Swimmer’s Ear Puts Rune in Ruins

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Make sure to have plenty of beverages and snacks high in sugar and caffeine if you’re planning on playing Rune–after the first battle in the initial ten minutes of the game, it gets a little boring for a while.

Early on the game turns from a unique third person sword game to the 21st century version of pitfall for the Atari 2600. Our hero begins the main part of the game by being brought back to life by Odin, one of the good Viking Gods from about the same time period as Atari, to battle and defeat the evil Viking God, Loki.

The prequel to the actual game is one of the best parts. You are a young man in your Viking village and go around talking to your friends and family, wandering around looking at your village monuments, drinking mead and even meeting one guy who hates you. You can practice your acrobatic skills here and get used to whatever keyboard combination you want to use during the game.

Eventually, you have to head to the weapon master’s house to prove your manhood. This is a very cool part of the game. You grab your gear and enter a large room with the meanest Viking you have ever seen – at least to that point in the game. Using a unique combination of blocking with your shield and attacking with your weapon you can eventually wear your opponent down, defeating him just as a runner warns of trouble out on the beach.

You have three basic weapons in the game, a hammer, an axe and a sword. You can get bigger and bigger weapons as you progress, but they will all fall into one of those three categories.

Anyhow, you head out on a ship with the other warriors in the village and set sail on a mission to help another tribe that is being attacked. However, along the way you are jumped by some Loki-worshipping Vikings. But instead of a cool ship-boarding battle royale, lightning bolts sent from the evil god pitifully kill your entire crew. This was a huge cop-out if you ask me.

But Odin brings you back to life in a waterlogged underground cave so you can have your revenge. But before you can kick some Viking butt, you have to do a lot of crap.

During the beginning of the game your character swims forever, then jumps, climbs, avoids obstacles and smashes giant crabs. This tedious process can take hours as you defeat level after level of jumping and swimming puzzles. This is where the game turns into an advanced course in Pitfall 2001.

Eventually you reach the gates of Hell. In hell is where the actual sword fighting begins against skeleton warriors. If you are still awake at this point, the game starts to get a bit more fun. You learn that you can gather sacred stones to briefly increase the power of your weapons, eventually giving you some of that same kick-butt power that killed your entire crew without a fight. (Okay, okay, I am still bitter about that.)

At times the game got interesting and I felt like I was playing a first person version of Diablo II or a medieval Half-Life, but then after I killed whatever I attacked, it was back to same old running, jumping, climbing and swimming.

Eventually you do go on to fight dwarfs, goblins, mythical creatures and eventually you have some really nice fights against other Vikings. While raiding a Viking barracks, lopping off heads and limbs, the game is sheer joy. Had the entire experience been like it was near the end of the game, this would be a stellar title. My guess is that the playtime was too short originally, so all those jumping and swimming levels were added.

There’s no doubt this game is a step in a new and right direction in third person shooters. The fights are balanced and in multiplayer mode, which is a ton of fun, there are no campers. You can’t camp with a battleaxe, not and kill anyone anyway. The technology just has to improve a little. The graphics could afford to get better and the process of wielding a sword and blocking, all done with a mouse, is a little cumbersome. Plus, there are no combination moves or advanced sword tactics. You have a block key and a swing key. Hulk see, Hulk smash. After a while, even the combat might get dull. There really isn’t too much to distinguish a skilled player from one who runs around wildly swinging his sword.

The atmosphere of the game however, when you are not stuck swimming along in desolate caves, is some of the best I have ever encountered. Everything looks like a Viking settlement, even when you are tromping through the evil people’s lair. One of the coolest parts of this game, as an example of atmosphere, is in the beginning when your are brought to life, you are swimming in a chasm and all your friends bodies are floating dead in the water at various depths. You can’t help but bump into a couple of them as you frantically search for the surface, and watch them eerily float away from you. That added a kind of chill to my back that no other computer game has ever been able to do.

Rune was developed by Human Head Studios, and goes for about forty bucks in your local store, but I personally don’t think the experience is worth it. I’m sure some will disagree, since there are quite a few fan sites, but in the single player game anyway, when you do finally get to the cool killing part you’re so bored with the jump, swim and locate-the-hidden-switch-puzzles that you start finding more entertainment in thoughts like, "What was Ron Howard thinking when made did Far and Away?"

Overall, this is not a bad game. It’s above average in many respects, especially close combat over a LAN in multiplayer. It may just be the swimmers ear talking I developed in the first several levels, but I just have to ask if a certain part of a game is so cool, why hide it? My guess is a lot of people won’t even get to the best parts if they get too frustrated with all the mundane levels. Rune earns an above average score of 3 1/2 GiN Gems, because the game really is cool, if you stick with it long enough, and because of fun multiplayer mayhem.

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