Many thanks to Kevin James for the scans and the transcript

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Xena: Warrior Princess

thm_playstation01.jpg (10451 bytes)Everyone's favourite crazy Celtic madwoman has become hot property for Fox, since her first series proved a major success in 1996. We can see her adventures on that bastion of top quality programming, C5, but those unable or unwilling to subject themselves to Graham Norton's latest crazy gay shenanigans can always keep up with the latest happenings with the Xena Intemet community - there are literally millions of people out there who love Xena and her strange assortment of mad friends.

In this adventure, Xena's 'close-pal' Gabrielle has been chosen as a sacrifice, and it's Xena's job to ensure that nobody cuts her up. In some levels Gabrielle fights with you, using her trusty staff to fend off attacking enemies.

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Comparisons to Tomb Raider are unavoidable - the third person perspective, the scantily clad young lady and the running and jumping gameplay; it's all very reminiscent of Tomb Raider. However, there are several major differences. First off, the puzzle aspect of Tomb Raider doesn't really exist in Xena: Warrior Princess - it's just one long haul of death and destruction. The game begins with the burning of a town by a bunch of pirates that have been paid off by the evil King Valerian. The swines have killed Xena's friend and are holding all the women of the town hostage. Look around and you'll find plenty of pirates holding women by their hair and poking swords at them. The women scream and wail things such as 'I'm too young to die!'. If you wait too long, the pirate will slash their throat with his sword, but you time it right you can-cut him down before he gets the chance. You have to be very careful though - if you aim badly you might slash the poor woman yourself! Marvellous fun.

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Of course, if you don't fancy using your sword you can switch to using your Chakram, a kind of throwing disc - the deadliest frisbee in the world. Aim this baby at your chosen victim and Xena lobs it. You can aim it during its flight (to an extent - it travels very quickly), and it causes massive amounts of damage. Most standard 'grunts' can be killed with a single blow of the Chakram, and there are even quite a few bosses who only need a few hits with it before they tumble in the dirt.

The level designers have done a marginally above average job on Xena. The levels are fairly large and also quite nice looking, generally speaking. They take you from the Isle of Kronos, where an unpleasant (and really somewhat comical) Cyclops lives, to the domain of Hades! The hellish Hades level is hard going, but good fun, too, because you get to decapitate and dismember Roman zombies. If you look hard enough in the Torture Chamber level, you can even find a secret room, which represents the office of the programmers, complete with PC and rather long bug-list attached to the wall!

The actual fighting is fun. The bad guys all scream horribly as you slash them up, which provides plenty of merriment for the more sadistic gamesplayer. Xena leaps left and right, rolling all over the shop, attacking and killing her enemies before they even know what's hit them. It's visually impressive, and a whole lot of fun.

I've been uncharacteristically nice about Xena so far but, so as not to disappoint, I've got a few problems with it. Firstly, the control method is clumsy - you often end up falling into some lava or falling off a cliff, even though you clearly wanted to go in the other direction. Also, the camera angles are frankly terrible. They're usually okay, but there are moments on every single level when you can easily be killed, simply because the camera has just zoomed in on your face or aimed at a wall or something. This is intensely annoying, and it isn't something that should exist in a high profile game such as this. You'll also notice that Gabrielle, when you have to play alongside her, is as thick as two short planks, being unable to navigate her way around even the most simple landscapes. The bottom line is that Xena is unpolished - it's a great game, but it just doesn't appear to have been playtested well enough.

So, if Lara and Xena had a fight, who would win? I hate to say it, and it'd be a close call, but my money would be on Lara. Xena has so much going for it, but those rough edges and occasionally poor graphics really let it down. I'm no fan of Lara Croft and her self-similar adventuring titles, but sad to say, she just about has the edge. Let's hope EA provide us with a sequel on the PlayStation 2 - now that would be worth a go!

Paul Bartlett

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