Man vs. crab. The debate continues.
Man vs. crab. The debate continues.

Human Head Studios’ Rune was built during an unfortunate period of video games where machinima was seen as a revolution. Game level designers were suddenly Stanley Kubrick despite never even taking an Intro to Film course in their life. But they saw Terminator 2 five times, so it must be ok. What ensues is awkwardly timed dialog, a confusing script, embarrassing gestures on models whose mouths don’t synchronize with speech, and a general distaste for actually sitting through the malarkey.

We are introduced to this viking adventure by a story of times past, dropping down Ragnorak, Odin, Loki, and various other silly, stupid, irrelevent names. Of course, you have the angular fonts and meaningless symbols. I know the über-nerds will get upset over my ignorant commentary because it’s this is part of Scandinavian folk-lore, and I hope they get a staph infection. Oh, but wait, there’s treachery involved here and it runs deep. Daddy’s dead. Betrayed by a rival faction. You are now a viking on a mission to save… the world! During the whole cutscene, I was chuckling to myself as all I could think of was, “Great Odin’s Raven!”, and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.

The early parts of the game remind me of an obese sorority girl’s college adventures: deep caverns containing crabs (kill using this lotion and remove with this comb). I think in a new game, it’s the worst idea ever is to have the first 10 levels in dark caves with lava and swimming sequences where one must race for oxygen in the next air pocket. It’s not just a single 5 minute level of this gameplay, it’s smacked over your head for a good 5 hours.

Now, the game is third-person perspective and all melee. So you can use a mace, club, sword, or sledgehammer to slam down the… crabs. There’s also poisonous mushrooms… and some type of snake-like stationary plant enemy. I like to call it the biting-penis plant. BPP for short. These initial levels make sure you’re used to this game basically being a huge series of jumping puzzles. You can hold onto ledges and pull yourself up… but of course you can’t move left to right on the ledge, so they don’t explore that type of puzzle opportunity. At one point there are Quake III Arena-style jump-pads, cleverly enough made of man-flesh!

Instead of using health entities found in most action games, you in-take obfuscated versions of the same idea: drinking mead (then smashing it on the ground for the bitch wife to pick up), nondescript meat (sorority girl vaginal tissue), lizard (not broken), and the ever-popular healing pool of green liquid goodness. There are also runes; symbols for power, yeah? You can use them with certain weapons for prettier colours on the screen and to make your blows more blowing. So the usual elements: freeze your opponent with a sword swing and then shatter their frozen bodies, set your enemies on fire with a sword swing, blow your enemies back with a sword swing, drench your enemy in menstrual blood by shoving their head into your sandy vagina.

On the eighteenth level, you’re finally taken out the cave environment into a wintery mountainous area. The transition is done by a bug that saves you from falling from a height in a cave, then there’s an ensuing cutscene of wonderment and befuddlement with you and Mr. Bug flying to the surface, including collapsing rock roofs and imploding patience. The new areas have that beautiful distance fog that prevents the level designers from having to design a full world. The Tudor architecture of the viking towns are quality for an Unreal-engine game from 2001. Wait, was that a compliment?

What I have not mentioned are the additional modes of attack for our dear protagonist. You can throw your weapons at opponents, increasing the likelihood of Tommy John surgery at a later date. As vikings are wont to do, you can also bludgeon enemies with their mate’s severed limbs or knock them out by throwing a recently decapitated cranium. These modes are piss poor, with low damage hit points so I just went with the traditional swinging of heavy weapons.

Beat a man with another man.
Beat a man with another man.

So your purpose at this point is to pursue some man that has turned on humanity and become a servant of the dark lord, Loki, who wishes to destroy all runes in the land so he may again return to Earth. Does this matter? The purpose is to simply hack/slash organic and zombie matter. By the way, CTRL skips cinematics and you’ll by using it a lot.

A third through the game, your adversaries are now ewoks with mallets. They’re supposed to be dwarves, but… look! Listen! And they forge. And they call it a mine. A MINE! Seriously, they’re ewoks. Multiple times they call my viking character a hairless ape and then mention I am, “shifty like a pregnant she-wolf”. Misogyny, what, what?

I twice was physically stuck in areas, unable to retrace or progress. I checked some walk-throughs and triggers that should have gone off, did not. I had the latest patch, so I don’t know what happened. I just ended up using cheat codes to get up to the ledge awaiting my arrival.

The last chapter in this glorious saga is a journey through the dark underbelly of more caves and claustrophobic hallways. Did you know that recording a human voice, reversing it, and playing it back in a dark environment is evvvil? At one point, our hero is trapped in a pit with the only choice to let loose his humanity and becoming an immortal in order to save his fellow man. Now, keeping in mind, it just means your character has a new model, can jump higher, and can still die. Somebody didn’t get the memo on what “immortality” actually means. As you try to save a village and the final rune stone from being destroyed by Loki’s minions, you are faced by men attacked you. Oh, the moral ambiguity, whatever shall I do! What have I become? I am now the monster, killing my own kind. A commentary on violence in video games: utilitarianism expressed through art!

At this point, I’ll speak of the enemy AI. In the last quarter, you’re facing these immortal-creatures-that-are-really-mortal, that are the same size as you and have huge blade weapons. The only problem is that your tactic to kill them is to just let them run straight toward you while you walk backward and just hold in the mouse button to hit ’em repeatedly in the head. They never get a hit in. I did this for 30 minutes straight playing through the last 5 or so levels. The sad part are the weak humans, a third of my size, actually damaging me more nearing the end of the game. The final boss? He just jumps around acrobatically and you hit him in the air or just after he lands. I beat the final level in two minutes.

The game ends with your immortal being, formerly known as the man-warrior, being permitted into the walls of Valhalla. This is done by warping you into a world with stars flying past, and walk on a floating platform, then across a rainbow bridge into a white castle of beauty. Knowing the universal symbol of that bridge, I really believe your character is traveling into the Hershey hallway, into an eternal bastile of manlove. Jolly good.

Now your Joseph Campbellesque Hero’s Journey is over and the magick elixir was the sucky cinematics. The game is about ten levels too long, but the melee combat felt decent and the animations were quality for an older game. The attempt at large outdoor areas and bodies of water looked really awkward in the engine due to repeated textures. Overall, given the release date, I give the visuals 7 out of 10, gameplay 8 out of 10, and story -1 out of quit your day job, guys. I played the Prey demo; you are not writers.

For running the game in Windows XP for my GeForce2 TI, I had to install a new Direct3D driver, specifically “D3D8Drv.dll”, along with adding shortcut parameter “-cpuspeed=1000″… yes, my PC processor is really that slow. These fixed the problem of the Unreal engine running in software mode at the rate of a 386SX without a math co-processor. For instructions, head to the official web site’s forums for the details, ‘though here is the Direct3D driver [ link is now broken] that worked for me.

p.s., If you were offended or thought I’m an unintelligent roughian for composing this review, please lighten up. And watch Veronica Mars, every Tuesday night at 9PM EST on the new CW. Oh, that Logan Echols!