Viking: Battle for Asgard

boyward - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: Xbox 360 (Microsoft)
Produced by: Creative Assembly / Sega
Price Range: $21-30
Learning curve time: 1-30 min.
Age level: Mature Teen to Adult
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Reviewed By: Phil Rownd (boyward)
STAFF REVIEWER

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆
Genre: Action
Christian Rating: 2 of 5 (poor)
Gameplay: 4 of 5 (good)
Violence: 1 of 5 (extreme)
Adult Content: 4 of 5 (barely present)


Viking: Battle for Asgard.  Illustration copyrighted.


Viking: Battle for Asgard is a hack-n-slash action adventure game steeped in Norse mythology. The war between the gods has spilled into the human world of Midgard, and the forces of good have placed their hope in the Viking warrior Skarin, their champion, the last hope for the mortal realm. Viking is one of the best hack-n-slash adventures to come along in recent years, and it is certainly the best yet to appear on next-generation consoles. But a number of glitches and a lack of innovation in the latter hours hold Viking back from true greatness. Viking's gameplay and offensive content are comparable to Fable and God of War, with the main hangups being excessive gore and constant references to the Norse gods.

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Hel, Queen of the Underworld, sent her invading Legion to conquer the mortal realm of Midgard and she has succeeded on a grand scale. Seeing mankind in such a helpless position, the Goddess Freya is forced to resurrect Skarin, in hopes that he might bring hope back to his fellow man and turn the tide of battle in their favor. Skarin is not so mighty that he can single-handedly wade into the swarms of Legion enemies that serve Hel. No, the Legion are much too powerful for that. Instead, Viking presents a war effort in which Skarin's actions in certain areas can both cripple the Legion while also strengthening the tactical advantages of your own army.

The idea of a “war effort” means there's a nice variety of stealthy sabotage missions that have Skarin creeping around in the rain dropping Legion in the dark, messing with their fortifications, liberating their Viking captives, and recovering supplies for the mortal army. These stealth missions can get intense, because if the Legion Horn Blowers are alerted to your presence, you'll soon be overwhelmed by an entire patrol and forced to retreat or fight. But should you prevail, once you've sufficiently turned the tide of war in your favor, you can face the Legion head on in battle alongside those loyal captives you freed.

Several weeks ago I posted a review for another hack-n-slash game entitled Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom, which I criticized for depressing me with its gloomy presentation. Viking is a much more enjoyable experience because of the redemption you see unfolding before you. When you clear an area of Legion, the rain stops and Midgard is restored to its original beauty. The birds come out to sing. Your army grows and the rescued Vikings thank you. Hel's clouds are replaced with the sunshine and the world literally becomes a brighter place. In a way, Skarin is a picture of our own Savior who delivers us from the oppression of our old master (Romans 6-7).

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I immediately liked the silent warrior Skarin. His lumbering gait and the way his muscled arms sheath his axe and sword after a battle make him come alive more than most game heros. Skarin himself is built like a chiseled hunk of well-oiled muscle. I also liked the way he instinctively takes a lower stance when Legion come near. The inclusion of a jump button makes for some acrobatic combat as well as some basic Lara Croft-style leaping and cliff-hanging.

Midgard itself is a sight to behold. Gorgeous vistas overlooking autumn forests, a wooden rope bridge is suspended across a mountain ravine next to a waterfall that flows into a rolling ocean. The sight of a dragon shadow falling across the hills and knowing that dragon has come to help your army is thrilling. I found myself often stopping just to take it all in.

I was also pleased with the rock solid voice acting. These guys really sound like grizzled veterans of Viking warfare.

The soundtrack also put me in the warring mood with its pounding percussion and bombastic brass. When Skarin instinctively goes into stealth mode the music is replaced with the sound of thunder, rain, and a choir of crickets.

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What's strange about all this beauty is how quiet it is. Viking's audio is almost muted. The aforementioned waterfall is silent until you stand directly under it. When Skarin kicks a rusty metal gate open there is the completely unsatisfying sound of– nothing. An explosive charge blowing up gives off little more than a “poof”. Skarin's enemies are also strangely quiet, barely making so much as a peep even during combat. Whether the audio is buggy, poorly mixed, or the developers simply ran out of time or money to do the sound right, it's a noticeable flaw. You'll have to turn the volume way up, that's for sure.

There are other clues that Sega released the game before it was ready, such as the geometric lines that mysteriously appear on the mountainside. Another time I was supposed to untie some Vikings whom I had untied before the game told me to, so when I “untied” them a second time they fell down, then got up and cheered. Weird. And while the boss battles and army wars are lots of fun, there is usually so much happening that the game can't keep up, and slowdown plagues the action.

Technical problems aside, Viking's most glaring flaw becomes most evident after you've finished the first world and you realize you have to do the same exact thing again in a new part of Midgard: freeing Vikings and then leading them into battle. In other words, Viking: Battle for Asgard gives a terrific first impression, but eventually wears out its welcome, falling into a tedious pattern. Imagine awesome beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage or TMNT IV overstaying their welcome by 5 or 6 hours and you have an idea of how Vikings ends. I suggest renting it, if you can stomach the offensive content:

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VIOLENCE
There is no option to tone down the blood or gore, so what I am about to mention is unavoidable. Skarin's axe and sword effectively cleave off arms and legs on pretty much every foe he faces. Once an enemy gets something amputated, the player can press a button to pull off a fatality. Heads are hewn from their shoulders. Torsos are hacked loose from their waists. Entrails fly from gutted Legion. Foes are impaled and bludgeoned, often in slow motion so the player can relish the carnage. The game coaches you to “spill the wretch's blood! Show your might!” Legion corpses, being demons, vanish after death, presumably going back to the underworld. Skarin can leap atop a stunned boss and repeatedly stab him through the face or base of the neck with his bloody sword. Blood flies everywhere. Legion soldiers are seen brutalizing their captives and pilfering the dead for spoils. The headless corpses of your fallen allies lie strewn all around Midgard. Skarin can kill his enemies as they sleep. The one thing that takes the edge off of this violence is the fact that, like Fable before it, the character models give off a plastic sheen, so while it's excessively bloody it doesn't come off as realistic.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT
The backstory involves Vikings who left the world of mortals and were called to the afterlife in Valhalla. Skarin, having been mortally wounded, is resurrected by Freya. The Shaman Asta must be consulted for “spiritual guidance” (she tells you where to go when you start the game). There is talk that Skarin may be possessed by a spirit or a demon. Freed prisoners gratefully thank Freya for her deliverance. You can learn new moves from the Fallen Warriors of Valhalla (dead Vikings). Skarin can use Fire, Ice, and Lightning magic attacks.

SEXUAL CONTENT
Freya shows cleavage and Hel's clothing covers only her most private parts.

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LANGUAGE
We hear the name of “Hel” a lot.

ALCOHOL
Skarin collects kegs of mead for a merchant. After liberating a distillery, alcohol can be ignited and used as “flame pots” against Legion. The Chief Distiller talks fondly about the power of a good drink.

Overall, I'm less excited about Viking now than I was when I first began playing. The first impression packs a whallop even from the impressive title screen that shows thousands of Viking soldiers lumbering across a suspension bridge with fire lighting up the night sky behind them. The redemptive theme of winning Midgard back to its rightful citizens also rings true. But as the gameplay gradually settles into an all-too-familiar rhythm, the latter hours of the game tend to get tedious. Factor in the excessive gore and mythology and you have a adventure that has the makings of greatness, but stops short.

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Year of Release — 2007

[tags] 2.5 stars, Action, Xbox 360 (Microsoft), M (Mature), Creative Assembly, Sega [/tags]

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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