When a game’s opening FMV flits between shots culled straight from the Hollywood motion picture on which it’s based and in-game action and you can’t tell the difference between the two, it usually means one of two things: either it’s full of breathtaking visuals or based on a film with shoddy effects. Of course, 2005’s big-screen adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was nominated for an Oscar for Achievement in Visual Effects, so that certainly bodes well for developer Traveller’s Tales’ upcoming Prince Caspian game.
Invited to a castle in Cheshire, near Traveller’s Tales’ Knutsford HQ, to preview the game recently, RT spent hands-on time with title and after a strong first outing with their adaptation of the first movie, sought to find out how the team planned to improve on the Narnian experience this time around.
Set 1,300 years after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian tells the tale of the titular monarch-in-waiting whose uncle, the evil King Miraz, has usurped the throne and plans to kill him. With his life threatened, Caspian flees the castle and learns of an ancient Narnia, full of mythical beasts and talking animals, who he seeks to bring out from hiding. Enlisting, too, the help of the four Pevensie children, who return to find Narnia much changed after their first experience, Caspian readies an army to march on Miraz and his Telmarine soldiers.
Anyone who grew up with the BBC’s late-eighties Narnia miniseries, and doubtless those who were introduced to the books as children, will know how exciting the prospect of being a part of Narnia would be, but like all movie-to-videogame adaptations, the challenge is finding a way to take a linear narrative and apply it in such a way that a player feels their choices are actually making a difference to the interactive world they’re presented with. While the Prince Caspian game sticks to the plot of the movie, as might be expected, Traveller’s Tales present a series of mini-missions in every major level they deliver, allowing you to make up your own mind as to the order you set out to complete the game’s challenges, which goes a long way towards breaking this linear feel.
Like the first game, Prince Caspian groups a handful of characters together in each level and allows the player to switch between them mid-gameplay. Unlike the first, Prince Caspian offers no fewer than twenty playable characters for players to choose from, and while you were limited to the four Pevensie children in the first game, here you can at various times control fauns, centaurs, dwarves and even trees, each with their own unique skills and abilities. Is this the first game ever to feature a playable tree? We certainly think so. Combine that with the controllable antics of everyone’s favourite sword-wielding mouse, Reepicheep, and you just may have stumbled into controllable-character heaven.
Comfortably, the game adopts an action/puzzle sensibility and promises plenty of big battles and frustratingly enjoyable tasks to solve. In the course of our hands-on we saw hundreds of soldiers fighting on screen at once in grand battles the likes of which are rarely seen outside of RTS games being waged in real time with impressive amounts of detail.
The environments, too, don’t disappoint, with the original CG model of King Miraz’s massive castle having been adapted from the film’s production by developers to be recreated in-game. This is certainly a centrepiece level, as you take charge of a gryphon and can fly freely around the towers and battlements, but much of the game features similarly exciting surroundings.
With the blessing of the C.S. Lewis estate, run by the author’s stepson Douglas Gresham who’s been active in overseeing production, the game actually opens with a level set in between the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the start of Prince Caspian. Entirely unique to the videogame, players are thrown straight in to a fight to save Cair Paravel castle from the first onslaught of Telmarine invaders. The level forms part of a flashback sequence and two short pieces of original film footage were shot for the game from the set of the movie, as Ben Barnes’ Prince Caspian is told of the battle, to book-end the level. And throughout the game players are rewarded for progress with further clips from the movie.
Disney Interactive Studios are clearly hoping the game will appeal to the massive audience of moviegoers who’ll dutifully pay their ticket prices to see the movie when it opens next month, but we’re pleased to be able to report that there’s more to the title than mere cash-in value. The game’s scale and construction is truly impressive and while we were able to log no more than a couple of hours in front of both the 360 and PS3 versions, we’re fairly keen to get stuck in when the game is released in the US on May 15th and the UK on June 20th.