Previews

Beowulf

Strong on blood, strong on beards

Roar and gore. It' the two words that have been left lodged in our grey cells following a recent eyes-on event with Ubisoft's Beowulf.

Roar, because Beowulf's a shouty fellow with obvious anger management issues who is surrounded by thanes constantly yelling the Norse equivalent of "Beowulf FTW!"

Gore, because it's gratuitously violent. With gratuitously violent knobs on.

The game is a tie-in with Robert Zemeckis' forthcoming Beowulf movie - which in turn is based on the ancient Epic poem - and naturally borrows scenes from the flick while also featuring the notable voice acting talents of the likes of Ray Winstone (Beowulf), Anthony Hopkins (King Hrothgar) and Brendan Gleeson (Wiglaf).

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But rather than reprise just the movie in videogame form, much of Ubisoft's game focuses on a 30-year period in the fictional life of Beowulf not covered in the flick. It is, if you will, Beowulf: The Lost Years.

Boiling the game down to its bare bones, it's a third-person action-adventure steeped in Norse mythology that deals with a lead character (accompanied by a group of thane buddies) who is struggling to perform heroic, righteous feats while battling inner demons.

In gameplay terms, this ongoing fight for Beowulf is represented by the player being able to switch between two types of play styles - Carnal and Heroic, both of which can be upgraded RPG-style during the game.

Carnal is akin to Beowulf unleashing berserker rage. On-screen, the world is overlayed with a tinge of red, the sound becomes muted and the violence ramps up to over-the-top mode.

An already violent game, suddenly the lead character is ripping off heads, crushing enemies' chests in with knee stomps and causing gore-filled carnage with melee weapons. When the beast is let loose, no one is safe from Beowulf's ire. Both friend and foe can be cut down in an orgy of wanton destruction.

On the flip side of the coin, Heroic mode is Beowulf creating slightly less bloody mess while strapping on goody-two-shoes. In this mode he can boost the morale and combat effectiveness of comrade thanes during combat and order them to do his bidding via a simple command system.

Want that conspicuous, giant round stone rolled out of the way to reveal a cave entrance? Easy. Order your thanes and they'll shove it out the way with a testosterone-filled yell of hurrah. Well, as long as you succeed with the simple, timed mini-game this involves, that is.

By design, playing in Heroic mode presents more of a challenge when stacked up against Carnal. Carnal is more seductive, an easier path to walk, helping you out of seriously sticky situations; and, at the risk sounding too much like Yoda, we'll shut up there.

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At this point you might expect us to start talking about a moral system impacted by the choice of play styles, except there isn't one. What you get instead, we're assured is key NPCs questioning you're actions if you revel in Carnal, but precisely what effect this has on the game overall we've not been shown.

However, what we do know is that a) there are two endings to the game depending on which of the Heroic and Carnal styles you plump for most overall and b) if all the thanes that accompany Beowulf die - the player can kill thanes when Carnal - then it's a trip to the game over screen.

It can also have a negative impact on missions if care isn't taken, as we discovered. We'd watched as Beowulf fought, fought and fought some more, scaled cliff walls Tomb Raider-style, discovered hidden weapons in niches in rock-faces and fought more some more, but were then privy to a scene requiring the character to rescue hapless virgins from great, stomping ugly trolls and sacrifice.

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