A God Vacancy 

If you thought life was hard then maybe you should consider the role of a character from a Russian science-fiction novel.
Hard to be God
click to enlarge

Hard to Be a God is not another take on the God genre made popular by such titles as Civilisation.  Instead this game is a mixture of Hack & Slash with RPG overtones that aims to please followers of both types of game play.  The storyline of the game is claimed to be based on a 1964 sci-fi book by the Russian Strugatsky brothers.  Unfortunately, as I have never read or even heard of this book, I have no idea how closely the game follows the original work. 

Rather than give the user some introductory background about the game and what s going on, the opening scene of this game places you in the role of a trainee mercenary about to set out on a final trial before becoming a fully-fledged operator.   As part of this mission you will need to show off some of your skills - in fact this is a neat method of providing an interactive tutorial enabling you to get use to the various controls and methodology of the game.

Useful as it is, this tutorial does immediately reveal some of the flaws that can be found in the game's graphics and other aspects.  In order to interact with other characters and objects within the game you need to be up close and facing them at which point they will be highlighted by an outline.  However on numerous occasions I was presented with a message saying "Get closer" and, when I attempted this, my characters would finish up behind the designated target - annoying in some instances but fatal when involved in one of the fights that occur at regular intervals.  There were also times, especially when on horseback, when I was able to stop in the middle of an object while on other occasions  stray pixels were left behind for short periods when changing the viewpoint.

As the game progresses, you become more involved in your role as a medieval secret agent.  You will need to take on various guises in order to fulfil your prime mission of discovering what is going on the planet of Arkanar.  Armour is an excellent means of hiding your true identity as you mix with members of the different levels of society such as rogues, guards and even the monarchy.  You will also need to select and master the various types of weapons that are classed as light, medium and heavy.  Anything you collect can be stored in your inventory which automatically groups items into categories that include quest, armour and weaponry.

Hard to be God
click to enlarge

Wandering about the landscape introduces you to some impressive sights as you visit farms and castles; explore ancient ruins and secret tombs; plus the scenic delights of shimmering lakes and mountainous areas.  There are enough side challenges and quests to keep you fully occupied as you gain experience in the ways of this world with its armour, weapons and a range of diverse characters.  Generally you will discover than there is more than one way to complete any of the tasks that you will need to face.

While there are multi-faceted layers to this game, there are the problems mentioned earlier that can spoil the overall effects.  Sound effects are no more than reasonable and could have been far more atmospheric.  Hard to Be a God is the type of game that you will either love or possible hate.  I have to say that I am inclining towards the latter.

Hard to Be a God requires a minimum of a Pentium 1.6GHz processor on a Windows XP or Vista platform.  You will need 1024MB (1.5GB for Vista) of RAM; 2GB of available hard disk space; and support for DirectX9.0c.  The game has been priced at £29.99.

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