|Title: Conan the Cimmerian
Synopsis: Released in 1991 by Virgin Interactive, Conan the Cimmerian is an RPG based on the works of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, everyone's favorite barbarian warlord. Taking its story more from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies rather than Howard's books, Conan's family is killed by Thoth Amon, an evil priest of the snake god Set. Naturally, Conan wants revenge. Based on the game's title screen, which depicts Conan standing on a pile of his slain enemies while holding a severed head, he will almost certainly get it.
The adventure starts in the huge city of Shadizar, an urban cesspool filled to the brim with cut throats, corrupt government officials, and thieves. Believe me, Conan will fit right in.
I've always been a big fan of Conan the Barbarian because he never really fit the picture of the traditional hero. Sure, he'd do away with sorcerous bad guys, but most of the time it wasn't just because they were spreading evil over the land. Usually it was because they had wronged him personally in some way, he wanted bloody revenge, or they were sitting on a big pile of money that Conan felt that he needed. He'd rescue beautiful damsels in distress too, but only because he wanted to have sex with them.
He was admittedly a great leader, but he'd come into positions of power usually by killing his predecessor. The more recent novels feature a kinder gentler Conan the Barbarian, but Howard's original vision of the man is preserved in this game. Playing as Conan, the gamer is free to wander around a huge city, killing and stealing at will. Before you reach your final objective, you will bribe locals, make deals with pirates and thieves, and pile up dozens of bodies.
Control in the game alternates between a top down view and a two dimensional side view when Conan enters a building or is attacked and must defend himself. The 2-D combat is fairly entertaining, but involves little skill on the player's part, just wild clicking to make Conan cut his enemy to pieces with his sword. To dispatch his foes, Conan can choose from three fighting styles: chop, swing, and thrust. Initially he can only fight with one style, but as the game progresses, Conan can pay a master swordsman to teach him the remaining two styles. Each adversary in the game is best defeated by one specific fighting style, so unfortunately there no reason to switch your technique mid-fight. Conan is relatively weak at first, but as the game progresses, he will become much stronger, able to defeat any enemy with ease.
Sword-play in Conan the Cimmerian, while not very challenging, does make for some fairly amusing moments. This game is filled with wanna-be thugs who would have trouble beating up their own grandmothers, let alone a hulking barbarian killing machine. Yet all of them want to pick a fight with the big guy. One of the most common enemies you'll find on the steets of Shadizar is the common thief, typically a five foot tall man armed with a knife. Conan in this game is at least six feet tall, and is always armed with a broad sword, yet the midgets always pick fights. What the hell are these guys thinking?
So fighting in this title isn't all that great. Luckily, it's not Conan the Cimmerian's main draw. Virgin Interactive was able to put out a top-quality RPG, with literally hundreds of people to talk to and places to visit. The city of Shadizar, where much of the game takes place, is huge in terms of size and detail. Though this game is often forgotten, Conan adventures in a city that is could easily be compared with Ultima's Britannia. Shadizar is bustling with activity. Men and women navigate the city's streets, all with something to say, though few of them have any useful information. Most of them strongly chastise you for bothering them, or even insult you outright. In my opinion, this is dumber than dog shit. If a huge, filthy and heavily armed man stopped me asking for basic information, I probably wouldn't tell him to fuck off. Oh well. The great thing about this game is, if they sass you, you can always cut their head off.
Exploring the city is a lot of fun, but it's not all that's available outside of the main quest to occupy Conan's time. There are quite a few interesting side quests that Conan can pursue. These quests are fun and interesting, worth several hours of additional game time. Conan can be hired by priests in temples all over Shadizar.
Graphically, the game is superb. By 1991 standards, Conan the Cimmerian is a visual masterpiece. The detail of the character sprites and backgrounds is astounding. Every place you visit in the game is unique; no two houses are the same. The MIDI music is also very well done. Every tune is catchy and memorable. I could probably hum the battle music from memory right now. While sound effects are lacking at best, they detract little from the game's overall fun level.
Despite a few minor flaws, Conan the Cimmerian is a very satisfying game to play. It has always been a wonder to me as to why this game never took off. In any event, if you are a fan of Robert E. Howard or the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, find this game online and play it today.
I give it five out of five stars.
Game Play: 10
Overall Rating: 10
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