There are times during The First Templar when you will think you are drunk. When the bad voice acting, clunky graphics and swirling camera all kick in at the right time, your head will start to spin and you’ll think that maybe you shouldn’t have eaten than sandwich at lunch. You’ll lurch onwards though, attacking knights and footmen, swinging your enormous sword and gallantly not asking any questions until it’s too late. That’s because, in spite of everything it throws at you, The Last Templar is still an awful lot of fun.
The game is a third person historical hack and slasher that casts you in the role of a templar called Celian d’Aristide. He sports a beard, looks a bit like he should be in an Assassin’s Creed game and has no sense of humour whatsoever. You work your way through historically accurate locations, murdering lots and lots of people as you do, striving to find the final resting place of the Holy Grail. There are conspiracies to disentangle, loyalties to win and friends to leave in dungeons along the way too.
You’ll constantly have a companion at your side as you bludgeon and stab your way through medieval forests, dungeons and cities. It’ll either be Roland, a taciturn and violent templar who has the obligatory cool scar through his eye, or Marie, a noble woman branded a heretic by the Inquisition who is alarmingly good at stabbing things in the back. At any time during play, a friend can jump in and take on the role of your companion, allowing you to traverse the wilds of sort of accurate 13th century history together.
Violence lies at the core of the game, and whilst the mechanic isn’t as fluid as say, God of War, it still packs a comforting and satisfying crunch. Swords clang and clash and men taunt and grunt at one another, until with the inevitability of the ticking of the clock, you stick a blade into one of them and move on to the next. You can block and dodge attacks, and the more people you murder, the more XP you get to spend on upgrading your fighting prowess or your damage soaking abilities.
The combat does lack that intuitive rhythm that the very best hack and slashers do so well. When compared with the likes of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, the game feels like it’s wading through a sea of syrup, but it still offers a decent enough challenge. Whilst there may not be too many nuances to discover along the way, there’s still something gratifying about watching one of the poorly animated final kill sequences where Celian jumps around and tries to stick his sword through part of an enemy’s body.
Alongside the endless slaughter of identikit sword fodder, the game also rewards exploration. There are side quests and objects to find in each of the levels you play, and if you manage to collect them all you’re rewarded more XP to spend on your abilities. The skill trees aren’t as detailed or well thought out as those you’ll find in other games, but you will have to choose between toughening up your templar and improving the ways he can disembowel strangers.
Visually, the game is stuck between the last and current generations. It features some nice effects and the engine is reasonably sturdy, but characters still walk like they’ve been brutally attacked from behind in a prison shower, cloaks clip through solid objects and sword blows that dispatch their target don’t find purchase in the polygonal models they’re meant too. It’s not distracting as such, but somehow manages to add to the charm that the game exudes. It’s not one of the big boys, it knows it’s not one of the big boys, and to be perfectly honest it doesn’t care.
The voice acting too leaves a lot to be desired, as do the facial animations. The soundtrack is probably the most impressive thing about the game, and it sounds almost exactly as you’d imagine it sounds. Orchestral swells, ominous booms and different, recognisable themes for each of the locations you visit on your quest for the grail. The First Templar is like a classic B-movie, an appetiser for the main feature with shoddy scenery and a gruff bearded man who’s not attractive enough to make it to the big leagues, but doesn’t mind slumming it because he still gets paid.
If you’re looking for a game to fill a yawning gap in your life, then The First Templar isn’t for you. It’s not a game that’s going to be talked about for years to come, nor is it going to win awards for its originality or bravery. What it is is a brutal, brief hack and slasher that you can play with a mate whilst quaffing cheap booze and laughing at its absurdities. Games don’t always have to be art, they don’t always have to challenge the way we think about digital entertainment. Sometimes, they can just be about hitting things, findings things, then hitting some more things.
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