Every once and a while there comes along a great game that few people take the time to understand. These games generally get poor reviews by web sites or magazines who have a deadline to meet, but later get great reviews by actual game players who have a chance to sit and spend a lot of time with the game. An example of such a game is Shadowman, which was released for Playstation and Dreamcast. Another example is Azurik: Rise of Perathia. Thankfully, I actually sat down and played this game for many hours before writing this review.
Azurik's world is lush, with colors abound. If you are into fantasy games, Azurik will certainly quench your desire for creativity. Vast, wide open landscapes await you, with beautiful skies that change from a clear day to a starry night. Character models themselves are blocky, but that simply appears to be the style of the game. Animations are very good, but not quite up to Soul Reaver smoothness. Overall, a spectacular environment that really showcases what XBOX is capable of. The only downside to all this vast beauty is that occasionally the framerate drops below 30fps. Generally this rarely happens though, and when it does it does not affect gameplay.
Like Azurik's graphics, Azurik's DD5.1 sound is beautiful as well. Peaceful music backdrops the eye popping visuals, and discrete surround effects and ambience grace the surround speakers throughout the game. An overall excellent soundtrack. On a side note, Azurik does not allow you to use your own custom soundtrack.
Azurik plays very differently than other third person adventure games. Instead of moving with one stick, you effectively need to move with two. You move forward and backward with the left stick, and turn left and right with the right stick. In addition, moving the right stick up and down allows you to look up and down. Hitting the right trigger resets the camera. Once you master these controls, Azurik's control system becomes quite natural and gives you a sense of freedom to look around that the game also conveys with its huge landscapes. Speaking of big landscapes, it's Azurik's job to explore Perathia to find the elemental discs and their fragments that were scattered among the land. And when I say explore, I mean explore. There is very little in the way of hints or guidelines to tell you where to go (no big white arrows like in Halo). You just have to play, and try to find a path through the land, solving puzzles along the way. Azurik's combat system is pretty standard, as you start with a jab and swing button for your halberd-like weapon. Of course, pressing the buttons in different combinations yields different attacks. Once you start collecting discs, however, you can apply one or more of the elements to your weapon to assist in destroying the enemy. For instance, once you get water power, not only can you put out fire walls that were previously blocking your way, but you can also give your weapon water power which can defeat some enemies quicker. Monsters aren't all that smart, and generally just jump up and rush you when they see you. However, there are some creatures that seem friendly at first, which may surprise you and turn into monsters when you get close. In addition, if you die or load your game, monsters will respawn; this may irk some, but it becomes a necessity to refill your elemental powers. Aside from combat, there is also a lot of gem and obsidian collecting in Azurik, similar to the calabash collecting in Shadowman. Once you get 100 gems of one type, or 10 obsidians, your power increases. One issue some may not like is a limited save system, where you must find a save tile to save your game; however these are quite abundant so it's not something to worry about. In summary, you will mainly be exploring the huge lands (I'd call them maps, but that would be a disservice to their wonder),battling enemies, and searching for elemental discs, while collecting items to increase your power. Overall, an entertaining, relaxing, and rewarding gameplay experience once you master the unusual controls.
Azurik is a must-buy for fans of fantasy games. It may be a bit strange to handle at first, but once you get the feel of it, Azurik will astound you time and time again with it's lush graphics, wonderful sound, and massive environments. Highly recommended for those who like adventure games that don't spoon feed you the plot and hold your hand every step of the way.