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Magic & Mayhem: The Art of Magic (Windows)

68
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.3
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  ShadowShrike (309)
Written on  :  Sep 26, 2004
Rating  :  2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars2.71 Stars

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Summary

Rather like a charismatic but abusive spouse

The Good

The Basics: Sequel to Magic & Mayhem, The Art of Magic attempts to recreate the same basic game system in 3 dimensions with some new spells and creatures. Story-wise, it is a prequel to the first game.

Graphics

Initially, The Art of Magic is unappealing. After a long introduction video that was nothing but a camera panning over a (admittedly good) painting with a cheesy-voice over that left me thinking more about how many megabytes of space this wasted and less about the plot, you’re thrown into the game world.

It’s fully 3d accelerated, which is a good thing. The bad thing is that the game graphics you’re presented with at first are simply not good. Character models are the best part; they’re fairly well texture mapped and well designed, but unfortunately a very strict and unchangeable level of detail system makes them look far worse unless you zoom full in. The game world is mediocre in design and really poorly textured. The UV mapping is such that textures warp, stretch, and never seem to tile properly.

Spell effects are a mixed bag. The initial ones are pretty poor; a fireball is a transparent red sphere, which is pretty pathetic. Later on you find some that have great effects, such as the Dragon Breath spell which is prettier than most effects you’ll find even today.

As far as technical details go, the game runs in up to 1024x768 screen resolution; with all the graphical quality sliders maxed, and the game zoomed out, the poor graphical design can be forgiven in the face of the artistic merit, which is defiantly there. There’s a strong Celtic theme to most of the maps that makes them quite appealing.

Score: 3.5/5

Audio

Voice acting is the first impression of the game’s audio you’ll get. My very first thought was that it bit. Cheesy, melodramatic; everyone has a Scottish accent which is in most cases probably real, and also in most cases probably exaggerated. Over time, it’ll grow on you a bit; I’m giving the game the benefit of the doubt and assuming the corniness was intentional.

Technically the voice acting doesn’t work very well. Alerts from allies letting you know they’re low on health that should take two to four seconds take ten to fifteen, with drawn out gasps and groans. I also had problems with long speeches being clipped as another actor started talking, which was rather amusing.

The sound effects are decent and unremarkable. There’s nothing particularly special about them and over time they’ll grow to be annoying.

The music is quite good and follows with the Celtic theme well. It’s almost ‘epic’, but doesn’t quite get there. There isn’t really enough of it, either.

Score: 3/5

Multiplayer Gameplay/Balance

The game’s multiplayer is probably its most enjoyable aspect. You can play against seven AI or human enemies on a wide variety of maps which you can customize with sliders affecting the amount of magic items, places of power, etc. The enemy bot AI is the same as it is in single-player, and it works well enough until you learn its weaknesses—from there, it’s simply not a challenge unless you greatly outnumber yourself intentionally. Playing against humans, however, is extremely enjoyable. There are many layers of tactics in managing your spells and units, creating totems, finding items and food and hunting down enemy wizards.

It is not without major flaws. Apart from the weak AI, there are pathfinding difficulties and issues with lag. Online matches are also usually quite slow. Some spells are virtually useless, but the balance is generally sound.

Score: 3/5

The Bad

Interface/Technology

The game interface is abysmal from the get-go. The installer gave me a handful of weird errors before it started to install, and it took twenty minutes to do so. This is not my hardware; I use this CD-ROM drive all the time. There’s something very wrong with the installer that limits its speed. Once the game’s set up, you launch it to be faced with a loading screen that takes too… damn… long. My processor is almost two times as powerful as anything that existed when the game was released, and it takes over three solid minutes just to get to the main menu. The only possible reason I can see for this is that it’s loading every single game object before you even start a scenario; the fact that you have to restart the game to change graphics detail also suggests this.

It goes downhill from there. Once you choose a mission to play it takes about a minute to set everything up, and then you’re dropped in the game. The interface is poorly made. The basics are in, such as context-sensitive cursors and group selection. But you can’t assign groups of units and the poorly implemented pathfinding makes basic features such as ‘follow’ almost useless. The camera rotates as it zooms, so when you zoom out you get a direct overhead view and when you zoom in it’s almost directly from the side. Anyone who’s used a system like this knows how frustrating it is. It’s counter-intuitive and damages strategic play.

As for technology, the frame rates are absolutely horrid for the amount of polygons and textures there are on the screen. I can only attribute this to previously mentioned precaching of way, way too many objects; that or just a really awful game engine. When you zoom in, textures often ‘swim’ and occasionally warp totally.

I experienced a few crashes to desktop and the occasional mission-ruining glitch, though whether this was poor scripting or a broken engine I don’t know.

Score: 1.5/5

Single Player Gameplay/Balance

The basic idea of gameplay is that your wizard finds and controls places of power through putting a unit on them; power is constantly relayed to him through them, which allows your wizard to make more units and cast more spells before running out. Before each scenario you pick your spells by dropping an ingredient into a law, neutral or chaos token, each combination creating a different spell. There are touches of RPG in that you can tweak your character’s attributes as he progresses through the missions, giving him more hit points, mana, or creature control limit.

The basic mechanics are good, and they’re all ported from the first game. With that established, the campaign in this game is incredibly frustrating. It attempts to make the game more of an RPG than a strategy game, and the pacing and design go directly against that. I got stuck on missions three times and once a walkthrough didn’t even help; often you are not given any clues towards what you’re supposed to do.

Controlling a lot of creatures is fun, but also annoying, because the pathfinding system is bugged quite badly and occasionally units will just decide to ignore your orders.

The plot is pure tripe and I’m not even going to bother repeating it here. If you’ve ever played dungeons and dragons, read a fantasy novel or watched a fantasy movie, you’ve been here before. I dearly hope it was intended to be as corny as the voice acting. It grows on you a bit, and I did want to finish it, but the game designers apparently didn’t; the maps that could have been more interesting to play through generally feature the worst implementation.

Frustration abounds.

Score: 2/5

The Bottom Line

Though I managed to enjoy this game somewhat, I cannot recommend it to anyone. Strategy gamers will be appalled by the lack of essential strategic options and the miserable interface. RPG gamers will be turned off by the poorly implemented RPG elements in the missions that try to use them. Casual gamers will probably be annoyed by both these things. I loved the Celtic theme and the cheesy B-grade fantasy plot and voice acting grew on me, but every time I tried to see the good side of it, it turned around and did something else wrong to make me dislike it more. Some of these flaws are apparent from the beginning, but most of them crop up over extended play. Though the developers have put in a good effort in some aspects of the game, once you’ve come to know it, it’s all too easy to love to hate.

Final Value: 2.5/5