I have an eye for the somewhat bizarre. So, naturally, when I encountered a review request for a game involving kung-fu rabbits, I found it impossible to resist a look. This is actually not the strangest game I've seen this year but it certainly ranks highly in the list! Certainly it's the only combat/adventure game I've seen involving killer rabbits.
You take on the role of Turner, a fighter-nut sort of bunny rabbit (are there such things?) who is lured away from his village on the island of Lugaru one day by a raider attack. When he returns he finds his family slain and the village destroyed. Treachery is afoot! Turner swears revenge and sets off to deal out death with fists, feet and a variety of deadly weapons.
You direct Turner through a 3D landscape with a combination of mouse and keyboard. There is a wealth of combat moves, weapons, blocks, counter-blocks and aerobatics but control has been made context-dependent - your position and that of your enemies affects what controls do. This allows for an enormous range of combat moves with a relatively small control layout - careful timing can lead to devastating results. You can also sneak up on enemies and dispatch them from behind, or steal a knife, sword or staff from your foe and use it against them!
There's more to it than first meets the eye. Turner is a tough bunny but he's far from indestructible. Use the same moves over and over and the enemy will start to reverse them to deadly effect. You can steal weapons from armed foes, but they can do the same to you. Rabbits have excellent hearing, making stealth tricky, and wolves can smell you coming (watch the wind direction!). The depth of potential strategy is astonishing.
Lugaru is graphically compelling. 3D landscapes vary in style, terrain and features - battle in snow, or grassy fields, or rocky deserts. Trees sway in the breeze and the terrain allows for considerable strategy - climb rocks, jump from hills, hide behind trees. More, the models themselves are impressive - "ragdoll" physics mean characters fall and move realistically. They also flop about nicely when you kick corpses about the floor, which can be very satisfying for some reason. Blood spatters can be adjusted (or turned off) if you're a little squeamish.
Sound is also high quality, with a range of combat thuds and thumps, weapon noises and so on. Wolves growl and rabbits squeak - indeed, all cut scenes feature English subtitles to translate rabbit chitterings. A few background tunes are present but remain soft and unobtrusive, as the best background music often does, and doesn't distract during heated combat sequences.
Playability is perhaps the greatest difficulty for Lugaru. The huge scope for combat moves, special attacks, combos and so on mean that controls are often fiddly to time and take a lot of practice to get right. Wolves are hideously difficult to kill, being much faster and stronger than Turner and nigh impossible to sneak up on. Worse for me, I was almost unable to review Lugaru at all due to the first campaign - jumping up a cliffside proved impossible because I couldn't get the jumps right. There was no help for this online or in the tutorial (which is recommended) and it was only through perseverence that I figured it out and got to beat someone up!
Lugaru features one campaign (more to follow in due course) and a series of individual challenge missions that can be played in sequence or individually - aim to score points or complete the level as quickly as possible, or try for various "awards" by the use of particular strategies. The campaign autosaves itself and there's no limit on lives - you can keep replaying a mission until you crack it. I was disappointed that I couldn't replay previous missions without starting a new player profile and working from the beginning. The campaign is fairly linear - you generally have a sequence of missions with no say in what happens next - which works better for the story but limits the replay value somewhat.
This is not a game for younger children. The controls alone will probably put them off, which is perhaps for the best given the blood, the violence and occasionally quite graphic depictions (such as Turner's family, with throats slit). There's some mild language in the first campaign mission, indirect references to rape and murder and of course such moves as sneaking up on an enemy and slicing his throat open with your knife (known as a "tracheotomy"!). I've not encountered a game this bloodthirsty in some time!
I was impressed by the depth of this game from the start. The concept is bizarre but the execution is professional. My biggest dismay was the somewhat basic storyline. Turner, for all his unarmed combat skills and vengeance, is a remarkably trusting and occasionally naive rabbit. Yet there's something strangely alluring after a long day at work about stalking a pack of humanoid rabbits... combat game fans should definitely look into this. Fluffy bunny lovers might want to steer clear!
Keywords: lugaru review, wolfire games reviews, wolfire games games, lugaru scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.