Title  : Drakan: The Ancients' Gate
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher  : SCEA
ESRB Rating  : Mature
Game Rating  : 6.8
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Long ago, humans and dragons lived in peaceful coexistence, bonded into the Order of the Flame to protect the world and its skies. That time passed, and the world has been a dark, chaotic place. A young woman, Rynn by name, has reawakened Arokh, who isn't a rock at all, but a vestige of that earlier time. It's up to the first bonded human and dragon in centuries to restore Pern — sorry, Drakan — to its former glory by discovering the Rune Gates and reviving the Spirit Dragons therein. 

This is the tale of Drakan: The Ancients' Gate, a PlayStation 2 game from Sony. This 3D adventure game provides a fantasy world of hills and vales, but fails to populate it with the right characters and challenges to warrant much exploration. 

Players control Rynn, who is a cross between Lara Croft and Xena, with scant, leather clothing, hard, almond-shaped blue eyes, large, luscious lips, the stride of a woman, not a warrior, and a lethal swing. She sometimes takes flight aback Arokh, battling wicked winged fiends and the like, but these opportunities are more often than not planned; don't think your fire-breathing friend will finish all your foes for you. 

Mastering the controls is the first obstacle Drakan throws at players, with Rynn's bagful of tricks requiring full command of the control pad's buttons. Several combinations are less than intuitive, including swapping weapons and armor in mid-battle. The D-pad is required to execute different sword strikes, awkwardly inviting players to abandon movement with the left analog stick in the heat of combat. Such techniques are often unnecessary anyway; it's just as effective to execute random dervishes of attacks and hope the brute is reduced to a bloody pulp. 

Rynn is an occasional mercenary, with several optional quests and opportunities to create corpses. Some objectives require backtracking once she's powerful enough to tackle them, but are worth the rewards and plot developments they offer. When crossing land boundaries, players will be prompted to save their game, which may also be done at anytime and is recommended. There's nothing more frustrating than hacking one's way through waves of lizardmen, only to fall prey to an unexpected foe and be forced to restart. 

The plot is revealed in cinematic sequences that use voice actors for the dialogue. As with more games these days, practically all text is optional, allowing the spoken word to capture the player's attention. Unfortunately, this acting is only mediocre, with several voices reused for various common peasants. 

The world of Drakan is large and fantastic; Rynn can travel almost anywhere she can see, from distant citadels to nearby waterfalls. Upon closer examination, the game displays a variety of graphical incongruities. One character Rynn encounters early on has an expressive face, complete with moving eyebrows; other people will be perfect statues, except for their lips. More noticeable than such inconsistencies are the various glitches. Rynn quaffs not just the contents of a potion bottle, but the entire bottle. Monsters stagger into a frozen death stance, in defiance of gravity. The lids of demolished barrels float in midair, unaware of their beheading. It's easy to get stuck in a corner, behind a tree, or between people, requiring one to stop, drop, and roll to freedom. 

Ultimately, getting stuck is what players will do. Whether it's dying from an unexpected fall or fireball, or progressing through rank after rank of minions, gamers will find themselves executing the same actions repeatedly. Different weapons and spells become available, but are simply new means to the same ends. 

Drakan has all the trappings of a beautiful fantasy world approach to 3D games such as Tomb Raider. Unfortunately, it's also trapped by its own lack of ambition when it comes to gameplay, and indecisiveness of whether it's an action-adventure or a role-playing game. In either genre, this game is drakan its feet.


This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 04-Feb-02