By: Jeff Cater
Aksys Games and Black Tower Studios have released the action/RPG hybrid Magus for the PlayStation 3. Best known for titles like BlazBlue and Record of Agarest War 2, Aksys’ foray into the third-person genre might have been an ill-fated turn.
No matter what, the controls are very slippery. Although you can change the sensitivity, the movement and look-spring are all over the damn place. By default, the attacks are bound to the shoulder buttons, but that felt a bit muddy so luckily you can switch your primary and secondary powers to the R2/L2 buttons.
The face buttons do little more than open a door or draw power from various rocks lying about the environment, so don’t get your hopes up for any platforming action as there’s no jumping or anything like that to worry about. Pressing X when enemies are close to you will activate a “knockback” so you can give yourself a little bit of breathing room if you find yourself swamped, but most of the time you’ll just be holding R1 or R2 and moving the sticks in various directions to play keep-away.
Magus feels visually unfinished; enemies slide in semi-circles around you, legs unmoving, and the main character’s animation set is limited and doesn’t lend well to your character’s pedigree. Even though you’re supposedly a superior human-god, you choose to bound around like the Hulk on a rampage, and at any given time it feels like the character will come to fisticuffs, but it never happens. Enemy varieties look decent enough, and any AI characters you encounter actually have a decent amount of detail.
Environments, on the other hand, are none too spectacular. Every stage is bereft of detail and coated in very basic, repetitious textures. The first texture you see upon entering a level is likely to be liberally splatted on damned near everything throughout the duration of any stage.
Getting back to the main character, he looks like a placeholder model in any of those 3D rendering programs like Bryce or 3D Studio Max, which is baffling because seemingly every other character in the game has much more personality and work put into their persona.
As long as you close your eyes while playing this game, it could almost be confused for a triple-A title! Aside from the generic grunts and death noises of people and pottery, the voice acting is actually pretty well done so I know it isn’t these guys’ fault. Most of your magical attacks sound akin to guns from the Doom or Quake series, which is more than a touch out of place.
This is where it gets things pretty “ugh.” Magus is an action game with very light RPG elements like dialogue trees and skill point placement, but the trouble begins before any of this is established. The game literally opens up with a guy (Magus) walking into a room, some dudes walking up behind him, and then Magus just turns around and blasts them with energy balls. No words exchanged, just a crazy smile and the glow of magic death.
The story is that our main-man Magus is actually a god of sorts, trapped in a prison for all of eternity with no apparent reason — well, other than the fact that he’s got a baaaaaaad attitude and a potty-mouth.
Given the time period I interpreted from this game given environmental details and clothing styles, it’d have to be in the days of “We don’t have words and terms like shithole, yet. At least our gods aren’t running around saying that, anyways.” Or so I thought. Magus the character comes off like a hard ass, hell-bent brat thanks to the chat options given during character interactions, and people still treat him like his holiness. Anyway, the story is pretty much scrapable.
Throughout the game you’ll encounter repetitious enemy types, so repetitious that you’ll rarely encounter more than two types of enemies on any given map. Every single one of these jerks can be dispatched by kiting them behind you as you run backwards melting their faces off with either red, blue, or green magic.
Differences between the three are not immediately apparent or effectively different at all. R1 will be a basic, or weak, shot, whereas L1 will be a stronger blast or stream. Switching between the different schools of magic is an absolute pain, as it takes the navigation of menus to do so. Leveling up has no really apparent effect, either, as enemies never really take anything more than 10 or 15 more seconds to kill than the last guy.
You can find a few neat pieces of loot though that diminish the hideous visage that is the main character, but there’s almost no drive to do so because the game is just so clumsy to play effectively. Whether you’re fine tuning the sensitivity or stumbling through the menus to level up, it’s never intuitive. The whole time it really felt like I was playing a mobile game that was ported to a console, and that the developers just tossed their hands up at certain points and said “I guess!” a lot.
Magus would probably be one of the best games of the year if it were strictly released on mobile phones. Unfortunately, in the console world it just doesn’t measure up.