Epic launched their Islona label rather splendidly last month with the Doom clone Testament (AF99, 90%) and followed it up with a game that’s also set in damp, dark dungeons: Kargon.
Kargon is significantly different however, having more in common with Dungeon Master than Doom. Essentially though, it’s a Death Match game, in which you and up to four players (computer or human) run around a dungeon trying to kill each other with different spells.
And, of course, there’s more to it than that. The dungeons themselves are not as straightforward as you might think because they’re comprised of several levels to start with. The levels are connected by stairways – arrive at a stairway and you go up or down – rather obviously – to another part of the level.
And each level is furnished with several traps: whirlwind tiles cannily spin you round and round until you step off them (by which time you’re usually facing in completely the wrong direction); darkness tiles make the screen go completely black while you’re stood on them – and there are often several of these together so you may have to keep referring to your map to find out where you are; direction-reversing tiles turn you round (again, disorientating); and the teleports move you to another part of the level, (some of these tiles are two-destination teleports, so if you actually want to use them to get somewhere, you have to use one once, then go back and use it again to get where you wanted to go).
Finally there are push walls (marked with a hand print), and false walls, which only show up when you cast the appropriate spell.
It’s the spell-casting lark that the gameplay’s built around. At the start of the game you pick a certain number of spells (depending on how much spell energy you’re given) which you can then use throughout the game.
Every spell you cast costs you some energy, and only time spent collecting spell potions will restore that valuable energy. The idea’s simply to use your spells to kill of the other players, over a set number of rounds. The winner is declared the new Kargon and, erm, you can then do it all over again.
But there are a couple more things to mention. Each level is littered with the spell energy potions mentioned earlier, but there are also health potions to be collected which can be extremely useful things to have, because not only are you going to get hurt by the other players, but you risk injury from the monsters that live in the murky dungeons (mostly they’re octopus-type things that hang from the ceiling – they’re not too clever but they can be annoying when you run into them). There’re also holes in the floor that tend to deplete your energy when you run into ‘em and go crashing to the floor below.
Essentially, it's a death match game... You run around a dungeon strying to kill each other with Spells.
ONE STEP AHEAD
There are several skill levels to choose from when you’re playing against the computer, but one thing you’ll notice immediately is just how adept your computer opponents are at choosing the right spell for the right situation.
While you’re fumbling around trying to get the levitation spell so you can jump over a hole in the ground, the computer has got over it, found the stairs to the next level and prepared a fireball spell. Harumph. And it doesn’t take long to work out that the best way to defeat the computer opponents is to hole up somewhere while the other three run around like headless chickens hurting each other.
If you’re lucky you might not even have to cast a spell in anger to win the bout, but usually you do, so it’s best to wait until the others are pretty beaten up before venturing out from your hiding place and getting stuck in. This tactic doesn’t work in every instance, but it happens a little too often for comfort.
Things are different when you’ve got some mates crowded over the keyboard however (everyone uses keys, so things can get cramped) and this is when Kargon is at its most enjoyable. Even then it’s not that exciting. The look of the game does little to enhance its overall feel because it looks really dated and unimaginative. Even the main characters could have been drawn a whole lot better. After a few bouts you’ll no doubt be wondering what else the game has to offer, but prepare to be disappointed – there isn’t much else to amuse you.
Kargon is not a dreadful game, it merely lacks a spark of excitement. The control method is not the easiest to get to grips with (hold down the fire button, press left or right again – still holding fire – to select your spell, let go of the fire button to create the spell, and then hit the fire button when you want to cast it) and the whole game looks and feels a little awkward.
Kargon just doesn’t manage to get the adrenaline pumping – it’s a simple chase-em-up with a couple of bells and whistles tacked on the end, that don’t add a significant amount to the game-playing experience. Not one to get yourself too worked up about.