Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements is the cheesy '80s flick of the modern role-playing scene.
It's 3 a.m. on a Saturday night and you raid the fridge for a snack and casually flip on some cable TV for some channel surfing action before bed. Inevitably, after passing by infomercials, old M.A.S.H. reruns, and celebrity infotainment news shows, you find that movie. The really cheesy '80s flick (some call them 'guilty pleasures') that manages to be wildly entertaining despite its flaws. It's got a dumb, illogical story, cringe-inducing dialogue, and community theater-level acting, but you love it anyway. Well, at least, you love it when you're half delirious/drunk in the middle of the night.
This scenario sums up the experience of playing Ubisoft's Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements on Xbox 360, a terrible game that ends up being addictive, trashy fun anyway. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between Dark Messiah and camp classic Conan the Destroyer: namely, the swords and sorcery setting, wooden acting, and ridiculous plot. Unfortunately, there's no Andre the Giant or Wilt Chamberlain in Dark Messiah, but that's nitpicking.
Dark Messiah really hasn't changed much from its original appearance on the PC in late 2006. It's a fantasy-themed first person shooter with the vaguest hints of a role-playing game. Of course, in the PC version, the player had more control over the hero's growth. Killing enemies and getting through objectives earned skill points that you could use however you liked. In Elements, however, the level-up process is almost completely automated. You are given a pre-set power for leveling depending on which of four basic classes you've chosen to play as at the beginning of the game: warrior, archer, mage or assassin.
Each of the classes plays slightly differently from the others, giving the game some replay value, but not all classes are created equal. The sword swinging, melee-happy warrior is standard stuff, the mage has a few interesting tricks up his sleeves, but the most amusing classes to play as are the archer and assassin. The assassin is a personal favorite because about a third of the way through the game, your stealth power gets to the point where you can sneak behind enemies and kill them silently in one bloody blow. It adds a little excitement to the regular fighting, which mostly consists of mashing the right trigger a lot. To its credit, Ubisoft also tries to change up the mayhem by occasionally letting you kick enemies off cliffs, push them into spikes, send them into deadly booby traps.
The curveball thrown into the mix is that the consciousness of a slutty demon woman named Xana is inserted in Sareth's mind. When not purring not-so-subtle double entredres such as, "You know what they say about a man's front gate..." she's jealously commenting on Sareth's growing romantic involvement with Leanna, the young niece and well-bosomed pupil of Menelag. There are not many games I can think of out there with a strange, O.C.-like love triangle between a warrior, a wizard's apprentice and the disembodied voice of a demon girl.
Xana isn't the only source of unintentional humor. Though the setting is some sort of medieval land, half of the voice actors sound like they were rounded up from the college bar down the street. Others come off as nerds using the same appalling British accents they conjure up to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's hard not to laugh when an evil knight spots you and yells "Hey pal!" as if he was a New York taxi driver trying to get you out of the street.
All in all, Dark Messiah is by no means a great game. Compared to a classic like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, it looks shoddy by comparison. Nonetheless, if you're in the right mood -- the same kind of mood that you might need to be in to watch Conan, Roadhouse, or any movie starring Coolio -- Dark Messiah might be worth a spin.