Scourge of Worlds
Buried in the dusty technical specifications of DVD is the ability to add a limited game play to movies. The purpose was to permit interaction between the story unfolding on your screen and the audience. With Rhino’s Scourge of Worlds they present an interactive movie where according to the statement on the box 1,100 story line variations and six possible endings. An important distinction to make here is this is not a game; it makes no claim at all to be anything other than an interactive way to watch a movie.
The story is set in the Greyhawk universe of Dungeons & Dragons, which will actually mean something to the legion of fans of this genre of role playing games. Typical of D&D adventures there is a rag tag band of heroes that include elven wizard Mialee, the human warrior Regdar, and the halfling thief Lidda. Mialee exhibits the male-centric idealized female body partially shoved into the skimpiest of bikinis, just what the modern battle mage needs to engage in battle. The petite Lidda prefers to use her cunning and agile hands to steal and advantage instead of fighting while the over sized Regdar is quick to use any item available as a weapon. The animation presented here is rather good actually. You can see the beard stippling on male faces, the expressions are realistic and the movement while somewhat jagged at times is usually natural. The band is pulled into a supreme battle to save the world. A priest, Barathion has stolen the Aryx Orthian, a map that provides the means to obtain the Scourge, apparently a very powerful talisman. Rayne, a druid, is determined to use the Scourge to use as a gift for his evil master. The party is dispatched by the temple of Pelo to find Barathion and bring him back to account for his actions. To anyone not up on their D&D mythology the story line is somewhat muddled and confusing targeting this title for the hard core fan.
About every 5 minutes or so a menu appears that requires the viewer to decide which course of action must be taken. If the wrong action is selected the outcome is frequently the death of the party and the end of the game. Since the programmers have disabled most of the chapter selection options on this DVD you pretty much have to start over again to continue playing. I tried to set a bookmark and also tried going directly to a previous point in the film but it appears that these features have also been disabled. This does make play a bit tedious but this is not unheard of with other more game oriented titles. There where certain point where the program will let you skip back to a fatal decision. You see a Try Again banner and go back to the decision menu. While this gives you a nice ‘do over’ it is only good for the last decision, you can not navigate to previous points in the story.
The video of Scourge is basically good. Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 the colors are muted but consistent with the dank environment depicted in the story. The palette does brighten in well lit scenes giving a reasonable transition and excellent use of shadows. All of the video was computer generated and shows the typical downside of this young technology. While attention was given to some details there was still a plastic look to the skin of the characters. The movement of the mouths while presenting dialogue was artificial. The movements during battles did flow in a somewhat natural fashion but there was still an underlying feeling of being artificial. It’s difficult to explain but when you see it there is no mistaking the action for reality.
The audio was excellent. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack was rich and encompasses the room. In the battle scenes the rear speakers and sub woofer came to life and gave an extra punch to the audio. There was little in the way of ambient sounds in the film, the most you get is the growing of wolves or the clang of metal. The dialogue was clear and always understandable.
The story itself was straight forward with no character development provided. Now to be realistic this was most likely a by product of the format, since there where multiple pathways throughout the film it would be understandably difficult to work in any character arcs. Exposition is purposely restricted to scenes before a major decision branch. After going through the film several times it seemed that no mater what choices you make you always wind up at certain key points. Sometimes the decision will get you there a little faster but you end up pretty much in the same place. I found an old trick from my Apple Wizardry days helped here, make a map of the choices you where offered and which ones you accepted. When you find yourself back at the start it will help you breeze through familiar ground to get to where you really want to be. A few minutes with Google will get you a complete map but this will defeat the purpose here and after all where is the fun in that!
The special edition contains a second disc with a good selection of extras. First there is a linear version of the story. While many of the decision points are omitted it does give the whole story and if you watch carefully and take a few notes it may just help guide you through the interactive film. The usual static gallery is replaced with rotating 3D images of the main characters, creatures and scenery. There is also a behind the scenes featurette that shows the work required by a lot of computer graphics gurus and what was done to create this feature. Topping things off is a trivia game where correct answers will provide a few clips of the film.
Bottom line here is this is targeted at the true, dedicated D&D fan. Those that want a true action game will not be able to get into the correct mind set required to go through the entire story. It helps to remember that this is a fairly new use of DVDs and while flawed it was fun to go through.