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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
GENRE: Action
August 09, 2001
 Written by Thomas Wilde  on August 27, 2001

Review: I suppose I should've seen this one coming.

I'm not a real big fan of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, or, indeed, of McCaffrey herself. As far as I can tell, she writes squarely for the sort of young adult demographic that I outgrew when I was about nine. Therefore, when I set out to review Dragonriders, an adventure game set in McCaffrey's dragon-infested world of Pern, I knew I was in for something I wasn't going to enjoy.

That's your warning, by the way. I've got an anti-Pern bias. This is a negative review; I would rather trade brick shots to the face with a Hell's Angel than play Dragonriders all the way through. However, that has mostly to do with boring play mechanics, unattractive graphics, and an annoying control scheme, rather than an irrational hatred of leather-garbed ponces with gratuitous apostrophes in their names oiling up their dragons and talking like RenFest refugees, and furthermore, I--Sorry.

Anyways, in Dragonriders, the Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr has recently died. You begin the game as D'Kor, a wingman bonded to the dragon Zenth, on the morning after the Weyrwoman's wake. D'Kor is very hung over, which may explain why he looks concussed. After a brief play-control-explaining interlude where you oil Zenth up (yup, yup--every morning, a young guy's gotta spend some time lubin' the dragon, if you know what I mean), you get to go explore Fort Weyr, collecting hints and tips from the other inhabitants.

Your eventual goal is to find a new Weyrwoman for Fort Weyr, and along the way, you'll build your reputation, hone your knife skills, embark on fetch quests, and do all sorts of adventure-y things in order to achieve your goals. If that appeals to you, I hope to the gods above that you're a McCaffrey fan, because this game is made for that particular niche. There's some offhand explanation about Thread and the origin of dragons in the manual and in an opening cutscene, but other than that, you're given no insight whatsoever into the strange culture of Pern and its peoples. Casual readers of McCaffrey, or those who haven't read her at all, need not apply.

The first thing you'll notice about Dragonriders, by the way, is that the graphics are not up to industry standard. All the human characters look either inbred, dazed, or like survivors of horrible facial burns, which is flatly unacceptable from people developing for a console which has given us Code Veronica and Shenmue. The camera's flat busted, and if you're playing on a 17" TV like I am, the text and inventory items are too small to be easily recognized. The Dreamcast's vivid color palette is completely wasted on this game, as European designers are apparently drawn to the vast potential of muddy browns and grays; it's hard to believe that the same console is capable of running both Dragonriders and Jet Grind Radio.

Control-wise, Dragonriders uses the Resident Evil control scheme, except that pressing Down makes D'kor spin in place. Now, I've mastered the RE control scheme, and I generally scoff at those who have a hard time with it, but even I find it difficult to use when I'm forced to use the damn analogue stick. The hit detection makes it difficult to interact with the background, as a minute difference in D'kor's positioning can determine whether he can or cannot pick something up, talk to someone, or read a scroll. The only bright spot in this package is the voice acting, and even that's often unintentionally humorous, especially since a bunch of the male voice actor's sound almost exactly like Wallace, of The Wrong Trousers fame. ("How 'bout some cheese, D'kor?")

Bottom Line
Just to sum up: I hate this game, I hate the people who made it, and I think I hate Anne McCaffrey by association for giving rise to this dreck. In an industry choked with halfway decent adventure titles, how did anyone manage to put a slipshod package like this together? I await an answer, Ubi Soft, while I gently tap a baseball bat against my palm...

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