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AL-QADIM / SSI / PC
Al-Qadim is all kinds of an odd duck. It's a
Secret of Mana
-like action-RPG on the PC, which might not be all that unusual these days but was highly unexpected in 1994, and also quite unexpected from publisher SSI who mostly made dungeon crawls to this point. In spite of the Arabian theme and the action-oriented gameplay style, it still hews to Dungeons & Dragons rules (though it plays a little more fast and loose with the limitations of those than the usual D&D computer game.)
Apparently this was a minor expansion pack to the D&D tabletop game back in the early '90s, and SSI runs with it employing a sort of Hollywood-style, romanticized Arabian setting. You play as the youngest son of a wealthy merchant family, who has gone off to learn how to be a swashbuckling corsair. While he's gone sailing the seas with crews of half-naked men, trouble is brewing on the home front. His return home sets in motion a plot to frame the family and their genie, a protective magical entity who does stuff like alter the weather around their ships to make it more favorable.
A torturous introductory gauntlet sets what will end up being kind of an insane pace for the game. Controls are pretty simple - you move in eight directions, you swing a sword that can eventually be built up to unleash more powerful charged swings and magic attacks, and you eventually get a sling and magic spells for ranged attacks. You get a rough introduction to the control scheme, however, being forced through a somewhat tough maze with a force field following at your heels the whole time - move too slow and you have to do the whole thing over.
The game never really eases up from there. It punishes little mistakes harshly, even seemingly innocuous things. For example, while exploring the first town you can engage in a training session with the weapons master of the village. As it turns out, this grants you nothing, yet you later find it ruins the opening sequence as there's no way to heal yourself afterwards without blowing all your money, and you are asked to negotiate a gauntlet of randomly-generated enemies before you reach the next opportunity to heal. There's stupid little stuff like that all through the game, just absolutely thoughtless and amateurish design decisions that make the game more of a chore than it should be.
There's some potential here and it's mostly ruined by clunky combat and being insanely hard at points, but a generally boring story and characters don't help either. I chalk this one up to a publisher not familiar either with action games or good storytelling, and a generally inexperienced programming team (CyberLore, one of those little contract teams that has an overall resume of largely obscure and forgotten titles.) It's too bad because there's a rather nice "Lawrence of Arabia" style soundtrack throughout, and while the action in the game is kind of primitive (though you can walk in 8 directions, you can only swing the sword or shoot stuff in 4), it still could have been workable if the difficulty and layouts hadn't been so thoughtless. As it is the game doesn't offer you enough to mitigate putting up with all that.
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