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April 24, 2008
Viking: Battle for Asgard - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
31/3/2008SegaSegaThe Creative Assembly1None
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Battles in Viking are pretty epic.
Vikings are awesome. If anyone disagrees with me I'll take my battle axe to them. You know what else is awesome? Violence. And the best type of violence is that which involves lots of blood and gore. So what happens when you put both horrific violence and Vikings into a game together? Well The Creative Assembly, responsible for titles such as Spartan: Total Warrior, have done just that with Viking: Battle for Asgard. The results are, unfortunately, a bit hit and miss. Read on for more detail.

Set in the... uh... a long time ago, you play Skarin, a random Viking soldier who has basically dies at the start of the game. Okay so he doesn't die, Freya, goddess of love, comes along and gives him some trippy magical stone that makes him all good again, and designates him her ‘champion' to save the world. Why does the world need saving? Well, Hel, goddess of the Underworld, has decided that she doesn't like the living and she wants to enslave all of humanity in order to be able to make them into un-dead soldiers to assault Asgard, the realm of the gods. Freya cannot stop her, perhaps because she doesn't wish to have her unorthodox clothing get dirtied, so Skarin sets off on his quest of freeing the 3 lands from Hel's grasp and finally taking Hel herself down.

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Character models are pretty impressive.
Yeah okay, the plot sucks. It's incredibly one dimensional and shallow, there's no particularly interesting characters (though for a bunch of pixels, Freya ain't too bad), and there's really nothing new. But, as with many games these days, the plot is merely a device to move the game along so that it doesn't end up suffering GTA-syndrome, where mindless running around becomes the main past-time. Let's get one thing straight – the entire point of this game is to dismember, decapitate and decimate as many of those nasty un-dead guys as possible and with as much blood as you can.

In order for Skarin to free the lands from Hel's forces, he must first set about rounding up the troops. This is what you will be doing for about three quarters of the game, going about the land performing tasks such as ambushing patrols of enemies, liberating quarries and farms, infiltrating cities, etc. to free Viking clans from their captors. These tasks eventually all amalgamate into a massive battle that acts as a sort of ‘boss battle' where all the Vikings you have liberated come under your command to take out an entire city of enemies.

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Hmmm, what have we here?.
The lands themselves work as free-roaming sandbox environments, so you have large islands and you are able to go anywhere possible on the island. There are roads and trails, cities, villages, farms, sentry towers, patrols, wild-lands, hidden caves, etc. It is reasonably well executed and just large enough that you have a lot of room to breathe without feeling overwhelmed or lost. There are also handy 'leystones' dotted about the landscape which allow you to teleport from one to the other, making travelling much less of a chore.

As you meander about the land, you will come across enemies from time to time. As soon as you approach an enemy, you will enter into stealth mode automatically. This sees Skarin crouching as he walks, and allows you to get the jump on an enemy, hitting them with a brutal stealth kill. If, however, you are spotted, Skarin automatically draws his weapon and enters combat mode. I can't say Vikings have ever struck me as a stealthy character, but it works well and stealth kills can be a lot of fun.

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Battle on top of the walls.
Honestly, the thing that keeps you playing the game is the gore. The combat is made up of pressing either X or square and maybe a few other buttons to pull off certain combos, but for the most part you can get through all standard opponents with just mashing those two buttons. But as you get an enemy close to death you get the opportunity to press Square to initiate a gory finishing move. This can see them cut in half at the waist with entrails flailing about, decapitated, turned into a human stump, or even exploded on screen into a cloud of blood and body parts! Unfortunately, there are a small number of these finishing moves, and there are only 18 different general combat moves, meaning that you will be fairly well-known to them all by the end of the game.

The big battles, on the other hand, only happen half a dozen times through the entire game. These are always started with a cut scene that shows you the immense size of the enemy and your own army. You know in movies like Braveheart where you have the massive armies running at one another? This is exactly like that. And this is the highlight, by far, of Viking.

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There's plenty of blood...
Games such as Dynasty Warriors attempt to capture the feeling of being a single troop in a massive war, but none do it quite as well as Viking does. All around you, people, both friend and foe, are being torn limb from limb, but swords, axes, and so on. You yourself can be in battles against anything from 1 to 20 enemies, and there will always be hundreds of enemies in view in every direction. There will also be some larger enemies, either un-dead champions, giants, or shamen (who summon more and more enemies), that become your targets in the battle. Taking out these enemies will give you dragon gems, which allow you to summon your dragons to cause massive devastation with fire against other key targets, or bands of archers. Some of the battles even end with boss-battles against story-specific characters. Running through the city you are trying to retake, you will slaughter countless enemies to reach these bosses and mini-bosses. It's a lot of fun.

The battles in Viking: Battle for Asgard are crafted incredibly well and capture the essence of being lost in a battle. Unfortunately, they are plagued by obvious slowdown issues which really take away from the realism, and also the same bland combat as mentioned earlier. At times in the battle Skarin will be running at only half his normal speed due to the slowdown, but even still, it's very hard not to forgive it due to the scale on which the battles take place.

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... but also plenty of slowdown.
Another disappointment I had is that the game is 98% focused on combat, but there are a few quite enjoyable plat forming sections. I am a massive platformer fan, and the sections that were in the game were quite a lot of fun, but there simply weren't enough of them. One of the quests prior to most of the battles is to infiltrate the city and get some sort of artefact out. One of the cities in particular, I had to travel all the way around the inside of the city to get to the place I needed to be, and then back to get out, and plat forming my way through the city, stealthily, I actually think this was probably the most fun I had in the game.

The issues, however, do not stop there. The immersion is often broken by many factors, game play becomes repetitive fairly early on, and you often have no real sense of why you are doing what you are doing. It's incredibly unfortunate because Viking could have been one of the smash hits this year, but instead falls down into mediocrity.

As far as the on-screen action goes, things look pretty good. It's not Heavenly Sword graphics, but the game looks very nice when it's not suffering the slowdown. Characters are nicely detailed and the violent animations are awesome. Unfortunately, because there are so many enemies, it often seems like there's not enough variety in the character models. That and the slowdown mentioned earlier do bring this down a fair bit.

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Slightly outsized there!
Another factor that brings the score of this game down quite a bit is the incredibly sparse and lacking audio. I made a comment in my recent review of SOCOM for the PSP about games needing more music, and Viking is no different. About 90% of the game is spent in the wild and there are no real noises going on. Without music it's just the sound of Skarin's footsteps. Even when you are in a village or city, surrounded by Vikings, who should be drunk, fighting and being loud, there is very limited audio. They are the most reserved and well-behaved members of the Viking culture I've ever heard of.

All round, Viking: Battle for Asgard is somewhat of a disappointment. It clearly had a lot of potential, and coming from such a good pedigree, it should have been awesome. What we are left with is a game that is based on gore and violence, and while that's all good with me, it gets old quickly. I have to reluctantly advise that this is a rent only game. There's fun to be had, but it's short-lived and generic.

Review By: Michael Hutchesson

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GRAPHICSLooks good. Great character detail. Horrid slowdown in big battles though.
SOUNDWhy all the silence? Since when do Vikings behave?!
GAMEPLAYIts fun, bloody, violent, but far too repetitive. Button mashers will love it though.
VALUEIt came with a soundtrack and artwork book, and the game is reasonably long for the genre.
OVERALLAs much as I enjoyed the game, it's not going to turn many heads. Rent it if anything.

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