash, poked it in a myriad of different ways and mustered up a revolution in fantasy gaming.

Up until now, you'd be forgiven for a coma-level of interest in Dark Messiah. It's set in the Might & Magic universe for a start, from which the likelihood of a game ever stirring the loins of this particular correspondent is on about the same level as Teddy Ruxpin or, on a hot day, the collected works of Danielle Steele. But this Source-powered physics-fest just feels so damn good I'm practically ordering you to share my new-found enthusiasm.

To convey this though, we should discuss the combat more deeply - the bit where the Errol Flynn "Ahas!" and "Take it you swines!" fit into the template. At its base level, fighting works as it does in Oblivion (left-click to swipe, right-click to block) whether you're brandishing an oaken staff, a rogue's dual dagger, a warrior's blade or any other weapon. To add tactics to the mix, meanwhile, a brief tap of WAS or D combined with a left click will quickly move you into different stances - a lunge perhaps, or a swiping horizontal slice across the neck. Every weapon links to a different fighting style - and the more you batter an enemy, the more tired they get and the more different combat strokes will open up to you. Enemies will get noticeably more and more fatigued, slowly dragging themselves up from the floor you've kicked them down onto for the sixth time, until they're forlornly waving their swords at you as they lay beaten on the dungeon's paving slabs - before you offer them a quick, painful smiting.

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It's simple, yet ingenious stuff; given weight and grit by a bodily awareness system that truly works. When a Cyclops picks you up by the neck you might as well be rendered by the Source engine yourself - "You just feel like there's no screen between you and the
character" explains Arkane CEO and creative director Raphael Colantonio, in words better than I could paraphrase when I doorstop him. "It just feels like it's you." And as soon as you've built up enough battle frenzy to plunge your blade through the chest of a foe, kick him off the end in slow motion and watched the blood fly, or had a zombie guzzle greedily on your neck, I feel sure that you'll agree. And I haven't even started on the spells or the bows and arrows yet. They're good too.

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