Hard To Be A God PC review

A 1964 Russian sci-fi novel gets turned into a game. Sadly, some better translation work would have helped...

Based on the 1964 Russian sci-fi novel by the Strugatsky brothers of the same name, Hard to be a God is an odd, intriguing game. The plot follows the events of the book and concerns a planet that, while totally alien in concept, is going through its own version of the middle ages. It’s convenient, then, that its own type of Medieval era looks exactly like ours.

The plot is the high point of Hard to be a God and is up to far more than that of the average RPG. There’s plenty of interesting ideas – people from a futuristic Earth visiting the fledgling world, for instance, the fate of hard-fisted rule and, of course, the question that spawns the title: how difficult is it for a man to be a God?

Giving too much more away about the plot would potentially ruin one of the only decent things about the game, though, so I won’t – if you’re going to persevere with wading through this sub-standard RPG then you need all the rewards you can get, so I’ll try not to give anything away.

Instead, I’m afraid that I need to warn you about the rest of this title. The controls, for instance, are sluggish and lackadaisical, lacking the precision needed to guide you around the world accurately. They’re pretty standard – WASD to move, with the mouse changing the direction of the camera – but it’s like wading through a Medieval world full of treacle. You’ll be constantly wandering into walls and having to go back for more attempts at enemies because the poor controls missed the first time.

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Hard to be a God also takes an inadvertent leap into the world of stand-up comedy, thanks to Akella’s hopeless translation. ‘Could you hasten it up a bit?’ asked our warrior in the midst of his tutorial: ‘I’m urging for action!’ he continued. The reply, later on, from one of his colleagues? ‘You’re really incorrigible’ claimed the soldier. Somehow, I doubt that this was a standard conversation in the middle ages, and I find it hard to believe that someone with a decent grasp of English couldn’t be found to rescue Hard to be a God from such terrible translation.

There’s even a point, later on, where a farmer talks to you about his lost cows and claims that ‘woe is me’ in an outburst that your average emo would be proud of. I can also hardly forget when I was told to engage some enemy troops: ‘hack them and slash them, but do it in an elegant manner!’ Indeed. The horrific script is also accompanied with shocking voice acting – it’s a far cry from Sean Bean and Patrick Stewart popping up in Oblivion.

The game tries to provide plenty of versatile combat – admittedly, there are loads of weapons and plenty of variation here – but, when most of your fights consist of hammering the mouse button until your enemy drops, it’s hard to get exciting about using a different type of axe. The poor AI doesn’t help, either, with foes often getting lost, running into walls or just proving themselves woefully inadequate when it comes to giving you a run for your money.

So, the controls, script, combat and voice acting don’t impress – but what does?

Graphically, Hard to be a God isn’t bad. It’s not that good, either, but it’s still relatively pretty, with the requisite forests, villages and castles looking decent and exuding plenty of cartoon-esque atmosphere. The character models are worse, though, and the animation is stilted and awkward. In a world where Oblivion, Crysis and Call of Duty 4 are pushing the boundaries, mediocre graphics like these just aren’t acceptable.

In fact, very little is acceptable in Hard to be a God. If you’re a story nut, then it may be worth ploughing through to experience what is undeniably an enjoyable tale. However, the awful controls, poor combat, dodgy AI, laughable translation and bored-sounding voice actors suggest one thing: read the book instead.

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2 out of 5