Berserk and the Band of the Hawk: review

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  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PC, Vita
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Koei Tecmo
  • Developer: Omega Force
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.koeitecmoeurope.com/berserk/
  • Game code provided by the publisher

Dynasty Warriors has its fans – and rightly so – but it can still be slightly disheartening to see the ever-increasing number of games that take the basic formula and pop a slightly different hat on it. Although Berserk and the Band of the Hawk does indeed throw itself into the whole ‘one person mowing through thousands of enemies without even stopping for a wee’ genre, it has two things going for it. Firstly, it’s developed by genre masters Omega Force. Secondly… it actually stands out from the crowd.

Oddly perhaps, the first thing to jump out at us was the initial aesthetic similarity in presentation to Attack on Titan (also developed by Omega Force). Text boxes, fonts, and colours were immediately reminiscent of the game in which we gleefully murdered huge naked people. Even the horse avatars on the menu screens are suspiciously familiar! All that aside though this is a very, very different game.

In a surprising and pleasing departure from the norm for licensed manga/anime games, the story is told here in detail and at length. There’s a fair amount of dialogue during play, but the vast majority of the story is told before and after levels. The first third or so of the game is crammed full of clips from the anime – some several minutes long – carefully selected so that it all makes sense. The remaining two thirds tells the story through CG and game engine cutscenes. The net result is that the story is perfectly accessible to those who are completely new to the series (though the ending, unfortunately, doesn’t resolve things).

“Hmm, not bad, but have you got anything bigger?”

The early stages are slightly misleading. Initially, it seems that the game will be asking you to capture bases on the map in order to progress, as well as regularly offering you missions where you get a choice of characters. After the first handful of battles though, this quickly proves to not be the case. There’s no running to and fro fretting about bases in order to dominate the battlefield, although you can occasionally fail missions by leaving a problem unattended for too long. You do unlock a variety of characters and sometimes different costumes for them. Fans will be pleased to hear they can play as a variety of favourites including (but not limited to) Griffith, Zodd, Casca, and Serpico. They all play pleasingly differently too. However, almost every mission must be completed with the main character, Guts, before the ability to replay as somebody new is available.

So what is the game about? Killing people (and monsters), basically. Lots and lots of them. A few stages are just one-on-one fights against a boss character, but most will see you kill literally hundreds (and often well over a thousand) enemies before you see the word VICTORY appear in huge and satisfying letters. It’s a game built on repetition, but this is an example of that potentially disastrous premise done right. There’s an undeniable satisfaction to be had from seeing huge groups of enemies fly and fall within seconds as you swing a hilariously oversized sword around. The aforementioned emphasis on story serves as another reason to keep you ploughing through the four dozen or so stages, and there’s just enough variety in environments and enemies to stop things becoming a chore.

Then there’s character progression. Each character that you use earns XP individually and, in addition to this, you earn items during play that you can equip them with. On top of that – and quite important to strengthening your characters across the game – each item can be enhanced multiple times by using the right materials and, later, by “amalgamating” them with other equipment you have no use for. If nothing else, this element of the game provides another respite between stages from decorating the environment with enemy intestines (though in truth, and despite the option to tone down the violence, it’s not actually a particularly gory game).

Beware the evil Prune People.

The spectrum that the story flits across – from faux-historical drama at one end, and supernatural horror at the other – colours gameplay slightly too. You’ll be facing off against not only thieves, knights and some sort of ninja, but also evil spirits, trolls, demons, possessed creatures, and more. Sometimes, a stage will contain a mix, and this also means that the environments aren’t limited to the grassy/dusty battlefields that we’re all used to. Okay, you’ll still be hitting things with your sword (with one character as an exception), building up your frenzy gauge for a powerful area attack – and, for a few characters, the opportunity to transform into a super-powerful form – but we’ll gladly take variety wherever it comes.

If you have an itch for dumb but fun action that you need a game to scratch, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk has its fingernails at the ready for you. Primarily due to strong storytelling in conjunction with replay value via unlockable characters and the gruelling “Endless Eclipse” mode, BatBotH will keep you entertained/disgusted all the way to the ending and beyond.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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