Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood Review

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Publisher: Stratgy First/Wanadoo
Developer: Spellbound Studios


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 4 MB video card, 900 MB HD space

Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood is a tactical action game that places you in the role of the Prince of Thieves; the one who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, the noblemen turned outlaw: Robin Hood himself. Young Robin of Locksley was a companion of King Richard the Lion-Heart during the crusades, and when King Richard was taken prisoner by Duke Leopold and held for ransom, Robin decided to return to England to help raise the necessary sum. To his horror and dismay, he found not only that his father had died, but that the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham had declared Robin dead during the crusades and dispossessed him all of his lands. The Sheriff was also inflicting hardship upon the people by imposing heavy taxes and ruling with an iron fist. Finding himself outlawed, Robin of Locksley joins with a group of rebels in Sherwood and becomes Robin Hood. He must fight, or more often avoid being caught by, the Sheriff's men; raise enough money for the ransom to bring King Richard back; and moreover, win the heart of the fair Maid Marian.

Rating:
Robin Kwong


It was about time that Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood came out. The last Robin Hood game I remember playing was Sierra's Conquest of the Longbow back in 1991, and since Commandos in 1998, the output of the (admittedly fairly narrow) genre of multi-character tactical action has been sporadic. Robin Hood is a solid game that fills this void adequately, and although it may not be groundbreaking conceptually, it is a well made, entertaining, and challenging game.

The player controls Robin Hood from a top down, isometric perspective. The game campaign and the plot progress as various missions are accomplished. There is usually a range of missions to choose from, and mission objectives range from ambushing a convoy, to infiltrating a castle to meet with Prince John. When the game begins, the player can only control Robin Hood. Soon, however, other familiar characters, such as Little John, Friar Tuck and Maid Marian, as well as a gaggle of fictitious "Merry Men", join Robin in his quest, and in later missions the player can control up to five characters. The Merry Men are split into three categories (mustachioed and wielding a bow; strong with a penchant for picking up and moving bodies; and aggressive, with a pitchfork). All the different characters possess a set of three different skills, and much of the joy of the game comes from figuring out different strategies for combining these skills.

A further dimension is added after mission two, when Robin acquires Sherwood Forest as a base. Many skills require the use of an item (ranging from an apple to a flask of ale). Sherwood Forest serves as a base for producing such resources and also as a stop off point between missions. These items are produced by assigning Merry Men, who are not going on the next mission, to the various types of production. The merry men can also train in combat and archery in Sherwood Forest – a rating of one to five sword or arrow icons shows their experience level. While it is graphically intuitive, resource production is, unfortunately, one of the weaker aspects of the game. Once you have more than five characters under your control, there is no real cost to production, since you cannot bring more than five characters with you on a mission anyway. Moreover, depending on your play style, you may soon find production outstripping your needs even before the game's halfway mark. You cannot sell the items and there is not much else that you can do with them.

Later on in the game, Robin must defend and lay siege to castles. This is accomplished when enough shields are gathered, and Robin can get these shields either by "paying" for it with money or Merry Men (they are sent to defend or attack, and presumably, get killed) or by accomplishing missions.

The strength of the game undoubtedly lies in these missions. There are eight different maps to play on, including historic locations such as Nottingham, York and Leicester. Each map is essentially a large puzzle where the player has to figure out how to avoid detection while accomplishing the objectives. This is no major departure from the traditional tactical action genre, but developer Spellbound does a good job improving on many of the little things. Three particular areas are:

  1. The Enemy AI: These soldiers are smart because they act more like real human beings. The same soldier will act differently depending on the circumstances and the player must likewise adjust. For example, a tactic you might try is to let a soldier see you, then run away so that he will follow into a trap set by the other four waiting characters. While this may still work on a solitary soldier, a soldier in a squadron will instead alert his commander, bringing a search party to your location. The enemy can notice and react not only to the presence of corpses or unconscious soldiers, but also to the absence of a sentry who is supposed to at his post.
  2. The Controls: They are intuitive and easy to grasp, and rise above the repetitive point-and-click. The game also lets one save up to three Quickactions for each character, which are then easily activated. This allows for elaborate planning of coordinated attacks and complicated tactics that would not otherwise be physically possible to pull off. This is especially important since there is no pause function during missions.
  3. Combat: Again, combat is more than just the usual pointing and clicking, and is actually a lot of fun and very responsive. Players control the specific attack made by each character by dragging and drawing across the screen. Draw a line from left to right and the character will swing from left to right; draw a circle and he will twirl around, hitting everybody around him. You can also hit your own characters or innocent civilians if they're standing too close.
Beyond these clear advancements, however, lie a few bits of unfinished business. The graphics and sound are decent, though nothing spectacular or remarkable. There are three difficulty settings and, although the game is not overly difficult on the whole, such difficulty as there is sometimes seems artificial. As a hero, it is not enough for Robin Hood to simply accomplish the objectives during the mission. He must do so while sparing as many lives as possible. If Robin kills too many people, then peasants will not join him as Merry Men. This means not only that combat must be avoided as far as possible, but also that certain skills and hence characters, are generally marginalized and little used. It also results in frequent saving and loading to ensure detection is avoided. Moreover, while one can manage to control five characters while planning and sneaking around in real-time, the lack of a pause function creates serious difficulties during combat. Each character has to be individually controlled during combat (you cannot select two characters and tell them both to jab), so things generally spin out of control when the steel is flashing and the arrows are flying.

The game also feels slightly limited. There is no multiplayer capability, and with only eight maps, difficulty increases through the game simply by virtue of more alert and harder to kill soldiers. What is there in Robin Hood is good, but there simply isn't enough diversity to sustain it for the whole game. The nature of the missions remain the same throughout; one cannot acquire better weapons or different skills; and the money that you rob is only really useful as a barometer for how much of King Richard's ransom has been accumulated. In fact, by mid to late game, the thing that motivates continued play is plot advancement.

Overall, Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood is a solid and entertaining game. It improves and refines, but breaks no significant grounds in the genre. On that basis, unless you've had your fill of Commandos or Desperados, Robin Hood is worth a purchase. This well-made representative of the tactical action genre is a welcome treat.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 9, 2002 5:57 PM.

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