Game Description: In Azurik: Rise of Perathia—a third-person, 3-D action-adventure game designed to showcase the capabilities of the Xbox—you assume the role of a young apprentice Lore Guardian named Azurik. Sworn to protect the sacred elements—fire, water, earth, and air—you must stop an apocalyptic prophecy that threatens to condemn your world to destruction. Featuring intense hand-to-hand combat, intuitive puzzles, amazing seamless environments, and vast exploration, Azurik combines the best of three genres by including ample doses of epic adventure, fast console-style action, and intriguing story-based RPG gameplay.
I've been getting the impression from developers, and the general gaming community, that all this next-generation hooplah is not really about making better games, just better looking ones. No one really cares if Resident Evil 20 or Tekken 9 innovates in the gameplay or story department, so long as there are reflective bump-mapped textures and it roars at sixty frames per second. It's pretentious for me to try and speak for gamers in general, because I know a lot of you out there (especially ones who frequent this site) want more from the next-generation of games than relentless amounts of eye candy. But from reading some message board threads and reviews on certain gaming sites (especially about this game), it seems like more and more gamers are becoming complacent in settling for style over substance in their future software purchases.
Adrenium Games, the makers of Azurik: Rise Of Perathia, nearly prove the point by keeping with the "more of the same, only with snazzier bells and whistles" philosophy of game development. Adrenium obviously wanted to capitalize on the boom in action/adventure games and their popularity, and the end result will give you the feeling that jumping on the bandwagon was their only motivation for creating Azurik. Rather than try to introduce anything fresh to an overly stale genre, Adrenium decided to stick to a checklist of ingredients that go into this kind of game. The catch was it would be in a prettier package, courtesy of the new, powerful Xbox. Sometimes this can make for a decent game if it's executed well. Azurik is not one of them.
What drives me to play action/adventure games is a mixture of solid controls, tight and logical level design, and a sense of purpose. Azurik included none of the above. Its controls are near unforgivable, and made me wonder how any tester (or developer, for that matter) would have thought them acceptable. The game fails to underline any urgency in your quest, and even if it did, the design of Perathia is so confusing that you wouldn't care. A lot of time is spent constantly running in circles in a haze of confusion, unsure of what to do and where to go, even though the ultimate destruction of the world hangs in the balance. The whole experience gave me the feeling that any vision and ambition that may have existed at one point and time for this title was ultimately lost halfway through development.
But does Azurik succeed in creating style over its lack of substance? Hardly. My eyes were constantly assaulted by over-saturated colors, mediocre character animations, and boring environmental interaction. Toss in Azurik, a long lost ancestor of the Smurfs, and it becomes hard to take this supposedly serious game seriously. Definitely not the kind of imagery that one would expect from a professional game developer.
Even though developers have the latest and greatest console platform available at their disposal, their focus should always remain on the "game" part of "video game". Adrenium's strategy was to push as many jaw-dropping screenshots out before the games release as they could (which are very misleading), and rely on that to sell their software. One question should have constantly been presented to everyone involved in Azurik's development: Is it fun? The answer is no.
Maybe (and hopefully), future games in this genre will learn from the past. Developers should study the more successful classic titles that melded imagination, aesthetics, originality and quality into a seamless and enjoyable experience. Just as important as learning from good examples is looking at the opposite side of the coin and recognizing why games like Azurik are destined for the bargain bin: Tired ideas, lazy execution and frustrating design.
I think Azurik: Rise Of Perathia can be summed up by my experience in selling the game. Upon handing it to the clerk he quipped, "not so good, huh?" I agreed, and watched as he added it to a stack of about seven other used Azurik cases. "This is just from today," he said. Let's just hope that Adrenium is listening.
A great game is like a Tootsie Pop: you slowly penetrate through the tasty outisde layers, which then melt away into an even more satisfying and chewy middle. Azurik: Rise Of Perathia has more in common with the strange rice cakes I bought a while back. At first taste, I wondered what all the fuss was about, but after two or three of 'em a nice buzz began to develop on my tongue, and soon enough the whole bag disappeared. The challenge, then, is to get the gamer to take that many bites, particularly when the two or three you need to start liking the rice cakes translates to two or three hours for Azurik.
Azurik's introduction perfectly magnifies every flaw in the game; unclear mission goals, aggravating water physics, ugly environments, abstract puzzles, laughable storylines, and a terrible mini-game where you play a firefighter putting out a birthday cake. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong in the beginning, which makes it no wonder that the shop to which Jeremy sold Azurik had so many copies returned. Most people (understandably) aren't going to tolerate such a lackluster opening when they could return it for a sure thing.
But when you dig your teeth into Azurik, the soft and sugary middle reveals itself. The initially infuriating controls become second nature after a bit of practice, and the "haze of confusion" Jeremy spoke of lifts, revealing a vast, untamed world to explore. Make no mistake, Azurik does not hold your hand in any way; you're on your own, and you have to figure things out by yourself. Though this can be a bit daunting at first, after a while it becomes refreshing not to have a fairy giving you hints every five seconds. When you locate another disk fragment or ability, you get a true sense of accomplishment from having found it almost independently. Azurik taps into the primal urge of curiosity we all have to find what is over the next ridge or through the next portal.
Azurik helps this open-ended concept work with some absolutely amazing environments; volcanoes, underground fire mazes, lush tropical forests, and ice caverns are all on the map. Although Jeremy dismisses these as "snazzier bells and whistles," they are very important to what makes Azurik work. After all, if the scenery weren't interesting, who would want to waste time exploring it? The stunning juxtaposition of two opposing waterfalls, one of fast-running water and the other of thick, molten lava, is more than just polygons or graphical tricks, it's art. It's too bad this doesn't extend to other areas of the game. Azurik himself animates stiffly and unnaturally, and is about the only decent-looking character model in the game. His enemies are not only grainy and pixelated, but their design is atrocious, including duck-footed dragons about as fearsome as the Teletubbies. The music just hangs there, the sound effects feel out of place, and the embarrassing weapons effects are ripped straight from a first-generation Playstation game.
When Azurik sticks to the exploration theme, it is a truly compelling experience. Too often, however, Adrenium seems to have lost their nerve and stuck with the genre's clichs. Of course, Azurik has end-of-level bosses, but without any of the creativity that defined the epic battles in past adventure games such as The Legend Of Zelda and Soul Reaver. Like these adventure classics, the enemies do little except get in the way of completing puzzles, but Azurik compounds this by making them exasperatingly difficult to kill, requiring long chain combos even when you've picked the "correct" elemental power to use against them. Adrenium also wasted a big opportunity by opting for the old console tradition of erratically placed save points. The main reason console developers have stuck with these are memory limitations, so why not use the ultra-convenient 'save anywhere' option now that you've got a huge hard drive to work with?
In spite of Azurik's rookie mistakes, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good adventure. The main problem is the terrible opening; it is a lot to ask of someone that they spend two or three hours frustrated and confused before finally reaching the meat of the game. Regardless, it's a promising debut from Adrenium, and something they can build on with their next release. I too hope they are listening.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Violence
Parents will be hard-pressed to find any objectionable content in Azurik: Rise Of Perathia. I didn't notice any blood or gratuitous violence in the game. The worst thing parents will have to deal with is disappointed kids who are going to want a different game after an hour of playing it.
To all other interested gamers and consumers, save your money. Even renting is futile.