Severance: Blade of Darkness Download

Usually, when you’re commissioned to write a six-page review, the first thing that enters your mind is ‘how the hell can I write 3,600 words about this?’

It doesn’t matter how good or bad a game is. The simple fact is that, in most cases, if we’re honest, we all know that 90 per cent of the titles knocking around your average games emporium fit into a specific category with common gameplay routines.

So, it’s not often that you find a seemingly straightforward game that’s so crammed full of features you feel totally vindicated in giving it the unadulterated full works.

Spanish developer Rebel Act’s debut offering of Severance is one of those very rare and joyous occasions.

At first glance you wouldn’t think Severance was any different from numerous other third-person hack ‘n’ slash fantasy funfests. In fact, initial reaction is one of slight disappointment; the basic walking, running and jumping animation is really quite stiff and there are no lithe acrobatics to speak of at all. Lara must be wondering what all the fuss is about…

Adapting to the controls is also a bit of a problem. For some reason, Severance contains about twice as many keys as your usual action game and there’s no gamepad option, either, helpful tutorial does its best to clear things up, but with a keyboard overlay included in the package, it’s clear that Codemasters is aware that the control system could be simpler. In short, this is a game that takes some time and patience to get into, but when you do… well, there’s no turning back. Delving deep into the game, you eventually hit upon an infectious addiction that’s not only surprising, but also admirable. Severance encourages you to launch into your foes with the unbridled frenzy of a velociraptor on PCP.

Oh yes, we’re talking the kind of abhorrent violence that makes you cringe and duck in your chair to avoid being splattered. We’re talking severed heads flying through the starlit sky. We’re talking fountains of blood spewing forth after deliberate and intentionally aimed thrusts. We’re talking big, red, 18-certificate and inevitable tabloid-led repercussions on the moral-eroding qualities of modern videogames. There’s no doubt that the shock tactics will aid Severance?s reputation and profile – it’s a proven strategy that’s worked on many an ad campaign in the past. What’s refreshing here is that underneath all the gory hype lies an exceptional game. Severance actually possesses innovations. Gasp. Yes, as we said in last month’s preview, the five-year development time has been well spent.

On most games of this type you eventually hit a psychological brick wall where you suddenly realise that you’ve been robotically dismembering people for the past three days and have forgotten why. Severance manages to push that particular barrier so far back you wonder whether it’s there at all.

As soon as the slicing and dicing reaches that vaguely numbing stage where you’ve become cold, emotionless and detached from reality, your character advances a level and learns a brand-new ‘combo’. All of a sudden, a basic action/adventure is transformed into Streetfighter 2 or Dead Or Alive 2, or any number of arcade/console beat ’em-ups you care to remember. However, the difference with this is that you’re not in the limited confines of a small 2D arena. Here there’s a whole 3D world to explore – and annihilate.

There are around 250 different moves, including exotically named creations such as Rage of the Goddess, Northern Lights and Snake’s Breath. Each of the four characters has a favourite, but it’s left up to the player to find out who’s better suited to what. There are even certain stages that can only be reached if you’re using a specific character. A direct result of all this is that you can complete the game with four different characters and experience new surprises each time you play. It’s a nice touch, and one that should improve longevity. Some may even perceive this form of experimentation as verging on RPG territory. There are others who wouldn’t even consider comparing it to the likes of Deus Ex, Diablo II or System Shock 2. And sure enough, this feisty wannabe has nowhere near the complexity of any of those.

Yet there are other elements that add weight to its RPG aspirations. All characters begin the game with zero defence and power ratings. Each time you advance a level these attributes will increase. They will also change depending on the type of armour, shield or weapon that you use. There are also a few potions lying around which can be guzzled to temporarily increase your skill.

The arsenal at your disposal is absolutely mind-blowing. There are approximately 100 objects of destruction to choose from, ranging from fire-belching blades to traditional bow and arrows. Some of the more bizarre items you may or may not be tempted to use in anger include spades, severed limbs, rocks and chairs – you name it, you can use it. Playing Severance is like finding yourself in a pub fight where anything not nailed down is used as a lethal weapon. Fire also comes in very handy. Not only can you pick up unlit torches and light them to find your way around dark areas, you can actually set fire to stuff. Near the start of the game there’s a room with an exit blocked by boxes. The solution is to simply burn the boxes to get through.

It’s common sense really, but with so many adventures of this kind, all too often it’s common sense that’s missing. Severance doesn’t take it too far though, and if you’re looking for a completely cerebral experience, you’re in the wrong place. Puzzles are not a strong point here. Sure, there are various points in the game where there’s a break from the wanton mutilation and you get a chance to push a few blocks and pull a few levers. Spinning blades, swinging balls of fire and other standard obstacles also make an appearance, but that sadly is about the size of it. The only possible way you can get stuck or confused is if you get lost in some of the bigger, more complicated maps.

We could say that Severance’s level design is not the best in the world, but that would be a bit unfair because the maps are actually very interesting and imaginative. The truth is that the levels are so big, players are bound to get disorientated. Maybe there’s been a slight breakdown in communications between the Spanish developers and Codemasters on this one but, in our experience, it’s usually better to break the stages down to smaller, more digestible, bite-size chunks. Still, that is not the case, so you’re just going to have to work on your sense of direction and keep your wits about you.

The eerie atmosphere of Severance is spot on. The dark, brooding music rouses itself into a crescendo of crashing cymbals and booming bass drums during battle scenes, and is undoubtedly the perfect ambient accompaniment to the grizzly medley of grunts and screams. Other sonic wonders include the slow crackling of burning torches and the gushing of waterfalls. And like in Thief: The Dark Project you can also hear the conversations of guards as you creep up on them. While this is not necessarily a revolutionary idea, it fits in well with the general tension Severance has to offer.

Stealth is something you can either ignore or play along with. If your character preference lies with the Knight or Barbarian, it’s unlikely that such a subtle approach will be to your liking. If that is the case then, no problem – you can crash through the stages making as much noise as you like, waving your sword about and throwing your hands in the air like you just don’t car

However, playing as the Dwarf or Amazon casts a different light on the situation. The Amazon in particular is not so well equipped to deal with toe-to-toe scuffles and tends to be more effective when lurking in the shadows, picking off enemies with a well-placed arrow to the throat. It’s easy to gawp in admiration at the effectiveness of the lighting and shadows, but it’s the physics engine that really steals the show. When barrels are smashed, small shards spin across the floor. Blood drips down walls and staircases in the most lifelike way, and other objects – or, indeed, limbs – roll down slopes until they come to a rest at the bottom. Convincing it most certainly is, yet sometimes, totally against your conscious will, it’s all too easy to lose concentration mid-battle and admire the physical perfection of the destruction around you.

It’s advisable not to lose concentration too often though. All 30 species of enemy you come across during the course of the game’s 17 enormous stages prove to be adept fighters. They don’t just stand there and let you carve them up like a Christmas turkey. Hell no. Those that have shields use them with the uncanny intelligence of a human opponent, and those that don’t make full use of their ducking and dodging abilities. Some of the more organised denizens attack in groups with some of them even having the sense to use a decoy fighter while others circle around behind.

Frankly, it’s not on. We’ve never had to deal with this sort of intelligence before. Rune went some way towards it, but Severance really does complete the picture. Some of the battles are truly epic, and as you slowly force a particularly skilful warrior slowly backwards, the words “there can be only one…” keep creeping into your mind.

Despite the ultra-realistic feeling of the fighting there are some extremely irritating facets that cannot be ignored. For a start, just as you can lop off a poorly defended bead, so the same can happen to you -even with full energy. There’s no doubt this is the kind of the thing that’s likely to happen in real life should you somehow get involved in a swordfight, hut to have your game suddenly cut short thanks to one unguarded moment is a little harsh.

Yet this uncompromising feature is completely in character with the rest of the game. In short, Severance is not for beginners – and to be honest it’s bloody difficult to get anywhere without saving regularly. That said, the save option is extremely well thought out. There’s no difficulty setting as such, yet the whole game rating is based upon the number of times you save. Save just once in the entire game and you are rated as ‘awesome’, while if you save more than 20 times, you are rated as ‘poor’. The idea is to not penalise anyone for saving, but to offer an incentive to save less.

The multiplayer game is one area that is fairly dull. The basic idea is to hook up with another player over the Internet or a LAN and then fight in a one-on-one battle to the death. There’s a ‘winner stays on’ option as well, meaning that players can queue up to take you on. The more fights you win the more moves you learn.

And that’s it really. A small online adventure might have been a nice touch, but this is, in essence, a single-player game, so we should be thankful for any kind of online option at all. Still, it means that there’s plenty of scope for improvement and, if Severance does manage to sell a few copies, there’s a good chance more online delights will feature heavily in the sequel.

Other improvements could focus on the animation and interface, but apart from that, you have to say that Severance is an amazingly accomplished work of art. But is it a classic? Not quite. OK, the graphics and physics are immaculate, and the fighting is elegant. But ultimately Severance doesn’t quite make it to the top of the tree. Of course, it’s all needless violence really – but when is violence needed? Severance will no doubt upset its fair share of poodle-pampering right wing moaners, but who cares? Escapism is a personal preference. For some it means galloping around the countryside tearing foxes to pieces. Others prefer to while away the hours pretending to manage their favourite football team. In this case it’s chopping off heads in a make-believe land of heroes and villains.

Which of these forms of escapism is more damaging to the moral fabric of our fragile society then? You choose.

Shuffling from booth to booth at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles with my trusty right-hand man Steve Hill, I noticed that the majority of 3D-accelerated games were starting to look alike: same sort of colour schemes, same sort of anti-aliasing, same sort of lighting effects. Sure, there were great games underneath some of them – and we look forward to playing them – but we were looking for something more. Something better. Something to take us into the next millennium.

Little did we know that there was a treat in store away from the ritual bombardment of dance music and thrash metal being pumped out in the three main exhibition halls. UK-based Gremlin Interactive were showing off their games in a more sedate atmosphere, a relaxing haven that gave us ample opportunity to play Blade, which must have been by far the best-looking game of the entire show.

We’ve had our eye on Blade for some time now – you’ll no doubt have noticed us bleating on from time to time about how excited we are about it. Rebel Act Studios, the Spanish-based developers, have been hard at work on their first ever game, and their fully-interactive 3D action adventure now bristles with more amazing graphical effects than ever seen before, or likely to be seen for some time. It’s so luscious, visually, that it makes us wonder what the Iron Storms, and Epics of this world have been up to. The game really does look I that good.

Powerhouse Of An Engine

At the base of it all is Blade, Rebel Act’s proprietary 3D engine. Not only does this marvellous piece of software generate the best lighting effects our eyes have ever been treated to, it also makes everything that moves in the game look incredibly true to life. In fact, realism is the key. Everything – from the near-perfect water ripple effect to the way a chair breaks into splinters when you twat it with a sword – looks so realistic. The boffins at Rebel Act have no doubt been burning the midnight oil – and it shows.

Personally, I’ve yet to see better lighting – the way shadows fall and move had us all gasping; a torch thrown to the floor, casting huge shadows around it, made us weep with joy. Apparently this is due to using ‘light volumes’ rather than ‘shadow maps’. We’re not entirely sure what they mean by that, but take it from us it worked – amazingly well.

Quadruple-Edged Sword

Unlike most third-person hack-and-slash action games, Blade won’t be going overboard on the weapons side of things, but will offer a selection of characters to play out the adventure, each with their own characteristics and skills (see Choose Your Warrior panel). To progress in the story, your character has to fight, swim, climb and jump through some pretty moody scenery. Apparently there will also be people to talk to along the way, although this wasn’t evident in the version we were shown.

The action looks very gritty, with amputations and decapitations galore, and appears authentic even down to the way the blood drips on to the walls and floors. A unique targeting system also seems to help – when fighting a group of men, you can cycle through them as individual targets and always face the one
you’d selected. But it’s not all just fighting, there are some fiendish ‘physics-based puzzles’ too. The ones we saw looked like something out of The Crystal Maze – pulling ropes, lifting planks and so on, all of which looked well designed.

Orcs, But No Goblins

But Steve Hill, being the cynic that he is, wasn’t completely convinced by Blade. “Goblins,” he hissed. But Gremlin have promised that there won’t be any in Blade. Having said that, upon our return to Blighty (and a little more research), we did uncover the fact that the game will feature ores. Which is just as bad. But we’re joking, of course. Blade looks gobsmacking, and could achieve what Die By The Sword and Deathtrap Dungeon failed to – a Classic award.

With a release date set for November, Blade’s designers have plenty of time to fine-tune and add all those clever little touches that make us glow on the inside. I’ve already seen the light: Blade demonstrates that the future of 3D graphics still has much to offer, and that eventually all games will look this way. Rebel Act want to license their engine to other companies. And if it’s as easy to use and as flexible as they claim, we could be looking at World Domination. You’ve been warned.

Choose Your Warrior

First things first: pick which one of the four different characters you want to play as


Square jaw, heavy suit of armour. The rocky road of valour and honour is paved with the blood of a thousand souls, none of which managed to score a hit.


Agile and buxom, the Amazon woman can crush a man with her thighs, and smother him with her bosom (we hope).


The biggest sword in the land, the tightest muscles, the bravest heart… The Barbarian’s strength and quick reflexes are his greatest assets.


This little guy proves that it’s not height that counts, it’s girth. Dwarves are apparently immune to poisonous beverages.

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