Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: Garshasp: The Monster Slayer; a very unfortunate God of War clone (PC)

Garshasp: The Monster Slayer is a really, really unfortunate game. It has so, so much potential, but has been released on a platform that for most people will be completely inappropriate for its gameplay. And as such, it’s probably not going to get the attention it deserves.

This game is derivative, but except for one catastrophic problem, it's still a hell of a lot of fun

In essence it’s a God of War clone on PC. That in itself isn’t such a problem… assuming you have a gamepad of some kind. There are many Steam gamers who don’t have such peripherals. Perhaps they just play some casual games or World of Warcraft on their laptops when away on work trips. Perhaps they never thought to pick up a gamepad because most PC games are now optimised for mouse and keyboard control. I know I don’t have one, and for people like me, Garshasp is heartbreaking. I love everything about it, but I struggle to play it.

See, the God of War formula is built for controllers, and Garshasp simply maps those controls to keyboard keys. There’s the usual WASD for moving around. E grabs enemies for the brutal instant kills. But then things get weird. Shift rolls around, space jumps. Clicking the mouse wheel down blocks. It’s a system that by default is not built for the kind of smooth, fast paced combat that this genre demands, and with block and roll in such awkward positions, I really struggled to avoid taking damage.

By toying around with the control configuration somewhat a more comfortable setup is possible, but it still never feels quite as natural as picking up a Dual Shock controller and beating down stuff with Kratos.

Fighting swarms of enemies using a keyboard is just not fun


It’s unfortunate that the controls are so awkward, because in every other way Garshasp is a lot of fun – certainly better than other good God of War clones like Dante’s Inferno. The plot, set in a mythological Persia, isn’t anything like what most people expect from Middle East fantasy (ie Prince of Persia). This is a bloody, dark fantasy, and it’s also quite creative in storytelling given the essential plot point boils down to a quest for revenge. Cut scenes are kept to a snappy pace, so this is a game that never gives you the opportunity to get bored.

It’s also worth noting that it’s much more authentic than the story of a game like Prince of Persia. Garshasp draws a great deal of inspiration from real Persian mythology. It’s not as accessible to the layperson as a God of War, then (after all, who doesn’t know about the Greek Gods?), but for those in the know, or those keen to find out, Garshasp is a rare opportunity to explore an alternative mythology to what we usually see in video games.

Garshasp himself is a real character – a monster hunter that you could draw a rough comparison to the likes of Beowulf of Old English mythology. Will most people care? No, probably not, but the authenticity gives the game a very different sense of drama to the high flying Prince of Persia.

Honestly, puzzles don't get much more difficult then pushing levers around


Visually, the game is both stylish and detailed. Surprisingly, given the game’s relatively short length and a fantasy setting heavy on the desert and wasteland, the game also does a good job of keeping the environments varied. While it was never a game that had me going “wow,” I appreciated the artistic direction for Garshasp.

For the gameplay itself, most of it involves being funnelled from arena to arena, fighting hordes of enemies. There’s little room for wandering off the set route, and a minimal number of secret areas. Thankfully, given the wonky controls, there’s also very few platforming elements, and puzzle sections are kept simple. The over reliance on battle is not necessarily a bad thing though, because it’s very entertaining. Though the enemies that Garshasp fights lack a bit of personality (perhaps because of Western unfamiliarity with Persian mythological beasts), they’re solid enough fodder, and though the central hero is the ugliest man ever to grace video gamedom, he’s well animated and swings his sword handily enough.

The combat is a little less fluid than God of War fans might be expecting, but it’s still brutal, and very familiar in a good way. Basic enemies are downed like a hot knife through butter. Stronger enemies soak up more damage, before they can be finally taken down through a Quick Time Event (QTE). In Garshasp, the time to input the QTE commands is surprisingly short, so you’ll need to be on your game.

Some of the landscapes are amazingly creative


There’s two weapons to make use of in Garshasp. This might not sound like much, but as they level up the range of attacks are opened further. By the end of the game there will be more than enough different ways to dispatch enemies to please most people, even if technically speaking the game has less variety than God of War. The only misstep for the combat is a twitchy counter attack mechanism, and the occasional instance where an attack would clearly connect with an enemy, but would not do any damage. These a minor faults though, and hardly gamebreaking in a system that is capable of carrying the entertainment value of the game.

There’s also some boss battles of very impressive scope, that will require the full range of dodging, dicing and slicing skills. Though the game itself is reasonably short, the multiple difficulty levels and some stringent trophy requirements provide some incentive for multiple play throughs.



Thankfully there isn't too much platforming to contend with


I want to see a PSN or XBLA version of this game – it really, really deserves to be played on a format that this kind of game was custom built for. I feel the only fair way to score this game is to give it two different scores, because it isn’t appropriate for a large number of PC gamers, and as much as I liked everything from the concept through to the presentation of this game, I can’t get past the controls. If you happen to have a gamepad, then really, as God of War clones go, you’re not going to find better on Steam.

For people with a keyboard/ mouse setup:


For people with a gamepad, and for a PS3/ Xbox 360 version:



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