The Art of Magic - Magic & Mayhem
by Virgin Interactive Entertainment Ltd.
Magic is perhaps a peculiar element in PC gaming. Sure it fits into RPGs and it looks very beautiful indeed when the spells are displayed in all their visual glory. However in strategy games, magic can seem out of place. Total Annihilation: Kingdoms readily springs to mind here. The original Total Annihilation was excellent with its multitude of vehicles, boats, mechs and aircraft. However Kingdoms was a plain mess. The magical elements took the frantic pace out of the game and as everyone knows, the game flopped.
The Art of Magic claims to be a mix of RPG and strategy and indeed it certainly looks that way at the beginning. The story begins the morning after Aurax's (your character) coming of age party. Aurax's father tells him to go and find his sister, Nadia, who is lost in the forest. This is merely a rouse to enable Nadia to inform Aurax of his special abilities. He learns from his sister that he has magical powers and she begins to teach him how to use them. So with staff in hand Aurax and Nadia return to their village only to find that their father has been mortally wounded. As Aurax shares his father's final moments with him, in which his father begs Aurax to protect his sister; Nadia is captured by Milesius. Distraught, Aurax learns from one of the villagers that all hell is breaking loose as the Neutral Orb of power has been destroyed.
Aurax's first task is to rescue his sister. In order to do this he must proceed to the Dark Wood. The game really begins here and it is here that we first see the true nature of the game. Up until this point the game looks as though it is going to be a solid RPG with strategical elements. However it soon becomes obvious that what we have here is a Sacrifice clone.
Most of the 30+ missions require you to enter a region and defeat the enemies there. You, as a wizard, have the ability to cast spells and conjure up all manner of beasts to fight with you. As with all games that include magic you require mana to fuel your spells. Mana is gained by securing Places of Power (PoP). The region you are in, contains a handful of PoP and the basic idea is that the more of these you contro,l the stronger you are and the weaker your enemy is (your enemy is usually a wizard also and needs the PoP to support his/her mana requirements). The battles are usually tit-for-tat experiences and to be quite honest can become a bit of a drag. In the early part of the game you can only conjure a small amount of creatures so you have little chance of finishing an enemy off quickly or defending many of the PoP. The game also has a few stealth missions which change the pace a bit but these can be frustrating in places.
One of the finer points of the game is the spell creation. During a mission you will come across certain items that can be used as ingredients to create spells. Between missions you can use these ingredients to create the spells that you desire to use in the next mission. This adds strategical depth to the spells as it is advantageous to choose the correct spells for the enemies you will face in the next mission.
Along with the spell creation the only other real RPG element comes with the character elements that you can attribute your experience points to. At the end of each level you can allocate your experience points to either health, mana, or control limit (the amount of creatures that you can control at any one time). Restrictions are in place though and you can't allocate all of your experience points to one element.
The 3D graphical engine that has been used in Art of Magic is actually very simple. The characters look quite poor when zoomed in close, which is disappointing. Despite the simplicity of the graphics the game feels quite laggy. A Pentium III 500MHz, 128MB RAM is recommended but even on a 900MHz machine and 640MB RAM, the scrolling is slow and disappointing. The interface also feels awkward. As you progress through the game you will find that there are more and more spell icons appearing on the screen. You can get to the point where around 30% of the screen is taken up by spell icons. Not only is that a huge lack of visibility but it is also confusing to hit the right spell in the midst of a battle, although thankfully the game lets you give orders whilst the action is paused so this problem is not so great as it might be. Deselecting units is also awkward. You select a unit with a left click and perform actions with a right click. The only problem is that once a unit is selected the left click fails to deselect them which makes things feel fiddly, especially in a hectic situation.
As well as the main campaign, there is a skirmish mode in which you can compete against rival wizards in one of numerous locations. You can only use items that you have come across in the main campaign though. Games can either be a timed score or duel to the death with the last man standing option. Multiplayer modes also exist so your can take on your friends over a LAN or the Internet.
The game is fully subtitled and allows full access to deaf gamers. The cutscenes have been beautifully done and use the in-game graphics so the transition from cutscene to gameplay is smooth. The spell icons are tool-tipped. The text feed back within the game is good. It is just a shame that the gameplay is somewhat repetitive.
Overall Game Rating: 6.5/10 Although it promises much, The Art of Magic is somewhat disappointing. Repetitive missions are the main culprit but a stodgy interface also helps to cool the interest. Fans of Magic & Mayhem won't be too disappointed but others may prefer the superior Sacrifice to this game.
Deaf Gamers comment: Full access to the deaf gamer is provided by The Art of Magic. However you may be disappointed by what is on offer here. If you like Magic & Mayhem then you will be satisfied with this but otherwise you should probably sample the demo first.