Crusader: A Conspiracy in the Kingdom of Jerusalem
Crusader is another historical game from the same stable responsible for Vikings(also Paris 1313, and Louvre: The Final Curse (The Messenger)), and if you have played Vikings, or read the Quandary review, you will be on familiar ground in Crusader. Crusader was released about a year prior to Vikings, and it is readily apparent that with Vikings the developers polished and refined some of the sound basic materials present here.
The game interface is primarily the same, there is the same mix of 3D videos and special effects displayed on 2D backdrops and ambient sounds are appropriate and detailed. As with Vikings the game progresses by solving riddles, and historical fact and real events provide not only the setting but also the basis for a detailed game encyclopedia that you will have recourse to throughout the game. For more detail read my Vikings review.
So what is different? Obviously the setting, having swapped the North Atlantic oceans and coasts for the Mediterranean basin. Crusader is the tale of Arthaud, Lord of Dun-le-Roy, who is on a quest to steal the relics of the true cross and return them to France at the behest of King Philippe. It is not a completely willing quest - Lord Arthaud has been given one last chance for redemption, having spent the last 3 years entombed in a small dark hole for razing a chapel to the ground.
The game dynamic is also slightly different. You can't give inventory items to anyone or use them anywhere other than on the riddle screen. You also have to find certain items by looking through the database (aka encyclopedia) - you won't find them in the game world. I scoured every piece of a snow-covered field looking for an engineer before I realised this.
This means that you have to spend more time reading and interrogating the database in order to solve each riddle in Crusader. The unfolding story is therefore more punctuated by pauses as you read up on relevant historical facts in order to find the item or piece of information you want. This in turn makes the edutainment aspect more prominent, which might make it less or, maybe, more appealing for some players.
Compared with Vikings the backdrops in Crusader also seem a little flatter, and less life-like. I also found some of the puzzles a bit fiddly, but that might simply have been my non-fiddly approach.
You don't get a caption summarising what each character is going to say, as you do in Vikings, although captions do indicate who each person is, and provide detail on some of the surrounding objects, buildings or action. The object of each riddle is, however, provided in writing, so it would be possible for persons who require subtitles to complete the game although it would certainly lack something.
You can't save a game at will; the game automatically saves for you when you exit. It will do so at the start of any uncompleted riddle. If you are stuck, you will either have to soldier through or start the riddle from the beginning next time you play. This means you might have to replay a portion, but each scenario is short, so it won't be terribly onerous. The game itself is not very long either.
Whether the production people listened to feedback, or just know what works better when they see it I don't know, but as indicated, these things were all tweaked in positive ways, the result being Vikings.
I am not suggesting that Crusader is not worthy in its own right. It's just that by comparison, Vikings is a better overall game, which arguably it should be, coming as it did a year after this game. It would be nice if all games built on the good things that had come before.
The story in Crusader is extremely well told, and is very well written, the language being quite descriptive and at times poetic. There is a nice twist with respect to the disembodied voice that tells the tale, which I won't reveal here. The blend of cut scenes and full motion game screens, along with the historical database, evoke admirably the setting and feel of the places and times. The crusades were not a stroll in the park, and that comes through here.
If you like historical adventures, and can handle a (fair) bit of edutainment, you may well enjoy this.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95/98/ME, Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, 4x CD ROM, 16 bit sound card.
Macintosh: Power PC System 7, 16 MB RAM, 4x CD ROM, 16 bit sound card.