Hard to Be a God Review

I don’t know if it really is hard to be a god, but if Hard to be a God is any indication, it’s definitely frustrating. The Russian hack n slash RPG is based on the sci-fi novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and for those of you who are familiar with the book (maybe one or two of you, sadly) it does an admirable job of following the plot and events; I’d say it’s a much better book-to-game adaptation than many of the ones we’ve produced on this side of the world.

Unfortunately, the source material and the influence from it is the only truly shining beacon in the game. For those not familiar with the Strugatskys’ work, you’ll be immediately confused as you’re thrown into the middle of training with no backstory, information, or even loading screen explaining where you are. The only real backstory for the game (and description of what’s going on) comes from the official press release, which states:

“The planets of Earth and Tsurinak were once very similar, and for centuries their people shared both history and friendship. After a terrible war between the planets, the two societies split apart and lived a secluded existence. While Earth prospered and grew, Tsurinak became strangely stagnated. This stagnation is shrouded in mystery, with Tsurinak barely evolving and remaining rooted in a medieval society. During this time Earth continued to evolve, mastering incredible technologies. Intrigued by the situation of their former patriots the Empire decided to send in a secret agent.”

You, obviously, are the agent. The game begins with you being sent on a mission to rendezvous with some informants in a nearby town, and from there it slowly starts seeping in more and more information. Ultimately, it takes about 2 or 3 hours of actual gameplay before you even begin to understand what’s happening in the game around you, and that’s if you don’t get distracted by running around the woods performing sidequests.

While the story takes quite a while to get into for a hack n slash game, it’s easily the best aspect of it. There’s a reason HtbaG is a classic in Russian sci-fi, and anyone with the patience to sit through the game will see that. It does take a lot of patience to get through the story however, because the actual gameplay in Hard to be a God leaves a lot to be desired.

As a hack n slash, you shouldn’t expect much variety, but you should at least expect some fun. While there are a few great aspects like using diplomacy instead of fighting or disguising yourself in a limited number of garbs throughout your quests, the bulk of the gameplay and combat is frustrating, uninspired and buggy. The game runs off a stamina meter, and once that meter is depleted your character will stand completely still and act similar to a training dummy. Swinging, blocking, running-it all takes stamina. Take on more than a couple of enemies at a time, and you’ll quickly run out and stand there as you’re pounded into submission. It’s definitely not an easy game to get used to, and even once you do understand it, the various bugs and glitches will have you swearing.

The most frustrating aspect of the game is the complete lack of second tries. Die, and you’re dead for good. You can save frequently and just re-load, but more than once I had my save file turn corrupted (which seems to be a problem primarily with Vista). After the first time that happens you’ll wisely start saving multiple files and copying them to other places after play sessions, but that’s something you shouldn’t have to do. And the first time it happens, you can kiss however many hours you put into the game goodbye.

It’s hard to see a game like Hard to be a God. On one hand, it has one of the better stories I’ve seen in a game; on the other, it has some of the most mundane and aggravating gameplay. If you’re a stickler for stories and have an iron gaming stomach, give Hard to be a God a shot, because if you can get past the outer crust you’ll find a sweet nectar inside of it. For many normal gamers, though, the story isn’t enough of a pay-off for all the time spent frustratingly hacking and slashing your way through the world.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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