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SummaryMixed feelings about a magic carpet ride
The GoodMagic Carpet 2 is an original game and I like the concept of the game. It differentiates itself from other games with both its setting and its gameplay. The game's first-person shooter action (with all sorts of magical spells instead of guns) is complemented with some small city-building, resource management and God game elements. Moreover, as the title implies, the player doesn't go about the levels on foot but flies around on a magic carpet. There really isn't that much like it, except for the prequel that Bullfrog released in 1994 of course. I haven't played the first Magic Carpet game so I won't compare Magic Carpet 2 with that one.
Usually one of the first things a player will do when entering a level is building a castle. You do this by casting your castle spell (this requires you to have a small amount of mana, the only resource in the game). Your castle acts as your mana storage. Whenever you kill a creature with one of your offensive spells a golden mana ball will appear, the amount of mana depends on the toughness of the monster. With your possession spell you can claim the mana as your own. Then a balloon will pick up the mana and store it in your castle so other wizards can't steal your mana.
You'll need this mana to cast all kinds of spells. Collecting more mana allows you to cast stronger & better spells. Once you've got enough mana you can upgrade your castle by casting the castle spell some more. A stronger castle can hold more mana and can defend itself a bit against attacks by monsters and other wizards. Any stage 3 or higher castle has archers who try to take out attackers. Your castle also acts as your spawn point. You can't die completely ("banished from the realm") as long as you have a castle, this implies that you have to defend your castle from attacks by monster and the A.I. wizards. All of the things mentioned above set the gameplay apart from the standard FPS fare.
Great graphics engine. I liked the graphics both from a technical standpoint as well as from an artistic standpoint. Compared to modern games the draw distance is rather small and there's quite a bit of fog to cover it up, but compared to other FPS games of that period, like Mechwarrior 2, Doom II or Rise of the Triad it looked very good. Perhaps because of the small draw distance, the 3D engine is relatively fast (especially in the low-res mode, although with modern CPU's likely also in high-res mode). Another thing I liked was that pressing Enter brings up a real-time map on the left half of the screen. The right part of the screen is reserved for the regular view. The map gives you a lot of info (you can see all monsters move, see your balloons pick up mana etc) and almost everything you do instantly alters the map.
The best thing about the graphics engine is the ability to completely transform each game world with your magical spells. You start the game as a young apprentice who can do little more than shoot fireballs but as you progress through the levels you gain more abilities and by the end of the game you'll be summoning earthquakes (this spell allows you to dig tunnels through solid rock, very useful in the cave levels), tornadoes, thunderstorms and much more. The volcano spell was my favorite, with it you can transform a flat plane into a mountainous region filled with fire and smoke. It just looks awesome and really gives you the impression that you are a powerful wizard.
Monsters and spells are well designed and fit in with the magical/Persian theme of the game (though there are also some cliche monsters like the spider and the skeleton). Menu's and levels look mysterious and because several levels feature secret areas I always fully explored them. The nice music and sound effects help to enhance the mysterious atmosphere, I just wish there were some extra tracks cause the music does become repetitive after a while. The A.I. (of the enemy wizards) is decent. It's not very creative and doesn't use a lot of different spells, but it does flee from you when wounded and will steal your mana when your balloons have not yet picked it up. Sometimes the A.I. wizards gang up on you but they also fight amongst each other. All the different kinds of monsters are pretty stupid however.
The BadThe controls of Magic Carpet 2 are a bit odd. By default you use the 8 & 2 keys on your keypad to move forwards & backwards, if you want to fly at a higher or lower altitude you'll have to use the mouse. For example, moving the mouse away from you makes the nose of your carpet point upwards (this is also how you aim). If you now press the 8-key you'll glide upwards (and forwards) a little bit. You can't move solely along the vertical axis like you can with a chopper. As a result of this, you don't really get the feeling you're flying on a magic carpet, as you kind of glide a few feet above whatever surface happens to be underneath you. It feels odd to suddenly make an increase in altitude when for example a house is on your path. Several levels also feature large walls that block your path cause you can't fly over them, which I found rather silly. However, including extra up & down keys would probably have made the control scheme too complex and the game too difficult (think Descent). So for the sake of gameplay it's probably better this way.
What did annoy me was that you can't assign shortcut keys for spells. In almost any FPS game the keys 1 through 0 on your keyboard correspond with the different weapons you can use. However, in MC2 you pick a spell by clicking on an icon in a menu that appears after pressing Ctrl. This is takes way too much time when the action gets hectic. Fortunately you can assign multiple spells to either the left or the right mouse-button and then select a particular spell by holding down the Left-Shift-key and either the left or the right mouse-button until you've found the desired spell. This is an improvement over the method mentioned earlier but can still take too much time when you have 5 or 6 spells assigned to one mouse-button. Thus it would have been nice if you could have used for example Left-Shift + 1 to directly select a particular spell for use with your left mouse-button and Right-Shift + 1 to directly select another spell for use with your right mouse-button etc.
- I really enjoyed the first few levels, but after a while the gameplay becomes rather repetitive. Almost every level requires you to kill all monsters, collect their mana so you can upgrade your castle. Then when you're strong enough, you must banish the others wizards from this realm just like banished them from the previous level (okay, maybe that's a bit exaggerated, but I probably did defeat the wizard Nyphur somewhere around ten times).
- Magic Carpet 2 includes some cave levels, something the original Magic Carpet did not have. Of course a change of scenery is nice and I must say these levels look and sound appropriately spooky & mysterious (the lava looks very nice) but overall I don't think they are a great success. Often the tunnels are too narrow to cast your castle spell multiple times (so you can't expand your castle beyond for example stage 5 while you do have the mana for stage 6) and maneuvering through them on your carpet can be a bit tricky as well. Sometimes your locked inside a small, dark chamber with skeletons that drain your mana and steal your spells. This is pretty frustrating as it is hard to target these skeletons when they're so close to you. In my opinion the wide open spaces of the outdoor levels just worked better than the narrow confinements of the cave levels.
- During the single-player game you collect a lot of cool spells. However there isn't any use for several of them. For instance there is a spell that morphs you into three different kinds of monsters. I never encountered a situation in which this spell was useful. Idem ditto for the fake mana spell, the tremor spell, the gravity well spell, the magic mine spell, the alliance spell that temporarily turns monsters into allies, the spell that let's you summon armies of monsters etc. The tornado spell looks cool but is to weak to be useful. Earlier I mentioned that the gameplay was too repetitive, I wish Bullfrog had designed some levels/missions in which you had to use some of the spells mentioned above. I bet if this game was released today it would have had some stealth missions in which you had to morph into another creature to get past the enemy.
- Magic Carpet 2 lacks a good storyline. The game starts off well with a very nice intro movie and the detailed world map hints at a lot of interesting locations. However when you actually start to play the game, the only story elements you will encounter are some short text messages (accompanied by decent voice acting) from your master Kafkar. The game lacks interesting dialogues and there is not one memorable character in the game. There are no cut-scenes (other than the intro) and the enemy wizards don't have any personality or a single line of text. The locations in which you battle may sound and look like they came straight out of a Robert Howard or Clark Ashton Smith story, you never get to know much about these locations. Occasionally Kafkar has one or two lines of text referring to the city, island or cave where your battle takes place but most of the times this is not the case. Some of the cities are inhabited by ordinary people, but you can't interact with them. Bullfrog should have spend some more time on "furnishing" the gameworld.