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Exhilarating battles with demons

'Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone' heavy on action

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

Scenes from Atari's "Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone."
Video Games

Set in the popular Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) universe, Atari's "Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone" for Windows (requires DVD drive), PlayStation and Xbox, follows a band of adventurers who inadvertently release two imprisoned demons.

The trio vows to restore order before these warring creatures and their armies tear the world apart.

This action-heavy adventure lets you take control of three characters -- a warrior, sorcerer and rogue -- with the ability to switch between them on the fly.

Because each character has unique skills, the strategy is knowing which to use. The warrior Rannek, for example, specializes in combat thanks to his brute force, while Illius, the sorcerer, can dish out long-range magic spells. Zhai, a stealthy rogue, can sneak up on creatures and land a lethal slice with her blade. She's also adept at disarming traps.

Because you can only control one character at a time, the game's artificial intelligence does a good job of governing the actions of the other two heroes in the meantime.

You view game play from a third-person perspective, with a rotating camera that swivels to see skirmishes from multiple angles. Because of the game's attractive graphics, special effects, and the fact that dozens of enemies can be rendered onscreen at the same time, "Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone" enjoys a cinematic fantasy feel like the three "Lord of the Rings" films.

Non-interactive movie sequences that play during and between missions help flesh out the story and add depth to the game's array of nonplayer characters. The orchestrated musical score is also extraordinary.

The game also features role-playing game elements, such as the ability to upgrade characters' levels, items and weapons. For instance, Rannek can learn new moves such as a "whirlwind attack" and can upgrade his sword to one that never dulls.

Illius, meanwhile, can master fireballs and lightning bolts, and Zhai can sharpen her "dagger finesse" or acquire a magic charm that enhances her jump attack.

The talent behind this video game reads like a who's who of fantasy and sci-fi: Prolific fantasy writer R. A. Salvatore wrote the tale, while the voices for two main characters were provided by actors Patrick Stewart ("Star Trek: The Next Generation," "X-Men") and Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Green Mile," "Daredevil").

While the action is intense, if a bit repetitive, you probably will be disappointed at the lack of "save points." You can only bookmark progress at the end of each level, so you might have to repeat major portions of the game if your characters die in a fight. This is particularly frustrating during the tougher "boss" battles later on in the game.

Another beef: "Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone" is relatively short because you can complete it in less than 10 hours. With no multiplayer option, there is little reason to replay the adventure a second time.

Shortcomings aside, if you're an action or fantasy fan tired of 3-D shooters, you'll enjoy this exhilarating cinematic D&D adventure.

"Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone" retails for $29.99.

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