Also available on: Xbox 360, PS3
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Action RPG
As another hugely entertaining and enthralling television season signs off, Cyanide's Game of Thrones video game is tasked with satisfying our thirst for blood, betrayal, guts and gore. Despite some stiff competition in the same genre, Cyanide has the advantage of being able to draw on George R R Martin's wonderfully crafted fantasy world, a wealth of complex characters and an enormous fanbase. However, despite tapping into the moral and political complexities of Westeros, the Game of Thrones video game doesn't reach the same lofty heights as the HBO series.
The game runs parallel with the first book/television series, introducing new characters and a brand new storyline. It follows the grizzled Night's Watchman Mors Westford and Red Priest Alester Sarwyck, who returns from a self-imposed exile to claim his rightful seat of power in Riverspring. Although separate from the book, having a rudimentary knowledge of Westeros will certainly aid a player's understanding of its political landscape, giving additional insight into the ensuing struggle, as well as some of the characters you meet along the way.
On the plus side, the game is split up into bite-sized chunks, moving back and forth between the two primary protagonists. This method mirrors the television series, in that it provides multiple cliffhangers, which while initially frustrating, provide an incentive to keep playing.
In terms of gameplay, it will come as no surprise that Game of Thrones takes the form of a role-playing game, favouring a turn-based style over a hack 'n' slash approach. It begins with players choosing between three different classes, all the while having the option to enhance attributes such as leadership skills and combat techniques. However, for every point you spend improving a positive trait, you'll have to balance it with a negative. It's a nice touch, giving players the opportunity to inject a little bit of their own gaming style into their character.
The combat itself tests intelligence and dexterity, although it eventually grows tiresome. Hitting the space bar slows the action and brings up a sizeable moves menu, giving players a little extra time to put together a string of attacks, but not enough time to avoid taking damage altogether.
In many respects, the combat system is actually very deep, forcing players to think about what moves to use and when, not to mention the most suitable weapons and armour to take into battle. Ultimately, however, you'll grow bored of the game's turn-based approach, which doesn't replicate the level of brutality found in the show.
The game successfully alleviates some of the boredom by allowing players to command other characters who join the party. With multiple enemies and more than one character under your control, battles become even more about strategy, and are subsequently more enjoyable. There are also some nice specials, such as the ability to control Mors's trusty hound, which actually leads to some interesting and enjoyable stealth sections.
Unfortunately, the game struggles to maintain a consistent visual standard, which is a crime considering the rich and vibrant fantasy world that it's based on. Locations, in particular, are dull, lacking personality and feel lifeless. The sense of emptiness is a problem that has plagued many a game with a big world and a small budget, and crops up again in Game of Thrones.
It's also a shame that you're unable to explore the world in greater depth, another startling omission considering the source material. The animation, meanwhile, is weak, textures are sloppy and the character models are dated.
Of course, the game's choice system is not all bad, and when decisions are followed through it's enormously satisfying to see. Whether it's having somebody killed or sent to prison, or a rebellion crushed or rewarded, choices theoretically come back to haunt your character for good or bad. It's these moments that best mirror Martin's work, representing the struggle between one's heart and head. Doing the right thing might seem just, but it's not always advantageous.
The Game of Thrones video game takes a while to get going, but perseverance is rewarded with an engaging story full of tough choices and interesting dilemmas. Unfortunately, the plot is let down by poor storytelling, sloppy visuals and mediocre gameplay, despite a relatively deep combat system. There's certainly a solid foundation, and with some tweaks and polish, this could turn into a great video game franchise in its own right. However, much like the dreaded movie video game tie-in, Game of Thrones feels a little underdeveloped, failing to take the crown from rival fantasy releases.
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