There has been something of a backlash against the current crop of ‘re-masters’ and re-releases currently flooding the market (the PS4 appears to be particularly culpable), but you know what, I haven’t heard so much as a grumble aimed towards Omega Force’s recently released Bladestorm: Nightmare. Why? Because it’s so good? Probably not. It’s much more likely that 99% of the gaming public have absolutely no idea that this game (well, a large part of it anyway) was initially released to an array of shrugged shoulders on PS3 and 360 back in 2007.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad game then, and it’s not a bad game now, but despite a handful of improvements and a much needed sprucing up of the decidedly last-gen visuals, Bladestorm: Nightmare is likely to be remembered about as fondly as the 2007 original. Some will inevitably love the games odd combination of tactical gameplay and relatively immediate action, and even more will enjoy the extremely Japanese and often unintentionally hilarious take on English/French military history, but make no mistake, this is a hard game to love and the majority will probably be put off long before the game truly has a chance to come into its own.
But come into its own it does. This is a slow burn and will take fans of Omega Force’s traditional Musou-style gameplay a little while to get into the swing of things, but despite the tactical trappings, this really is a Musou game at heart. Rather than running about the battlefield on your own, singlehandedly decimating legions of opposing soldiers, here, while fundamentally controlling one character, you will need to take control of different military units as you use your combined might to, well, decimate legions of opposing soldiers. Sure, you can run around on your own, but things quickly become apparent that your personally created hero is no Dynasty Warrior style super human – go into battle on your own and you’ll soon find yourself decidedly dead on your own. Lone wolfing it really isn’t an option here with the aim to move from unit to unit as you make your way across the very familiar Dynasty Warrior-style mini-map.
Be it spears, sword and shield, cavalry or archery units, the basic controls remain the same. Triggers are used to bring your unit into formation and to dish out standard attacks while the face buttons are saved for 3 special abilities that are unique to each unit (even if the result of each are much the same). In terms of tactical control, well, that’s about it. As the game progresses, you unlock additional team members who you can swap between on the battlefield or even bring together to essentially create one single super unit, but honestly, other than picking out your unit, the actual combat isn’t that far removed from what Omega Force have been delivering for years.
That’s no bad thing though – sure, those expecting Total War on PS4 will be hugely disappointed, but traditional tactics based games rarely work on consoles and this, despite its issues, works rather well as something of a pleasant middle ground. It definitely leans more heavily on the side of combat than tactics, but switching between units depending on the situation can be a rewarding experience – especially on the higher difficulty levels. On the standard setting, you can actually fall back on repetitive commands as you gradually upgrade both your own soldier and the power of the units under your command, but crank the difficulty up to hard and you’re going to have to put a little more thought into battling other units and making the required ground within the uniquely tight timeframes.
You see, rather than the usual mission set-up, here you get a few hours each day to complete what is essentially a mercenary contract that you pick at the local tavern. Rather than ploughing your way through the whole map, you will have a specific goal that you will need to complete amidst the much larger battlefield in the time permitted. Not only does this unique structure have an interesting effect on the pacing of the game, but it is also linked to one of Bladestorm: Nightmare’s more unique twists on the standard Musou template. Rather than simply fighting on one side, you are left to swap back and forth between the French and English armies, picking up jobs on either side as you see fit. It’s a potentially thought-provoking approach to video game warfare and the story does at least try to throw up some interesting questions about the meaning of battle, but thanks to some truly horrendous dialogue and even worse voice acting (think Russell Crowe in Robin Hood while suffering from concussion and you’re halfway there), the story and any attempt at historical accuracy or moral ambiguity ultimately fail to have any discernible impact……other than comedic that is.
Still, terrible dialogue aside, Bladestorm: Nightmare can and will provide plenty of entertainment if you let it. If anything, thanks to the complete abandonment of common sense, it’s the all new, Nightmare campaign that truly sees the game in its best light. Here, rather than a failed attempt at vague historical recreation, history and reality are both gleefully abandoned in favour of a brilliantly daft story that sees Joan of Arc take on the role of villain as she embarks on a reign of terror via her command of ogres, goblins and dragons. This inevitably brings England and France together for a battle against a greater evil, and given the aforementioned dialogue, is a tonally superior fit to the failed attempt at historical accuracy. Here, with its overblown characters and absurd story, the dialogue, and heck, even the accents, seem to make more sense. Put it this way; it’s hard to get caught up with the accuracy of regional dialects when you’re faced with a horde of ogres.
With an additional fantasy-based campaign added to the more historically accurate original (I use the term ‘accurate’ very loosely), Bladestorm: Nightmare, despite being fundamentally the same game as that released back in 2007, is nothing if not generous with its content. This is essentially two games in one, but while the aim may have always been to create a more realistic game in the Musou series, it is unquestionably at its best when it sets aside such foolish follies and fully embraces the absurd. The smart combination of arcade style combat and traditional tactical battles ensures that the game is always entertaining, but be warned, this won’t be for everyone, and even those who do submit to its somewhat unique charms will still have to look past its terrible voice acting and low-rent visuals.
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