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SummaryThe most bizarre survival/horror adventure game starring a dude made of spheres!
The GoodA truly oddball game if there ever was one, Ecstatica casts you as a knight-errand (either male or female) that finds his way to the small village of Tirich while en route to some location. Unfortunately upon arrival you find that the town is populated with bloodthirsty monsters and creatures, all trying to kill the remaining villagers that now flee for their life. As you eventually find out, the monsters come from Ecstatica, a young witch who in her attempts to summon a great demon fell into a coma and is now controlled by said demon. Seeing as how you are stranded in the village, your quest now is to defeat the demon and wake Ecstatica up before any of her monsters get you.
Well, as far as stories go Ecstatica isn't exactly ground breaking, but it does have it's share of interesting ideas. The main attraction for the game however, is the fairly non-linear survival/adventure gameplay. The town of Tirich is completely open from the get-go (with some key exceptions) and you are free to explore it and take what you want, fight any of the unique monsters (and by unique I do mean unique, not one baddie is repeated in this game) or simply hide yourself and escape. This hiding aspect is actually a major aspect of gameplay since the designers wisely threw in a Nemesis-like werewolf character that haunts you throughout the entire game, is invincible, and has scripted "pop up" sequences were it crashes through a door or jumps on top of you! Since the creature can't be beaten, you have to be constantly on the lookout and balance the use of the 3 stance settings you have: sneak, normal and running (the later adding the key feature of making you trip every now and then, just like Silent Hill 2 would do 7-8 years later) as well as keep an eye out for a selection of hiding hotspots that enable you to flee him, such as hiding in a closet, climbing through a chimney, etc.
Of course, you can stand your ground and try to beat the monsters in melee combat with a selection of weapons you'll find laying around, and using a couple of standard parry/hit moves which enable you to duke it out effectively. The puzzles are simple and are mostly ambiguous but effective, with you having to collect specific ingredients to a potion or performing an arcane ritual to get the weapon you need to defeat the demon, simple in their execution with the only difficulty being figuring them out.
As mentioned above, the cast of the game is truly unique with lots of weird characters based on classic fantasy tales. For instance, you might have to face the lady of the lake to get her sword, an ugly witch to change you from frog to human, a minotaur, the aforementioned werewolf, dragons, etc. as well as the quirky villagers that have (if saved) weird and funny tidbits to offer. And speaking of that, this game has the one of the most bizarre senses of humor I've seen in a game of this type. Characters react in a wildly comic-book fashion to their surroundings and there are some things in the game placed solely for comedic purposes, such as a heavy armor that makes you move at a crawl, the goblins and their lair, the malfunctioning magic broom and killer scripted sequences like when you get killed and you see the monsters chatting up in a bar saying stuff like "yeah, I should have gone easier on him, but I thought he was the hero y'know?"
Last but not least the game is a remarkable technological achievement, using this weird elypsoid-based engine, the game delivers smooth 3D characters at great framerates on just about any computer, and if you add to that an amazing quality of animation and zero clipping /artifacts/collision problems and full voiceovers then you have one smoothly produced game in your hands.
The BadWell the game may be technically impressive, but stylistically speaking it's way off. The engine works with nothing but brightly colored spheres so every character and object rendered with it looks extremely Fisher-Price like, not to mention that despite the dark horror theme of the game, all the backgrounds are made in daylight!! Who the hell was the overall director of this game? I'm all for bizarre touches in my games but when you have two cutey Fisher Price characters performing slapstick in broad daylight and ten seconds later a desperate fight in a dark dungeon with skewered topless babes in the same game only a couple of screens apart, (and yes, I mean both skewered AND topless) you tend to get a little confused as to how you are supposed to take the whole thing. And to top that off the box (which is lovingly illustrated by the way) sells the game as one mega-super serious survival/horror adventure! What gives??
Gameplay-wise there's only the fact that this is one of those oldstyle european adventure games a-la Alone in The Dark, meaning of course that the puzzles aren't difficult per se as mentioned above, but the real difficulty is in figuring just what the hell you are supposed to do to get the ball rolling, unless you have a walkthrough or some sort of pointer at hand you will spend quite a while in frustration central.