Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood

1844
Genre: Strategy
Format: CD
Developer: Spellbound Studios
Mac Port: e.p.i.c. Interactive Entertainment (the source of these screen captures)
U.S. Distributor: Freeverse Software
Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.2, 300MHz G3, 128MB RAM, 8MB video card, 1GB hard drive space
Review Computer: 1 GHz G4 17" PowerBook, 512MB RAM, Mac OS X v10.3.7
Network Feature: No
Price: $29.95
ESRB Rating: N/A
Availability: Now
Official Website: [url=http://www.robinhood-game.com]http://www.robinhood-game.com[/url]
Demo: macgamefiles.com

At the risk of upsetting the majority of my readers, I'm going to make the following statement: Thank God this game wasn't made in the United States. There are a lot of good games being developed by U.S. companies right now, don't get me wrong, but truth of the matter is that they never, ever get games right when they're based on legendary characters...especially when that legend hails from overseas. This isn't just a problem with game developers, it goes right back to movie/cartoon makers, authors and musical theater composers.

Want proof? Did anyone see the recent King Arthur? Of course not, and for good reason. Do you remember when Disney remade The Three Musketeers in the early 90s? No. Not even the cast. But, of course, who could forget Kevin Costner's abysmal Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? Certainly not anyone who ever once enjoyed a Robin Story, for they've never forgiven that movie for tainting their view of their hero.

It's the words "modern retelling" that always make me run in fear from such movies. Actually, I think it's just "modern." I have nothing against stories being retold...that's how legends are made. But Americans have this nasty habit of trying to "contemporize" everything in an effort to reach a larger, hipper audience, and it rarely (if ever) works.

I'm thrilled to say that such is not the case with Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood. Here is a game developed by the German company Spellbound Studios that holds true to the source material, for the most part, allowing the game to be carried by the characters and stories that also carried the legend into the 21st century. Although there are a few failed attempts to make the game funny, fans of Robin Hood will be pleased to know the title character doesn't have an American accent, Marian doesn't have a modern "sassy" attitude, and Little John and Friar Tuck aren't reduced to comic relief.

But enough of my senseless ranting, how about the game itself? It's fun. Quite fun, in fact, but maybe not for long. Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood plays like a Fallout or Baldur's Gate game stripped of the RPG elements and the focus on weapons/spells. You'll get a better summation of the story here than I'm willing to type up in this review, but suffice it to say you'll go on many missions to rescue many people, steal money from the tax merchants and unite the people who will become your Merry Men.

The game consists of two types of missions: ambush and strategic. Ambush missions simply involve figuring out the best way to steal money from a convoy without getting caught. Strategic missions involve much more work and planning, and can be anything from rescuing a person from the gallows to defending a castle from attack, along with the option to complete numerous side quests. These are the missions that carry the plot forward. Complete this missions without killing too many people and you'll be rewarded with new recruits. Ambush missions, on the other hand, simply give you money.

Between missions, you'll find Robin and his Merry Men in Sherwood Forest where characters can train for combat, create weapons and medicines, and even brew up some beer. However, all of this happens while you're out on a strategic mission. So, if you want Stutely to gather some apples or Wil Scarlet to train in combat, you have to leave them behind during a strategic mission.

More than anything else, both types of missions require stealth and strategy. Sure, you can easily kill your enemies with arrows or swords, but that won't do much to help Robin's reputation, will it? So, combat, for the most part, involves distracting opponents and sneaking up from behind them to knock them out, tie them up and hide them somewhere. Some missions also provide various traps you can utilize. Of course, there are many times when it'll come down fisticuffs. There, you can either allow the characters to hold their own or you can control them with the mouse. The mouse control provides better results, of course, and it's quite simple to use: hold down the button and drag the mouse in various directions to attack in different ways. You can also take a defensive stance to parry your opponent's blows. You can control any of your available characters while fighting, and each has his (or her, Marian) own unique capabilities. Some are efficient in killing, which you don't want, so knowing who to use when is important. For instance, I found it useful to bait the enemies with Little John. While he was fending them off, I'd sneak Robin Hood behind them to knock them out, then use Friar Tuck to tie them up.

You can chain together certain commands for your characters, then have them executed by simply clicking a button above the characters' picture. This is tremendously helpful when you have to do a lot in a quick period of time, but it can get annoying in that the buttons sometimes don't seem responsive, causing your characters to miss their commands when you're sure you clicked. Also, they sometimes seem to drop what they're supposed to be doing. I'd program Robin to knock a guy out and program Little John to pick him up. When executing these commands, Robin would do what he was supposed to, but Little John would just stand next to the unconscious body, doing nothing. Not much point in programming such actions if the characters aren't smart enough to figure out what to do with them.

As you're allowed a maximum of five characters per mission (less, sometimes), you have to pick who you'll take along before each starts. It's therefore wise to save just before leaving Sherwood, or to even find a walkthrough that'll make suggestions on who to take. And speaking of saving, I did run into some rough times on one level. While attempting to save Wil Scarlet, my saved games would become corrupt while saving, so I'd lose the progress of the game I was saving over. This happened at least 50% of the time, and almost destroyed any incentive I had to finish the game. Oddly, this only happened on that single mission. I had no problems with saved games either before or after rescuing Wil.

Now, there are over 30 missions in the game, but gameplay itself is not that varied. The ambush missions all have pretty much the same feel, while the strategy missions often take place in the same setting (differentiated by objectives, placement of enemies, time of day and weather conditions). It's not a major problem, but people used to the epic locales of Baldur's Gate and Fallout may find the lack of scenery exasperating.

On the other hand, the scenery is quite attractive. The graphics are dated, but still look better than many recent games with similar locales. The detail is fantastic, from wildlife to running brooks, and the castles feel quite majestic and, at times, oppressive. You know, just like castles should feel. The main characters are smoothly animated and easily distinguished, although the enemy soldiers and some of the Merry Men do look and sound exactly alike. The ambient sounds and music are both top of the line, doing a good job of drawing you into the game. The dialog, however, can get quite annoying because both the player characters and the non-player characters repeat themselves incessantly. I was half tempted to kill many beggars just so I wouldn't have to hear, "Alms, my good lord, alms," one more time.

All that aside, Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood is a great game, and I'm glad to see it made it to the Mac, even this late. The game's not perfect, but it gets an awful lot correct...right down to the fact that you don't need to insert the CD to play the game, making it a great way to kill time on your PowerBook when you're away from home. It does get repetitious, but the story is often enough to pull you through to the next level. Fans of Robin Hood will be pleased. Fans of computer games in general? Well, if you liked Fallout but didn't care for the turn-based gameplay, or if you liked Baldur's Gate but didn't care for the overabundance of spells and weapons, then Robin Hood may be exactly for what you've been looking. Me? I'll just offer this. Next time Hollywood wants to turn out a Robin Hood movie, I suggest the producers let Spellbound Studios develop the whole thing. They got it right.

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