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Untold Legends: The Warrior's Code

"If you are trying to find a hack & slash game to fill up some time between other games, this is going to get the job done for you."

Franchises are a tough proposition. Any developer can claim they're developing one, but does saying so make it so? And if your franchise consists only of a set of not-very-well-reviewed games, doesn't that limit your ability to develop further titles and franchises in the same genre in the future? Maybe so, and maybe not, but that's probably not the best thing to focus on in a review, even if the questions do apply to the game being reviewed.

Untold Legends: The Warrior's Code (TWC) is the second in what is thus far a trilogy of action RPGs from Sony, none of which have garnered the best of reviews. As I've mentioned in other reviews, I love the hack & slash subgenre, so I was bound to buy it, good reviews or not. I've played all three games in the series, and defying all predictions about the second entry in any trilogy, this one may be the best of the bunch. The question is: is that saying much?

In TWC, you play as a member of a race of shapeshifters. No matter which class you choose to play, you will have the ability to transform into a sort of "werecat," bigger and stronger than your usual self. The game follows standard RPG plot #143, where you and a small group of rebels must try to defeat the evil warlord who has taken over the kingdom. There's nothing particularly memorable or original, and you'll probably see any "twist" coming from a mile away, but hack & slash games aren't generally known for their plots, so if you love the genre, this probably won't bother you too much.

All werecats are not alike, and you will get to play one of five classes, all of which look pretty different. As in games like Diablo II, your class determines your appearance (although you do get a tiny bit of customization here) and gender. Some might be disappointed by this, but the overhead perspective means that you really wouldn't see your face even if they gave you the chance to carefully craft your facial features. Each class has its own skill tree, but some of the characters still don't feel very different from each other. You can equip a melee weapon and a ranged weapon at all times, both of which are class-specific, and you can switch between them at the press of a button. Nice, but ranged weapons had limited ammo and just didn't seem to do much damage, so I rarely used mine.

The developers tried to put a bit of variety into the combat: holding the attack button lets you charge up an attack, and many enemies have times when they leave themselves open to what's called an "attack of opportunity," which can knock them down, give you some extra loot, or just deal extra damage. As you may guess from my use of the word "tried," I appreciate their effort, but most of the game still comes down to mashing the same attack button over and over until whoever's in front of you dies.

As mentioned, you can shapeshift, and doing so makes you one tough cookie. You hit harder, take less damage, and there's not much in the game that can stand up to the punishment you can dish out. Of course, you have to earn it; killing enemies gradually raises a meter and after it's completely full, you can press a button to transform for a limited time period. Your class partially determines how long you stay transformed, and the items you equip can affect both how quickly the meter fills up and how long you stay transformed once it does. I didn't use this as much as I could have, but I didn't generally need to, either. I got killed a few times, certainly, but there's no question that I've played games that were much more difficult.

I don't want to sound like there's nothing good in TWC. True, in terms of gameplay, it's not terrible, but it's not a must-buy either. I've never had occasion to try them, but the game includes a number of multiplayer modes, both co-op and competitive (yep, it's an RPG with capture the flag). However, I have to give props to the developers in the graphics department. It's been surpassed since its release, but this game looks mighty good. The animations are fluid, the effects are nice, and the character models stand up to scrutiny well, even when the camera moves in close for the in-game cutscenes. I also like the way that weapons that do elemental damage spark, burn, or whatever's appropriate to their element.

Like so many games, this one features a forgettable score and a fair amount of mediocre voice acting. One of the characters in the opening sequence is particularly over the top. Not necessarily the best impression to start the game with. The sound effects are very repetitive, due in part to the fact that those class-specific weapons mean you're wielding different versions of the same thing throughout the game. None of this was a big enough deal to ever make me think about turning the game off, but I didn't mind playing with the sound off either. Come to think of it, the only thing problem for a deaf gamer would be lack of captions in certain cutscenes, since enemies show up on the mini-map, eliminating the need to hear audio cues to their presence.

As I said near the beginning, The Warrior's Code is probably the best of the three Untold Legends games. That doesn't make it great, but you won't hate yourself for having played it, either. At this point in the PSP's life, there are a number of better games in the same genre. However, if you've played all of them and are trying to find a hack & slash game to fill up some time between other games, this is going to get the job done for you.

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