Ubi Soft Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern Game Review

Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern Reivew

Too consumed with scavenger hunts and errand-boy puzzles, Dragon Riders ignores the attraction that flying around essential marketer birmingham on a dragon would have in favour of a ground-based adventure that lacks excitement and is often ponderous.

Based on Anne McCaffrey's popular series of novels, fans might delight in seeing her intricate Weyr, Harper, and Hold societies brought to life as a 3D world and will certainly be interested in the new story they tell, but as a game it fails to match McCaffrey's vivid imagination.

Every two hundred years a red star passes by the planet of Pern, casting down an orbital strike of alien parasites called Thread. Originally a colony of space explorers travelling from Earth, the inhabitants of Pern have digressed under the Thread bombardment into a medieval civilization built around the care of dragon-like lizards, bio-engineered over time to take on human riders and fight the falling parasites with spews of flames.

Anne McCaffrey's books have followed the exploits of these battles, but this computer adventure actually follows the world as the planetary alignments pull Pern away from the threat of alien attack and into a new era of peace.

Playing as the young Dragonrider D'Kor, we get to see the Dragonrider society as it tries to adapt and cope under the prospect of no longer being needed. This insecurity manifests itself into suspicious conspiracies that are further complicated when a horrible plague suddenly appears and it seems to be directed at the Weyrs as a kind of chemical warfare. Is there a new evil on Pern? Is it a corrupted faction of the Dragonriders striking out in fear or a secret from Pern's space exploration past catching up to it?

Finding out the answer isn't as much fun as it could be. Hovering over and behind D'Kor, we guide him along with arrow keys to walk from room to room inside castles and villages to talk with Dragonriders, merchants, Healers, villagers, and everyone else that is breathing the same air.

This guides D'Kor to be recruited for a laundry list of tasks, many of which are mundane and have little to do with the mystery at hand. They can involve having to collect the other Dragonriders for a meeting, delivering tapestries, warming pies, moving crates, undraping statues, and generally a lot of courier and physical labour jobs.

Although this does show D'Kor as a servant of his community, it detracts from the fun of a video game, which is supposed to give us relief from our daily chores, not add to them. For the most part, the tasks are just time killers between more interesting deeds such as rescuing a lost boy, finding a cure to the plague, and resolving the discord amongst the Weyrs by locating new candidates for Weyrwoman.

Visually, the game isn't as detailed as others. It doesn't have the polished beauty of Project Eden or the detail of Alone in the Dark, but it does succeed in having its own comforting feel and characters that engage even if they walk and run with an unnatural gait.

The engine is a poor one by today's standards, one that often has objects floating in the air and can trap game characters in open areas. Although a third-person adventure, it's missing a free-look mode which I would liked to have had when the camera angles failed in one section and I found myself trying to guide D'Kor through a room I couldn't see into.

Although you won't be able to ride them, the dragons are there and have been rendered with an impressive grace and an eye for what makes a Dragon a creature of wonder and worthy of worship. Occasionally you'll see one, specifically Zenth, D'Kor's companion who flies in on a cut-scene each time you want to change locations.

It's a nice moment that quickly loses its appeal after you've seen it about twenty times, which you will unfortunately will do as the game requires a lot of backtracking through previously explored areas. When you find yourself at a dead lead, you'll need to overturn every rock or leaf you may have already checked in order to find the next clue to move on.

One of the appealing aspects of McCaffrey's world is the intense bond that exists between rider and dragon, something that appears in the game as D'Kor's mount, Zenth plays the role of telepathic guide. He speaks to us through audio files in order to warn, guide, and inform us as to what's going on. This doesn't quite capture the depth of McCaffrey's fictional relationships, but it does support the idea that we are playing a Dragonrider and not just a common knight on a fantasy quest.

Most of the game revolves around conversations and thankfully there's a voice track properly synched to the character models, supported by a set of subtitles. I can't imagine playing the game without it as it adds a very important texture of human emotion to this slow-paced tale.

There are a few different game modes hiding within, such as a simple combat system. There are caves to explore, secret hideaways to uncover and these unleash monsters and villains to fight with. Once you select your weapon from the character data screen, you fight by holding down the spacebar and tapping the directional keys - forward for quick jabs and long strokes, back and forth to dodge, and backwards to block. Surprisingly, it works, and works really well. It may not be the most exciting combat system I've used, but for an adventure of this tone it seems really appropriate.

With all of the tasks and interviews the game requires, the virtual map and journal will be the best tools you can have. Between save games, you'll need to flip through both of these to remind yourself as to which particular story plot you were chasing down last.

One of the cutest challenges you'll be faced with is the collection of Trundlebugs. Whenever you encounter one of these critters zig-zagging across the virtual floor in the background, you can switch over to a first-person crossbow mode and shoot the little creatures with a stun dart. After a good shot, you can walk over and collect the prone bug into a collection jar. It's one of the game's best elements.

Dragonriders is a difficult game to recommend. It doesn't have enough combat to make it an action adventure and its challenges never reach the level of being proper puzzles or riddles. It does have a great theme, that of an order of protectors facing a new era in which they are no longer needed, but it's poorly explored with mundane quests.

D'Kor is a likeable character and his relationship with the dragon Zenth is an attractive one, but it plays a poor role in solving the game's overall mystery, itself an element kept too far out of reach and therein lies the disappointment.

Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern