Wednesday, January 28, 2009

23 reviews: Lugaru

Name: Lugaru: The Rabbit’s Foot
Author: David Rosen (Wolfire Games)
Version: Final
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Price: $20
Players: 1
Website: Lugaru page on Wolfire
Video: Quicktime Video posted on the site

Lugaru is 3rd person, anthropomorphic, adventure/fighting game. With a solid story and unique and intuitive fighting system, this game stands out in the indie world for quality, playability, and a fun, but difficult to master fighting system.

Game Modes
The game has two modes; campaign and challenge. In both modes the goal is to kill all the enemies on the level. In the campaign mode you play as a rabbit, named Turner, whose world is being taken over by wolves and corrupt rabbits. I won't ruin the story too much, but I will reveal that it's a tale of honor, revenge, and betrayal. Also your whole village gets brutally murdered at some point. The story is told via dialog with semi-cut scenes, and levels of combat.

The other mode; challenge, is where you can improve your skills (and your score) in story-less challenges which you progress through one-by-one. In challenge you can go back to any level and play it as many times as you want (unlike the story mode). With 14 challenges, each with increasing difficulty, there’s great replay value and the opportunity to go back to any particular challenge and try to complete it flawlessly.

Game play
The game play is defined by the engrossing fighting system, as well as the challenging AI (Artificial Intelligence) to pit your skills against. The whole fighting style is based on the context of button presses. The controls use WASD for directional movement in relation to the camera, which is controlled by the mouse. The left mouse button controls all your standard attacks, but don’t think that this is “the attack button”, the fighting system is controlled by timing, button combinations, and the context in which they are used. This makes the controls feels less like attack buttons and movement buttons, and more of a streamlined, intuitive system. For example crouch (default shift) is not only used for crouching and sneaking around, but also for fast running, flipping midair, and blocking, all of which are defined by the conditions used. This may sound kind of confusing, but once you go through the simple tutorial it becomes much clearer.

You also have weapons at your disposal on some stages. The weapons include a short dagger, that you can throw at enemies for one hit kills (on most of them) or use to cause extra, permanent, damage, a staff, which has a very long range and is pretty powerful, but breaks easily, and a sword, which is the most powerful weapon in the game, it is unbreakable, and one good hit on an enemy can potentially kill them. The AI can also use all these weapons to their full potential (except throwing the dagger).

The AI in this game, while being confined to mapped out paths, is well built. The AI is very challenging, which can be viewed as a downside or a perk. Fortunately the game is designed so when you start (for both your campaign and the challenges) you fight against a small number of basic opponents. Later these opponents change to become harder and they are more numerous.

Knowing how to fight well isn’t the AI’s only expertise; the NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) have a fairly instinctive alert system, as being able to rely on each other. The alert system is mostly visually based, so if they see you, or a dead body, within a certain range, they will start attacking, but they also can be alerted through ‘sound’, and ‘smell’. NPCs will also alert other enemies; if they are close to death in a fight with you they will potentially run off and get others (if there are still some un-alerted enemies on the stage).

Another neat feature is that the AI actually punishes the player for using the same attack too much. While the AI does get a chance to block/counter your attack normally, if you use the same attack 3 times in a row it is guaranteed to be blocked, and possibly countered, which really forces you to be a master of the fighting style.

There are 3 main fighting styles to this game. You can creep about, trying to score stealth kills, which are triggered by sneaking behind an enemy, undetected, and attacking them with either a knife or no weapon. You can also decide to charge in and take on everyone at once, which is helped by the fact that your attacks have the potential to hit more than one enemy at a time, but hindered by the pounding you’ll receive from everyone on the stage. Then there’s the main style of fighting that seems to be promoted most in Lugaru, alerting one enemy, having them chase after you to a more private location, and killing them, then repeating with all the enemies until you win, because if you can get into a 1 on 1 fight, you have more of a chance at winning and less of a chance of dying. By the way, there is also no visible health bar, although your character does accumulate scratches and scars over the course of fighting, also when you’re low on health the screen will start to blur.

Art style
The visuals on this game are decent for an indie made in 2005. While not nearly comparable to any of today’s games (especially mainstreams), it still is not hat bad. The music is what is really timeless about this game, it provides a subtle background when needed, but kicks into a fight track when you alert an enemy, which is very useful because otherwise knowing when an enemy sees you can be very subtle, or they might even be out of your camera angle. Even though this game features anthropomorphic animals as the characters don’t expect a kidsy Disney style feel, this game is very graphic (for it’s graphics) and mature (I’d give it a Teen rating). The blood is animated and the deaths can be gruesome, so, be prepared if you where expecting something a little more light hearted.

I admit that this game isn’t perfect, the gameplay can get annoyingly difficult, the game doesn’t have a huge campaign, the graphics aren’t perfect, and there are some glitches occasionally with a flying camera after death, and disappearing enemies, but these are very few and far between. The game play is very enjoyable game if you have the time to get good, and the replay value can be more then doubled if you take the time to download some of the mods.

Now, with all this in consideration, would you believe me if I told you that it was made by one guy, in high school? Well, it was. David Rosen made the whole thing, back in 2005, as a hobby, so the graphics are more than forgivable. Team Wolfire has grown out of that, now on the alpha stage of their first game together; Overgrowth, the sequel to Lugaru, and it already looks great. Lugaru is absolutely amazing considering all of this, and truly is worth the $20 (although their free promotions are a great deal, and if you use that (or even if you don’t) I advise pre-ordering Overgrowth for $30 to check out the alpha and support Wolfire). With an expansive development blog with great posts on gaming in general and game development it'd be a good idea to check out their blog too. So try the free demo, see if you like it, and maybe buy the game, which is money well deserved.

Lugaru has a huge fan base, so I highly advise checking out the wiki for some great advice on playing the game, as well as on how to mod the game and even some mods for download. I really look forward to Overgrowth and expect me to post my interview with Wolfire, once it’s finished.

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