Dragon riding has taken a turn for the worst in the last couple of tries. Dragonriders: Chronicles of Pern stayed close to the Anne McCaffrey novels, and in doing so became a game of more cutscenes than action. The sub-par Dragon Rage from 3DO made the flying more difficult, and the action less than interesting. The there was Drakhan, where the dragon riding was just subtext to the Lara Croft-style action. Now comes Savage Skies (formerly Ozzy’s Black Skies, featuring Ozzy Osbourne, but he has a new show now and doesn’t need this video-game gig thing), which isn’t the greatest game around, but somehow surpasses the others by simplifying the action and keeping things controllable. It’s like Starfighter with leather wings, and the saving graces are the variety of mounts and the environments.
The graphics aren’t without flaws, though. A lot of popup rears its ugly dragon head in the game, and consequently, most of the levels are thinly veiled in fog. When you land one of the beasts, their wings will sink into the ground and disappear – quite disconcerting, because the first time you see it happen, you think your beast is sinking in quicksand and you frantically fly away. The levels, however, are gorgeous and expansive, with large areas that you can lazily fly through if you have the time (and you won’t). From apocalyptic deserts to shining white towers of fantastic cities, the levels do a good job of keeping your interest for a while – and so do the beasts you ride. There’s tremendous variety in the twenty-four different creatures, from a griffon to a winged unicorn to traditional looking dragons. The all have their own different attack, too, and while they don’t exactly bowl you over with their technical prowess, they are cool to see in action.
The sounds don’t help the game at all. By ditching Ozzy, the game goes for an Ozzy clone that’s not even close. What you end up with is inferior metal music that must be shut off to be appreciated, with long, painful solos that must have sounded great in the studio, but wreck the game. The in-game effects aren’t much better – a cartoonish-sounding splat when enemies are killed, some minor screeching from airborne attackers – and the voice-overs aren’t in synch with the action at times. During one pitched battle inside an arena, the tutorial voice kept telling me to do something I had already done.
Ride Captain Ride
The controls follow a distinct pattern that will get you through most of the game – dodge and roll, and use your homing reticule a lot. Things are made considerably less complicated with the homing action – you can target from a distance, although intervening objects and attack patterns can disrupt the homing, so you can’t rely on it a hundred percent of the time. Using the first attack of each creature will usually get you through a majority of the fighting, but the AI is structured to shoot and evade, and try as hard as you might, you will find yourself helplessly targeted while enemies are on your ass and firing away.
Savage Skies is a better dragon riding game than some of the stuff that’s been out there. Does it damage the reputation of fantasy games? No, but it doesn’t make any real advancements either. If you can believe in the existence of dragons, then you can forgive the game’s few flaws, and you’ll be treated to a wing and a slayer.