AVALANCHE / Rich Whitehouse / PC

AVALANCHE is a freeware game that takes the setting and characters of Final Fantasy VII and throws them into a 3D brawler very similar to the gameplay styles of God Hand, Dynasty Warriors, or the "Guy Savage" mini-game in Metal Gear Solid 3 (I guess Square's own The Bouncer would be an apt example too, but I think most people would rather just forget about that one.)

You control Tifa, although you'll start out with Cloud and Barrett as NPCs helping you out, and other major FF7 characters will pop up here and there to lend you a hand at times. The story is set not long after the events of Final Fantasy VII. Apparently Shinra had one remaining Mako Reactor left operating in a hidden location, and with no one knowing how to contact President Rufus, the old AVALANCHE squad sets out to do their "blowin' stuff up" act one more time. Of course, things quickly get more complicated, and graphics on the home page will probably clue you in as to who makes a re-emergence to give you trouble throughout the game.

The character models are very accurate to the ones seen in the original game, for both the heroes and villains, but given a bit of high-resolution tweaking and polish. Move sets use a lot of animations from actual attacks in the game, and most of Tifa's chain combos are based around her Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VII. As you brawl through the game, you'll collect Mako from fallen enemies, which you can bring back to a Mako Forge that acts as your central healing/saving/upgrade location. Items and materia can be made there, and you'll also pick them up from enemy drops and such throughout the game. Items range from healing potions, to equippables like Vision Glasses that let you see the enemy health as you beat them down, and just about all of these are based on actual FF7 in-game items. The soundtrack is also composed of a bunch of nice remixes of songs from the original game.

The game is presently listed at version 0.5 but seems to be pretty complete. There's a full single-player quest with a final boss, and a multiplayer option over the 'net that allows various characters to battle each other. Author lists the ideal specs as being the usual Pentium 4 2.0 GHz with at least a gigabyte of RAM, but the game ran fluidly on my 1.6 GHz laptop with only 512 MB of RAM (with all the fancy shmancy lighting and anti-aliasing effects turned off, which do look really nice, but don't make the game any less playable or fun for lack of them.) The author also advises an Xbox 360 controller, but any dual analog pad will do perfectly with all the necessary buttons mapped out comfortably. Keyboard/mouse play is also possible, but I didn't try it.

Even if you are turned off by FF7's characters and the fanbase surrounding it, the game is worth a look strictly as a very well-executed fighting game with a lot of neat options built into it. Very impressive work.

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