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Once Upon a Knight Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Atari
developer: Reality Pump
genre: Strategy

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PIII 733, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 800MB HD
ESRB rating: T
homepage:
www.knightshift.com/

release date: Sep 25, 03
» All About Once Upon a Knight on ActionTrip


Lately, it seems that game developers are becoming rather keen on proving their talents by incorporating elements from various genres into their projects. Rather than sticking to a particular genre, the development team at Reality Pump; better known for the space real-time strategy Earth 2150; were determined to make something a bit different this time. In collaboration with Atari, Reality Pump managed to produce an ambitious new RTS/RPG, entitled Once Upon a Knight. Initially the project was dubbed KnightShift, which was later changed to Once Upon a Knight due to certain legal difficulties over the name. (Ed. - David Hasselhoff called, he wants his 80's icon status back.)

Players are put in the boots of a charismatic young Prince, named John. For a long time an evil necromancer plotted to kidnap the Prince and claim lordship over the lands. Catching him by surprise, the necromancer managed to take the young hero captive and put him within the confines of a nasty-looking cage. Scheming to put an end to the unfortunate prisoner's existence, the necromancer unexpectedly fails to achieve his goal after casting the wrong spell... actually, everything would've gone according to plan if a sudden draft had not turned the page of the necromancer's spell book. Accidentally, John gets teleported to his native land. Now he strives to return to home and prove he's a true hero and a rightful leader of his former kingdom. Many dangers lie ahead, but with your skills and the help of a few loyal friends you'll be closer and closer to achieving your goal.

Once Upon a Knight offers you a choice to try out the single-player campaign, a few skirmish maps, the RPG mode (which can also be played in co-op), or, if you prefer, you can simply enjoy a variety of Internet and LAN multiplayer matches in classic RTS style. Each one of these is fun in its own right. The bad news, however, is that the main single-player campaign was optimized to work primarily as an RTS. All RPG factors during this campaign have been toned down. This means that you cannot manipulate freely with the skills and equipment of your characters (i.e. you have no inventory in the RTS mode). They are able to equip diverse items by themselves (after you've picked them up) and gain experience points automatically as you progress through the game. In any event, Once Upon a Knight is practically two games in one. One game is played in RTS fashion and the other in RPG fashion. This indeed is quite an accomplishment. For such an effort, the developers, no doubt, deserve some extra credit. Plus, there's a wide variety of characters, spells, and tasks present to keep you busy during the entire game.

The entire story of Once Upon a Knight evolves through a charming kiddy fairy tale with lots of Disney-style elements mixed in. Did I just say "charming?" (Ed. - Uh, yeah. What's up with that?) Well, I guess that depends on your personal preference. I should mention that the game's scenarios and quests are a bit simple and naive for my taste. (Ed. - Translation: Not enough blood.) The same thing can be said about the plot - which lacks more depth both in the RPG and the RTS mode. It all boils down to finding artifacts, helping endangered villagers, and slaying one monster after another. From this angle, I'm afraid the game doesn't leave much of an impression. Still, that's just me. Some of you, on the other hand, might find the game's lighthearted tempo enjoyable.

Once Upon a Knight does have several positive aspects that make the whole experience worth your attention. Even though the game mixes two different and complex genres, its basics are very straightforward. The incredibly simple and intuitive interface makes the game extremely easy to get into. In the RTS campaign gamers won't have to tackle with any severe micromanagement, technology advancement, and such. Everything, from building and character advancement to fighting and unit control, is presented in a simplistic manner. As you gain control of villages, there will be merely a few basic duties to attend to in order to increase the strength of your army. Your main resource is believe it or not - milk. To have that, you must herd little cows and allow them to eat as much grass as they want. (Ed. - Milk? That's the secret? Milk? If you need cows, then why not just EAT THE COWS! Mmmmm, cows.) Accumulating milk increases the capacity of your populace and unlocks additional units and structures. (There's just something very naughty in my mind about accumulating milk. - 2Lions) Besides being straightforward and easy to get into (and having milk as the primary game resource), OUaK has a few other noteworthy gameplay perks. Before your units march into battle you can order some of them to sneak behind the enemy and take a more subtle line of attack. Now that's pretty cool, don't you think?

In the RPG mode, the game assumes a hack'n'slash style gameplay pretty much like Blizzard's Diablo. Actually, this mode also reminded me a lot of Nival Interactive's RPG Evil Islands: Curse of the Lost Soul. Although Once Upon a Knight doesn't include such an imposing diversity of items and foes like Evil Islands, character control and the basic gameplay are very similar. By the way, the commendable thing about the RPG mode is that it takes a different course through the main story. It basically gives you an opportunity to try out a number of chapters across several challenging maps. Unlike the RTS mode, you'll be able to customize your character before you begin, choosing from a range of classes such as, Barbarian, Knight, Archer, Spearman, Priestess, and Amazon Mage. After a while you'll be able to distribute experience points to the following features: charisma, stamina, fencing, block, charge, and bargaining.

Both RTS and RPG modes have their unique qualities and can both be addictive to play... for a while at least. Regrettably, some slightly annoying AI issues, present throughout both modes, tend to reduce the fun and the challenging aspect of the game. It is true, however, that enemies often react intelligently to your actions, no matter which strategy you happen to be using. But, occasionally enemy units simply fail to provide back up for their comrades, who would stand and fight your forces alone and defenseless; even if their reinforcements are located nearby. This symptom can be observed both in the RPG, as well as the RTS mode. Also, I noticed that enemies with ranged weaponry decline to fight and defend themselves once they are cornered (a Skeleton Archer, for example). Another AI glitch comes when your own units don't know which opponent to attack first. They will often scatter all over the place and die needlessly battling a remote foe on the map, while the rest of your forces are struggling to repel the enemy's main attack force. Also a well-trained and experienced character can hurl mindlessly into the frail, only to become surrounded and eventually overwhelmed by your foes - this happened rather frequently throughout the game. There's an option to recall the character back, but that rarely has any effect when you're overrun by a huge number of enemy troops.

In terms of visuals, Once Upon a Knight deserves praising all the way. Nice character animation, detailed and vibrant backdrops, and colorful spells make this game a joy to look at. Additionally, the spells and fire can produce some neat-looking lighting effects and shadows. The developers have managed to put pixel shaders to very good use in this game. There were also a few weather effects added (mostly rain and snow), as well as beautifully incorporated day and night changes. Once Upon a Knight can be pushed to run all the way to an impressive resolution of 1600*1200, and even then it works and looks splendidly. Luckily, we never experienced any bugs in the engine code or any other technical issues that might obstruct the gameplay (other than the already mentioned flaws in the AI code).

The quality of the audio is excellent, coupled with solid character voicing. Next to that, the game treats players to various cool-sounding music themes that will change according to the events that take place on screen. Overall, the developers did a fine job on the game's sound design.

OUaK also gets extra credit for the abundance of multiplayer features, which offer a great deal of modes for you and your friends to try out (both RTS and RPG). One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is to try it out in co-op. Combining skills, units, and tactics, you and your teammate can have one helluva ride through various maps and scenarios.

Once Upon a Knight is an interesting and brave endeavor made by the crew at Reality Pump Studios. The game basically takes you through a solid RTS experience as well as a separate RPG experience that are easy to get into and addictive at times. We would have been happier though if we hadn't encountered hitches in the AI (maybe a patch could fix that). Also, I would like to have seen a wider range of opponents. The dialogs were not particularly interesting to follow and they are definitely not that funny, which goes in line with what I said about the plot being too na´ve and somehow too flat.

Still, the fact remains that the variety of gameplay styles and different options offers something for everyone's taste, and that is probably the game's biggest quality. Coupled with its other gameplay perks this could be enough of an incentive for fans of hack'n'slash or fantasy RTS games to give this one a try.

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HIGHS
A cool blend of RTS and RPG genres, something in there for fans of Diablo and/or Warcraft; nice visuals (splendid use of pixel shaders) and audio;

LOWS
AI issues, the plot and presentation appear too flat and naive at times (needs more effective humor, too), small variety of enemy units.

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