Bev Chen
28 Jun, 2011

The First Templar Review

360 Review | Is this a holy blessing or a curse?
So the Knights Templar are pretty cool, right? Crusading, showing heathens who is boss and generally being badasses makes for decent video game material. As a result, The First Templar definitely isn’t the first game to have used the organisation as its subject matter, but take it from us, it definitely isn’t the best either. An action title with a heavy emphasis on cooperative gameplay, The First Templar focuses on Celian d'Arestide, a Templar Knight whose adventures lead him to uncover mysteries behind the Order and on a hunt for the Holy Grail. Ah, but note that we said ‘cooperative’. Along the way you will be accompanied by one of two characters: Roland, a fellow Templar with a penchant for violence and a coarse attitude to match; and Marie, a noblewoman who has been branded a heretic by the Inquisition.

Our summary of The First Templar and the characters involved may make it sound interesting, but play for just a few hours and it will soon become clear that it isn’t. The intrigue of Templar mysteries is a huge selling point for the game, but the clumsy and disjointed handling of the cutscenes and story progression significantly lets it down. One would hope then, that the characters would be worth the emotional investment, but alas, that is not the case. Celian comes across as too straight-laced for players to identify with him, Roland’s brawler personality is very one-dimensional, and Marie plays up her role as the female warrior to the point where it just becomes irritating. Dialogue does not fare any better, to the point where it can be illogical, contradictory or just plain idiotic. Take this snippet for example: “We’ll close the gate.” “Really? We’ll do it?” “Yes, we’ll just do it.” The voice acting does nothing for the script either, being flat and lifeless, not to mention inconsistent at times. Arabian soldiers with English accents? Something’s not right here.

Well, at least Marie's outfit isn't stupidly impractical.

Well, at least Marie's outfit isn't stupidly impractical.
It is a bit of a relief then, that the gameplay does somewhat make up for the awful narrative elements. The keyword being ‘somewhat’. The First Templar is primarily a brawler, with the standard hack-and-slash gameplay you would expect from such games being implemented fairly well. To (theoretically) add a bit of variety, you can also upgrade either of your characters’ skills by spending experience points via the use of a tech tree. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do too much to spice battles up, given the very limited number of new techniques you can actually learn. Battles – even those with tougher bosses - don’t take too much skill to win anyway. Hammering the same button aside, you are able to tell exactly which enemy will attack you with the help of an icon that appears above their head so that you know when to block or dodge. Failure to do so will result in a rather hefty amount of damage and you might panic for a second... until you notice that you have health orbs. These essentially act as lives, replenishing when your health bar empties. It’s not a bad system (especially when your teammate’s AI into consideration), but once you upgrade the number of health orbs you have, there is almost no challenge left.

The other major gameplay element of The First Templar is stealth. It quickly becomes obvious how the developers intended for stealth to work in-game (allowing players to sneak-kill enemies in particularly crowded areas, for one), but the sad fact is that the game simply does not accommodate for it. For one, some areas in the levels are too narrow or linear to plan effective routes. Secondly, while you can see your enemies’ line-of-sight, we found that there were particular occasions where they would suddenly develop amazing the eyesight of a hawk and charge us from the other side of a courtyard. Combat and stealth aside, each level also encourages exploration by scattering a number of collectibles around the map and giving the player bonus objectives to complete. Like most games nowadays, you are aided by a minimap, but why the developers did not implement a larger overview map is a question we asked ourselves frequently during our playthrough. Overall though, the combination of these three elements made for a game that got extremely repetitive after a while.

It’s ok! I’ll just use my amazing invisible fire sword!

It’s ok! I’ll just use my amazing invisible fire sword!
To its credit, The First Templar actually has fairly decent teammate AI. Your partner, while not immune to the occasional bout of stupidity, thankfully doesn’t step on traps or charge blindly into a crowd of enemies. In fact, it’s almost tempting to say that it is preferable to play the game with AI instead of a buddy. Our co-op experience was decent as well though, with the welcome surprise of splitscreen rather than both players running aimlessly around a single screen. Upgrading skills did prove to be a hassle for player two though, as they can’t even access the upgrade screen, meaning that if you’re playing with someone particularly nasty, player one gets to call all the shots. This being said, exactly how deeply cooperation was integrated into gameplay is questionable, as aside from the atypical lever puzzle and swapping between both characters, it can be said that The First Templar might have even fared better as a strictly solo adventure.

In terms of graphics, The First Templar has quite good environments and combat animations. Unfortunately, any positive impressions one might have from these all come tumbling down when you see the character models during cutscenes. (If the game is to be believed, Celian’s eyes are pointing off in two different directions.) Not only do all the characters look bored and pasty, but the animations are just plain lazy. Most notable is the cutscene where a lady walked into a door, supposedly unlocking it in the process. We also found the audio to be awful at times; aforementioned wooden voice acting aside, there were also problems with the sound balance. Sometimes it would be extremely quiet and others it would be just fine. The music is decent but not exactly memorable stuff, although there are moments where it is obvious that tracks have been recycled.

Firewalk with me.

Firewalk with me.
The First Templar is kind of a sad case – it’s clearly a game with a lot of potential, but the overall sloppy execution of the story, the graphics during cutscenes and several gameplay elements let it down a lot. To its credit though, it does have a decent co-op mode and very impressive AI, considering the budget we imagine the developers had. It’s just a shame that not as much work went into the other aspects of the game. This isn’t the next big thing in games centred around the Templars, but we’re sure it’s not the last.
The Score
While it is clear most of the time what the developers were trying to achieve, The First Templar is a bland, repetitive game that lacks the level of polish that most games nowadays have to be considered average.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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