Already winning the contest for the longest name in a video game category, The Lost Legends Of Redwall: The Scout – Act One came from the developers with a list of requirements about information that must be included in the introduction. So, as I’m all about following the rules, here goes with the contractually required part of the review. The game, whose title I’m not going to type out again as we have a word limit on reviews, is a proud collaboration between Soma Games, self described as “an indie game development company”, Redwall Abbey Company Ltd and Penguin Random House UK, publishers who need no introduction.
This first installment of The Lost Legends Of Redwall is available on Xbox One, PC via Steam and soon PS4. Redwall is a series of books written by the sadly deceased Brian Jacques, who had gone on record as saying he didn’t want his creation turned into a video game, but Soma Games managed to persuade him otherwise and he was apparently fully on board prior to his passing in 2011. Soma Games have placed the game in the Winter before the events in the first Redwall book, and the stories in the games are not going to be remakes of the novels, but rather new stories that take place in the universe of the Redwall books. Some characters may be familiar in the books, but the cast is largely new in the games. That being said, I’ve never read a Redwall book, and so I walked into this game with a childlike sense of wonder, of being about to have a new experience.
Initial impressions are very good, with a series of beautifully drawn still images introducing the story. The voice acting is very good indeed, with a real pride going into the delivery of even the smallest of lines. I almost can’t express how good these voice actors are; the wise mouse has real gravitas, the annoying child mouse really sounds like he needs a good slap, and so on. So, it looks good, and sounds good, and as the game begins, it’s clear that real thought has gone into the story, as there is ample explanation available should you choose to follow the branching conversations to their conclusions.
When we begin a new game, we are asked to choose one of two mice, either Sophia or Liam, both of whom are training to join the elite Mouse Militia, The Scouts. And just to add that little frisson of extra danger, that little bit of spice, the two mice are also betrothed to each other. I chose to follow the story of Sophia, and as the world expanded and I took control of a mouse for the first time, it was sadly here that the wheels started to fall off.
First off, the most dangerous enemy you will face in this entire game is not any of the Vermin or Rat Pirates you may come across, the most dangerous thing, the thing that “killed” me the most, was the camera. For a start, the camera is way too close to the subject, and when you are scampering around, at quite high speed for a mouse, the camera is almost useless, as there is no time to react to anything. Trying to get to Hilltop Camp, as the first mission entails, means you have to climb and jump, run and balance across thin branches. Or, as I discovered in my attempts to climb to the top of the hill, it means you have to run, miss the thin branch, and then fall off to your demise.
Luckily, as this is a family game, grisly mouse related deaths are not depicted, as the narrators merely say “Did that really happen?” and you are reset prior to your mistake. So, gingerly edging across a narrow branch and trying to see what is happening, I made it to the next section, which appeared to be some planks nailed to the wall of the mountain. “I’ll clearly have to jump to those!”, I thought, proud of my deductive reasoning, and sent poor Sophia leaping through the air. She hit the side of the plank, and it was then I discovered that the wood had apparently been greased, as she slid straight off and fell, again. Eventually I made it to the camp, but already I had a bad taste in my mouth, as the journey was a lot more difficult than it needed to be. Just so we are clear, its difficulty has nothing to do with the challenge of the gameplay, it’s down to poor game design and dodgy mechanics.
So, the gameplay is lacking, even in the early stages. When you get to the camp, things don’t improve. There are a series of three tests that have to be completed before your chosen mouse is able to join The Scouts. There is a test of stealth, a test of smelling, and a test of finding things. So far, so promising, and the smell mechanic sounds intriguing. Sadly, it’s as broken as the running and jumping mechanics. As you look at the screen, you’ll see what looks like coloured wind blowing about the place, in different colours. This is the basis of the smell mechanic. Each mouse can learn smells, like carrots or corn, and each mouse has a scent as well, so Laban smells green. Holding down the sense button allows our mouse to concentrate and see what they can smell, allowing them to see mice or enemies through walls and so on. Interestingly, if you try to move while concentrating, your mouse will slide around the screen without moving their legs, which looks amusing.
Next, after trying to smell my way through a test, I decided to try stealth. Now, I’m usually about as stealthy as a bull in a china shop wearing ballet slippers, but I really wanted this to work. And it does, to a degree. You are lead by the hand through a maze, shown how to distract a mechanical rat with a slingshot, and how to hide in the undergrowth. A nice graphical touch here, finally, in that when your character is in concealment, they become transparent, so it’s easy to see when you are hidden. Stealth involves crouching, basically, which make Sophia move like she has an advanced case of arthritis, and also makes snails wonder why shes moving so slow. On the plus side, the camera sort of works when crouching as the game slows down, so small mercies and all that…
The test of finding things is just plain annoying, if you’ll allow me to be blunt. Basically, you have to find four points on a map, and when you have found them, use the coordinates on the map to look through your spyglass and find a small package on the floor, which is helpfully sparkling. Sadly, the map doesn’t contain any indication of where you are on it, so trying to relate what you can see with a pencil drawn map is pad-bitingly frustrating. Made all the more so by the ability to pick up these sparkling packages before even being given the task, leaving you try and work out which ones you have and have not found, as there’s no hint on the map.
Graphically, the game is a mess, which graphics that an Xbox 360 would be embarrassed by. The draw distance is crippling, with trees popping into existence as you get close to them, and then branches popping into view as you get even closer. The light sources that seem to light the place up appear to be all over the place, with random glows in the trees being really off putting. Some bushes on the ground can be run through, but some can’t, and having all forward momentum taken away by a bush that you could swear you could waltz through is annoying. Invisible walls? Yep, they are all present and correct, and best of all the mouse you control will do her wall climb and scramble animation on the invisible walls, leaving her sliding down thin air and looking absolutely ridiculous. There are also some invisible platforms to find and stand on, which again appears to be defying gravity. The graphics have a real muddy quality, with many shades of brown on display, and it’s just really not good enough in this day and age.
The saving grace is the voice acting, as I reported at the top of the review, and the story of the game does seem to be promising, but the crippling gameplay mechanics hamstring it before it can really get going. Most disappointingly of all, for a game aimed at the whole family, it’s just not any fun to play.
In conclusion, I can’t recommend The Lost Legends Of Redwall: The Scout – Act One to anyone other than absolutely rabid fans of the Redwall stories, and even then, try before you buy. Bad graphics, bad gameplay, poorly executed mechanics line up against an interesting story and great voice acting, and with this being a game, the scales of this review can only come down one way. While I would like to see more of the story, in the presumed follow ups Act Two and so on, I just can’t gather any enthusiasm to actually play them.