GAMETECH: All aboard for a Viking adventure

WITH all the dodgy beards in Ireland, you’d think the Vikings never left. We’ve a lingering fascination with our ancient Norse raiders, who took a blade to everything but their faces. We’re not alone in that fascination, either. The world remains intrigued by Viking mythology and culture.

Chief among those myths is the promise of Valhalla for fallen warriors. In Old Norse, the word Valhalla means ‘Hall of the Slain’ — it’s a place for those who died in battle. To reach that place is the dream of every Viking warrior.

In Jotun, the Viking Thora has died an inglorious death, by shipwreck. Thus, she awakens not in Valhalla, but in a kind of purgatory, faced with a sequence of tests to ‘prove herself to the Gods’.

If she can pass these tests and defeat the giant Jotun guardians, then her passage to Odin’s Hall is secured. It’s a bit like Ireland reaching the Euro playoffs.

While Thora is armed with a huge axe, don’t expect to be facing off against swarms of enemies too often. Instead, she must travel to five different realms of purgatory, navigate through the environmental puzzles in each section, before facing off against the huge bosses guarding the area. These bosses are the real highlight of the game, larger than Thora by a hundred-scale, given life by stunning hand-drawn art, reminiscent in style of Don Bluth’s legendary animation studio.

Jotun is played from a bird’s eye view, similar to the old Zelda games, and much of the game’s pleasure comes from enjoying the scenery as it changes from location to location. It really is a beautiful game.

The puzzles, meanwhile, focus more on exploration than out-and-out brainteasers, but are often made more difficult by the need for patience.

There are times when environmental hazards will force you to watch a sequence carefully and change your methods appropriately. This is especially true in the boss battles, where you are likely to die often before learning the Jotun’s patterns and taking the titan down.

Thora doesn’t just carry that axe for fun, however. While she only has two primary attacks, light and heavy, there is a real sense of ‘thump’ to their impact. She also has a dodge move, a ground roll, which is essential to avoiding harm. Despite that, the game would play better if Thora moved just a little bit quicker. While it never gets frustrating, there are times when players will cry out for a little more responsiveness from their heroine. That aside, Jotun is a rich, soothing game that is well worth a look on both PC and PS4, especially for fans of Norse mythology.

While the gameplay is standard fare, the art and soundtrack elevate it above other independent games. And at €15, it costs the same as a haircut (and a shave?).

BELIEVE IN CREED

While the Assassin’s Creed series hasn’t done Vikings yet, don’t be surprised if it happens. With Syndicate’s sexed-up industrial London arriving in a few weeks, that’s another piece of historical inaccuracy ticked off the list, leaving only Nazis and Cavemen left to plunder. Meanwhile, against all the odds, things are looking up for the Assassin’s Creed movie.

Firstly, we’ve had a sneak preview of what’s to come, in the form of director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, currently in cinemas. Not only has Macbeth been received well, especially for its visual artistry, but it also stars Michael Fassbender (who will play Calum in Assassin’s Creed) and Marion Cotillard (also in Creed). It bodes well that the same director and cast are tackling Ubisoft’s game adaptation. Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson have also been added to the cast.

And it seems that Fassbender really will be part of the team, or so Ubisoft’s Jean Julien Baronnet told French media.

“We told Michael that we were going to build the project together,” Barronet said. “That we have an enormous brand and we want to make a film modelled on features like Batman Begins or Blade Runner. We promised him that we were going to bring him into all the key creative choices.”

While Ubisoft confirmed that the movie will split its time evenly between past and present, the historical time period has yet to be announced. Maybe it will be Viking Ireland? Just don’t grow a beard, Michael.


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