The Art of Horror!
Ecstatica takes place in England in the year 928 a.d., the so called "Dark Age". This unknowing, creepy and sometimes magical atmosphere surrounds the whole game and is (in my opinion) extremely rare in games.
You start as the lonesome rider who is on the way back to his kingdom and has to make a break in the little village of Trinsic to get a rest and new food. The Intro already spreads the unique atmosphere of this game, seeing yourself riding through green but lonely valleys accompanied by an eerie and deep soundtrack. The village and the fact of daylight (might be a bug) delude a friendly sight but it reminds you of these kind of stories where the protagonist take the wrong turnoff and gets a witness of a secret that never should been discovered. After your hero (you can choose between male or female) got over the bridge into the small village you really recognize that something is definitely wrong here. Your mission is (first) to survive and to solve the mystic of Trinsic. The fact that the hero stumbled in this catastrophe let one ask why he just don't go back to his horse. Well the bridge (and your only way back) will crash when you go back. So you have to be the hero - if you want to or not! Funny that the developers did implement this mood in the character. One can see his whole opinion about the situation through his voice, posture and gesture. He don't want to be the hero. He just wanted fresh water .... but he'll make a great progress! I think that makes him/her very likable.
The handling of your unnamed hero is very simple but logical. You move him with the arrow keys (like Alone in the Dark e.g.) and with the keys F1 - F12 you are able to choose between three movement modes: Stealth, Walk and Run. You do not have a HUD-Display or anything similar in this game. Furthermore you do NOT have an inventory. It is only possible to carry two items with you - one for each hand. I really liked that because it has a more realistic feeling. Regardless of what is in your hands you can always perform fighting moves, in the classic manner of a pub brawl with funny sounds. Because of the fact that nothing else than your character and his environment is shown, the only way to analyze your health-status is to look attentively at your character. If he is hurt he hobbles and holds his arm like it is broken.
I think the lack of a HUD-Display and an Inventory is very important for games like these to highlight and keep the atmosphere.
The main goal is to free Ecstatica, a young and naive (but beautiful of course) witch who is responsible for the whole drama in Trinsic. But first you do not really know what to do except to survive.
The riddles in this action-adventure are not so obvious and it is your task to find out what to do next. For example: a little girl wants her teddy back, so you return it to her - then she wants to play with you in the dungeons but your are to big for the tunnels - so you find a magical formula to mutate yourself into a weasel - but first you have to get all the ingredients - and so on... But as I said before one of the most important things is to survive. Ecstatica has a nice variety of monsters, from very little mean dwarfs to middle-dragons up to minotaurs and a werewolf. Oh the werewolf is really a pain. He is invulnerable (there is one way he can die at least) and lurks behind almost every corner. Sometimes annoying but it is also a game-element that pushes your fear to the limit and so the game doesn't get boring; well you'll have your calm moments though.
The NPCs are rare but very well elaborated. Ecstatica (CD-Version) has a wonderful voice output fitting perfectly to each character. The most people you meet are either complete insane or just before dead. Terrific!
The game really understands to entertain. The whole atmosphere is frighting and kind of eerie but it rotates with situations that are just extremely funny. The typical British humor i guess. Just one example:
Your were transformed into a frog and to mutate yourself back you have to hop to a freaky, fat and nymphomaniac Witch, who kisses you and break the spell. After you got your human body back she gets so horny that she runs all the time after you and screams things like "ohhh my prince!!!" "kiss meee" "ahhhh uuuuuuhh". When you kill her she dies like a diva and screams "I aaaaam dyyyyyiiing ..... of looooovve". Just brilliant!
Also you get to see the most polite demon I've ever seen in a game. What did you expect - it's a British demon with style. There are a millions of gags and gimmicks in the game but it never gets ridiculous. There is a good balance between things.
The glaring Opposite to the funny part is the high level of the violence and nudity shown in the game. There are priests dangling on the gibbet, people getting tortured and tons of naked bodies which are brutally crucified or gored in disgusting positions. Not to mention that the sounds of crackling bones do their best to highlight the sadism. Seeing all that in this bright colors, appearing in a style that remind yourself of a TV-Series for little kids is really confusing and might to shy away many persons. But it is all part of this unique and weird atmosphere this game creates but at last: ECSTATICA IS NOT A GAME FOR CHILDREN!!!
One word to the graphics.
The games Ecstatica I and Ecstatica II are the only games (as far I know) which use a ellipsoid technology to perform a 3D-Engine. According that everything is build by round shapes it first looks very different from that whole polygon-thing like "Alone in the Dark". But you get used to it very quickly. Everything looks very vivid and it has a touch of CGI-movies like "Madagascar". The character-movement also looks very authentic and not so stiff. The Perspective is exactly like "Alone in the Dark" with solid camera-positions.
The references to "Alone in the Dark" are no accident. The two games have a lot in common even the fact that the hero stumbles in this creepy situation. Both games were released nearly at the same time and one could have the opinion that Ecstatica is just another AitD-Clone. The Truth is that Ecstatica really is one in a kind, despite or just because of its unique graphics and even more because of its bizarre and confusing atmosphere.
The Werewolf is so omnipresent all the time that you are wondering if he has nothing else to do than lurking and chasing you through the whole village. He appears randomly but when you reload the savegame he might have gone.
As I said the lack of an inventory is necessary to keep the atmosphere but sometimes it's just so annoying to collect many items (for a quest) when you can only carry two. It is logical that one can only carry two swords but it's strange that you can just collect two flowers and nothing else.
The other problem is that your actual weapon is important so you better do not drop it. Very well then, you just have one hand free to collect 5 items from A to B. But these situations are rare in the game.
The Game is a little to short.
The Bottom Line
A masterpiece in survival horror with an unique medieval and bizarre atmosphere. The black humor is as awesome as the sadistic abysmal depths.
Horrific and entertaining at the same Time!