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     " You could beat the living hell out of him with a loaf of French bread while screaming 'Hail now to the Lizard Queen! Hail!' over and over. "

      Title: Arcanum of Steamworks & Magic Obscura by Sierra

      Format: RPG for the PC

      Reviewing Monkey: Chimpan-A

      The Hype: Coming to you from the core team of Fallout, everybodyís favorite post apocalyptic Pip Boy game, we now take on the realm of Technomancy. Explore a world rife with marvels of steam technology, and magical marvels to wow you. Boasting options galore and a rich world to explore, letís see just what this game delivers, shall we?

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: The graphics for Arcanum are nothing particularly special. Not great, not awful. Since youíre viewing everybody from rather far off overhead view, you donít get close enough to need a lot of detail. The clothing you select is semi-reflective. Put on a chainmail like armor and youíre character wears chainmail. Take off all of your armor, and heís standing in his underoos. Some of the spell effects look really nice, a pretty explosion or two. There are only a few cut scenes. They have a great period feel, but are a little grainy. 3 out of 5

      Sound: The music in this game is awesome. The music really makes you feel like youíve just come from a river barge with Mark Twain. Troika liked it enough to make a soundtrack available in mp3 form from their website. It really helps the feel of the game to have background music that sets the tone this well. The rest of the sounds fair pretty well too. Guns sound right, spell effects wiz and bang, zap and boom. The voice acting actually came out pretty well. Nobody really hams it up too bad. Certain repetitive sounds can become obnoxious (ever listen to a familiar flap its wings for two hours straight?), but otherwise the sound comes out great. 4 out of 5

      Game Play: Consider real life for a moment. In real life, if you were walking down the street, and heard somebody say: "Hey you, come here, Iíve got some information for you." You would have many choices to make. You could go over and ask the man what he would like to talk about. You could ignore him. You could beat the living hell out of him with a loaf of French bread while screaming "Hail now to the Lizard Queen! Hail!" over and over. Itís all about choices. Arcanum is full of just such choices. There is no obligation to play the game as a "good" guy, or "bad" guy. There are rewards and punishments for each course. Certain characters like you good, others like you bad. The game tracks your alignment, and youíll have to deal with the consequences of your choice. Sierra has done a great job providing an open-ended adventure. The game plays quite nicely. The controls are all fairly intuitive. The interface works nicely, with everything youíll need to get a hold of in a nice easily reached place. As the game is all about choices, you can make your way through in many ways. Pure fighter, technologist, magician, thief, mage-thief, Gunman, you name it. Technology and magic are opposed to each other, however; so making a Technomancer isnít very feasible. A choice that made me blink was the differentiation between the sexes. Women have stat adjustments the men donít, and you canít be a female from every race. Itís minor, but it isnít seen very often in todayís politically correct world. In gameplay at least, the choice doesnít make a difference very often (Women get hit on in places men donít, and thereís at least one location where a man canít go without a disguise). Combat can be either turn based or real time, which allows for fast moving battles against weak creatures and tactics against tougher opponents. You donít get to control your followers, which means that you canít plan their moves very well. Theyíre not generally that dumb though, so itís not a huge deal. All in all this game brings together a very real world and mythical environment in a fun role-playing setting. 4.5 out of 5

      Level and Environment Designs: I feel like I should start carrying a wind up watch in my breast pocket after playing this game. The environments are great. Everything has that excellent late 1800ís feel. Even the advanced technology of the time looks like it comes from some old time tech manual. The wonders of the steam engine, and all that. Thereís a really great job done of capturing just the right feel with the modern architecture. Even the more fantasy realms fair just fine, fitting into the world seamlessly. The levels are usually a good size, and none to confusing. The excellent automap lets you know where everything is. The waypoint system is a bit mixed. On the one hand, one you set a waypoint, your characters will go there. The path finding is generally "spot" on. However, the map will sometimes give you nonsensical errors in plotting the next waypoint. A straight line, not twenty feet long, down an open street, and the map will tell you the way is blockedÖ Still, once you have entered the waypoint you arrive there swiftly. 4 out of 5

      Multiplayer: The multiplayer for Arcanum is pretty good. It actually runs like a more regular games multiplayer, than the multiplayer for an RPG. Players can either journey with others cooperatively, in a free for all, or in a player-killing environment. The world for Arcanum is different in the multiplayer than in the single player game. Players cannot travel on the world map, and so areas tend to be relatively small. The game performs about average on the Internet, and with few problems on a LAN. 3.5 out of 5

      Replayability: This game is about as replayable as they come. Just finish the game as a mage? Donít feel like you had enough firepower? Try it again, only take firearms this time, and use repeater rifles! Try it as an ogre, or a human, or a gnome. The possibilities are nearly endless. The story stays the same, but the way you travel through it can change a million ways. And if you get bored with that, thereís always the multiplayer world. The editor that ships with the game ensures that extra content can be generated, when you feel youíve used up all the game has to give. 5 out of 5

      Story/Dramatics: Enter a world of flintlock revolvers and fireballs. Basically, take our world; add magic, and the myriad of races that come with it, then back time up about 250 years. The basic story involves you discovering youíre a reincarnated elf. After trying out Spock ears and a poncy accent, you go off into the world to discover the truth of things. Of course, the Brotherhood of Convenient Opposition is out to stop you, or kill you, or bother you from time to time, you know, whatever. Thereís the occasional interesting world history point, but youíre not really going to find anything that makes you jump out of your seat. Fairly interesting twist at the end, though. All told, itís not too bad. After all, itís the journey that counts. 2.5 out of 5

      Instructions and Learning Curve: Rarely have I seen an instruction manual so big that conveys so little useful information. The instruction manual is great if youíre looking for more period feel. Youíll actually think youíre reading something by one of Sam Clemensí peers, itís written that well. It just doesnít convey very much in the way of useful information. Time and again I went to the book with a question, time and again I was confronted with flowery worded nothing. The explanation of the races to choose from is in the back of the book for crying out loud. Thankfully, the game is blissfully simple to learn. There may be a few technical questions youíll get into, but itís nothing that really needs to be known. One thing, it can be a little difficult to rifle through the large amount of schematics a technologist can learn to find the item youíre trying to make. 2 out of 5

      Installation and Real System Requirements: Game asks for a Pentium 2 300, 64 Megs of Ram. Slowdown was minimal, and load times were just fine. 4 out of 5

      The Verdict:


       Itís very rare to find an RPG in which you can not only be evil, but be evil and finish the story with every bit as good a result as the good guy. A wide variety of magic and technology to choose from, this game has a lot to offer any RPG fan.

      The Good: Multitude of choices. So much stuff to do, so little time.

      The Bad: Bad instructions, and relatively standard storyline.

      The Overall Ugly: Getting a reputation as the Pervert of Tarant. Who wants to see an Ogre run naked down Main Street?

      What it's Worth: I say give it the $50, youíll be playing it for a while.

Buy it direct from Amazon.com

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