I remember reading about Daikatana when I was a young boy. When our first computer was new, when its 500MHz processor was unthinkably powerful, when the Y2K bug loomed large, when games were some strange wild frontier that was probably a bit too violent for me…
Daikatana, they said in all the magazines I had begun to survey, was one of the worst games ever made. I don’t remember finding out quite why; indeed, I didn’t have much of a sense of my own taste back then anyway. (This was before my family gave in to that whole violence thing and got me Unreal Tournament for crimbo.)
So when it came up in a GoG.com sale for $2.39, I thought… Why the hell not?
Take Quake II. A nigh-endless progression of brown corridors, where the weapons are minor twists on real world equipment; a world, I am trying to say, without a lot of interest. Not much interest, perhaps, but something, something intangible that made it… Kind of addictive.
Even now, with my jaded old eyes that have seen so many games, I find it hard to pin down quite what I actually like about Quake II. In fact, I’m not even sure that I do like it. It’s more like grudging respect… Or alcoholism. (“Of course I can stop whenever I want!”)
Daikatana is a lot like Quake II, but combined with — charge your glass now — Deus Ex. Ready? Take a shot. Whew. Now, get the next shot lined up, because — take that mix of Deus Ex and Quake II and mash it into Unreal Tournament. Down it!
(Yes, it’s the RDZ drinking game — every time I compare a game to Deus Ex or Unreal Tournament, you take a shot. Keep your vodka handy, you’ll need it again.)
Okay, it’s not remotely as good as either of those, but we’ll continue on in this vein because we all need a point of reference. Hell, Deus Ex was developed by a different team under the same studio and released at a similar point in time, so the two are actually ripe for comparison.
But since Deus Ex and Unreal Tournament are Unreal Engine games, we have to filter them through Quake II, because Daikatana is built on the Quake 2 engine. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes; a shooter’s a shooter’s a shooter, right? Bloody hell, nope. (Does this assertion make me a connosieur?)
So it’s a linear shooter, to take it at face value. You have guns, you run around, you kill the bad guys and progress through the levels by hitting switches and whatnot. It’s fast, though, and that’s the first UT element — racing around your enemies just fast enough to make yourself a bit dizzy (and that’s without having upgraded my speed at all).
The thing that really brings the Quake II out, though, is that bloody slippery movement. Human beings in the future/past, it seems, can’t stand on the most insignificantly canted ground without careening down the bottom of the slope. They can’t lurch to a stand-still from jogging-pace without gliding off the ledge they didn’t quite realise was in front of them. No sirree, the soles of their feet are made of solid ice.
When you’re in a fairly fast-paced game, that skittering just ruins the fun — you’re too busy correcting your movements to, you know, shoot things. Grumble grumble, you’ve seen this paragraph before in different words.
The story is a huge pile of beautifully daft science-fantasy, the perfect backdrop for the right kind of weekend silliness. Low-poly characters alternately do the robot dance and smoothly gesticulate their way through voiced cinematics, while the camera swoops around in the most unnecessarily overblown way imaginable.
Basically, somebody crafted a magic sword that allows people to travel through time and the big bad has used it to ruin history and take over the world. You know, for that entire opening cinematic I was just waiting for somebody to say that the sword was so sharp it could cut the fabric of spacetime (let alone neatly bisect a Saxon knight), but they actually never did. It’s just plain old magical enchantments that are completely unrelated to the fact that the daikatana is, you know, a sword.
The Unreal Tournament angle comes out best in the weapons. Machine-shotguns, magic wands, bouncing discuses, bouncing poison bolts, bouncing ice bolts (there are a lot of ricocheting weapons, you have been warned)… Each suite of weapons is appropriate to the current time period, so there’s even more variety than traditional shooters spread over the game.
Sadly the titular daikatana is a bit crap. Starting off slow and unresponsive (considering it’s being wielded by a master swordsman), it takes a few seconds for each click to turn into a lazy swipe or even sequence of swipes (its unpredictability doesn’t help). Once it’s upgraded a bit it becomes less of an annoyance but instead turns to wild, directionless flailing. The lack of comprehensive aiming means you’ll spend too much time missing that bloody rat that’s nibbling at your toes.
It’s a bit of a shame they didn’t put more effort into the melee attack system, considering the entire game is about this sword — I was hoping for some Jedi Knight-style lightsabre antics making all guns obsolete. Alas.
Deus Ex comes in because Daikatana has got RPG elements too. Not exactly deep ones, but that’s why it’s closer to Unreal Tournament in the end; your skills are raw like DX augmentations — how fast you run, how much damage you do/can take, how high you jump. I could easily see these RPG bits as a UT Deathmatch mutator. (That paragraph was worth at least two shots, keep up.)
And you have to use stuff to activate it. See that little fruit plant on the ground? Think you can just walk over it to eat it? Nuh-uh, this is no Unreal here (only half a shot for that?). It is a subtle enhancement over just barreling into things to activate them, but there are no highlights so you’ll never be quite sure if that switch is a switch or just a decoration until you click around like an idiot. It doesn’t help that the hitboxes for these activatable parts often require very very precise clicks, or that you still pick up weapons and ammo by barrelling over them like a loon.
At worst? It’s Quake II with bells and whistles, with more flair, more pizazz — Quake II if it wasn’t made by boring grimdarker military types. And with a poorly judged obsession with tiny targets like rats and frogs. And I’m not sure I’d be happy with the limited save crystal system it apparently shipped with (this can be disabled in the options menu). And maybe the AI companions do get stuck every so often (but you can just tell them to Wait and handle the world by yourself).
Overall, though, it’s not that bad. There are troughs but to match them there are mighty fun peaks, so if you have an illogical soft-spot for Quake II but want something a bit more Unreal and a lot less poo-brown, you’ll surely find it here.
I counted at least seven shots you should have taken through that. Are you drunk yet?