Long gone are the days when PSS would take a war movie theme like the Battle of Britain and make a strat-sim-arcade cocktail out of it: now they claim the ancient battlegrounds of other game formats as their conquests. The Final Battle is an animated role-playing adventure displayed in isometric 3D, a format first really explored by Ultimate, who loved it so much that they overkilled it.
TFB is a sequel, albeit one which looks refreshingly unlike its predecessor, The Legend of the Sword. You are Steroff, the warrior hero of the original game, who is struggling once more against the evil Suzar. The predictably unstoppable doom merchant has escaped, hired a few dog-faced grunts, found himself an up-market labyrinthine pad and started doing again what he does best – Being Anti-Social.
Those same misled doggie types have bashed you and your mates over your various heads, killed off those who are least useful to the plot and imprisoned the rest.
Your first task is to get out of your cell. Like everything else in the game, it’s a problem due to the game’s all-pervading flaw, a lack of playability. ‘Don’t worry about conquering the parser’, the manual reassures you more than once, ‘all you need is a mouse’. That’s true. But figuring out how to use the mouse to achieve what you know needs to be done turns out to be just as complicated as communicating with those limited vocabulary and syntax text-input devices of yore.
To open a grille which isn’t locked, a satisfying double-click on the item does the job perfectly, for example. However, try to cut the ropes that bind one of your companions with a piece of broken glass and the message "You strike the rope with the piece of broken glass – impressive!" soon has you swearing with contempt for the program’s inflexibility.
The same goes for keys. You meet a cleric early on in the game who blurts out that this is going to be a collect-the-bits,andput-’em-together game. Ostensibly, he’s supposed to be the first character who joins your party. He is still menacled to his cell wall, but the first thing he tells you is where you can find the key that will free him. Fair enough? Alas, after fifteen minutes of, "You strike the floor/chain with the key – Impressive!" I tried giving the doddering sod the damn thing so that he could it himself.
At this point the utterly unhelpful computer narrator piped up with, "Why don’t you just find a way of freeing him?" Why don’t you reward initiative? In the end I left the prisoner to a fate he may not have been destined for but one which he richly deserved.
You’ve got to move fast in this game (which is almost impossible) because all actions are time-sensitive. If you don’t reach Pagan and Crysella, two more erstwhile compatriots, soon enough, you’ll end up kicking a pair of anonymous corpses around a torture chamber. You can keep a rough track of time by way of one of the more easily understood of the game’s plethora of graphic devices – a time and weather window. Weather too, plays an important and clever role in the problem-solving curiosity that this game struggles to be.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Sound effects are very good in places: spot effects are overdone, but background noises are great. The graphics demand a superlative or two. Every item you see is recognisable and the action and statistics screens effectively combine carved stone effects and a misty soft focus that suits the scenario. They’re slightly spoiled by the untidiness and lack of clarity of some icons and the fact that an object dropped behind something else becomes inaccessible, even though the text tell you it’s still there. You can’t see where your characters are on screen, either.
There should be lots, but in practise it’s doubtful whether many people will accept the confusing gameplay and soldier on to the end. Redeeming and premising features are swamped by needless complications and unrewarding inflexibility.
As you gather allies and artifacts for the ultimate confrontation with Suzar you can appoint a different group leader, set specific tasks for individuals or concentrate on combined team effort, adding a new dimension to this type of game. However, the sheer impenetrability of the game’s command and control system is a deterrent from trying anything remotely innovative and ultimately from playing the game at all. Though this is indeed the problem-solving game it purports to be, the problems are all with the game, not in it. If The Final Battle lives up to its name, I’ll be rather glad the war’s over.