As many gamers are undoubtedly still waiting for Devil May Cry 2 or the next Metal Gear Solid sequel for their PlayStation 2, Sony has released a great action game, right under everyone’s noses. The Mark of Kri, which hardly garnered any attention at all, turns out to be a masterpiece, quite like Sony’s own ICO last year. Why Sony didn’t push this title as hard as it would do for the big boys is beyond me, but suffice to say that The Mark of Kri is my contender for the sleeper hit of the year for the PS2.
The Mark of Kri tells the tale of an ancient spell, which would give the conjuror terrible powers to control the armies of darkness and enslave the human race. Fortunately, the spell was broken just in time, and the pieces of the ’mark’ hidden in different locations. This is where our hero, Rau, a burly warrior fits in, as he embarks on a series of adventures to find out about these precious artifacts, and ultimately save mankind. Not quite an engaging story, but quite decent for a game that focuses on the action rather than compelling storytelling.
The game starts with Rao in the local inn, which acts as a central hub for the game’s missions. There are a variety of things to do here. For example, he can talk to Baumusu if he wants to undergo a short but useful training session; the Bartender for some information; or various characters which will offer him a price or item for his services. Only after he talks to someone about a particular task will he be able to go adventuring and continue with the game.
Character movement is handled by the left analogue stick, which is very responsive and does the job well. The core of the game lies in its perfect blend of action, stealth and advanced scouting. Many games have tried this before, like Metal Gear Solid or the recent Headhunter, but The Mark of Kri manages to execute these gameplay elements superbly.
In The Mark of Kri, it’s quite rare to see a one-on-one encounter. Most of the time, you’ll be surrounded by multiple enemies, all hell-bent on taking you out. Engaging them is quite simple really, although it does require some practice on your part. While the left stick is used to move around, the right analogue stick activates a beam of light to use for targeting. Sweep it around and enemies will be assigned to the three attack buttons (X, Circle or Square). After that, it’s a simple case of hitting the right button to the assigned enemies, and Rao will perform his attacks on them automatically. If you have only 2 enemies remaining and targeted, the extra button then acts as an attack modifier, which enables you to execute combos for huge damage. If you’re worried about getting yourself cornered, just hold the R1 button, and Rao will block enemies’ attacks, regardless of their respective directions. While this may seem like a cheap way of giving yourself some breathing space, it’s a must if you’re going to survive the fierce and bloody battles.
There are situations where you can employ stealth to take care of business. After you disarmed yourself, you can sneak up on your enemy, and if your timing is right, you’ll automatically perform a stealth kill. In the styles of the violent Tenchu, you can either snap the poor sap’s neck, or pin him to the wall with your sword. My favorite is where you grab him by his hips and proceed to bang his head to the wall several times until what’s left is a bloody heap. If you fail to sneak up and have to engage the enemy in combat, you can tap the shoulder button to disarm him as he strikes and then slit his throat.
In addition to the standard sword and unbelievably powerful battle-axe, you can also use your bow and pick targets off from a distance, sniper-style. You can also perform stealth kills this way, with a shot to the head when the target in unaware of your presence. This is great for finishing off those darn annoying archers before they spoil your day. You can also fire off shots to distract enemies, such as hitting a gong or a local wildlife and then sneak up on the stupid fools and do your stuff.
As mentioned before, the game also requires some planning on your part before engaging the enemy. This is where your trusty bird, Kuzo, comes in. You can command Kuzo to scout ahead at various points in the mission, enabling you to see what’s ahead, and plan your approach accordingly. With Kuzo’s help, you can see how many are waiting for you, their types, and basically what their doing. Kuzo can also retrieve items, flip switches and even bring down the ladder for you to advance in the stage.
Another plus side to this impressive title is the sound. While background music is mostly a forgettable affair, the in-game sound effects are spot-on. The sound of weapons clanging, cries of angry combatants and limbs flying all over the place can be quite disconcerting at times, but very much welcomed in a game of this sort.
One minor gripe that I have is the linear nature of the game. With the action-oriented gameplay, there’s not exploration in the game. You can’t go anywhere you want, and you have no choice but to follow the path that has been set by the designers. While this may not be a big issue, I would have liked a more flexible approach to the levels, with multiple braches so that you can try a different approach or route in the replays.
In a nutshell, the visuals look like a cross between a Disney movie directed by Quentin Tarantino or John Woo. You feel like you’re playing in a cartoon, with the use of bright colors resulting in a stylized Disney feature. This is the look Herdy Gerdy was aiming for, and failed miserably. The characters themselves look great, and even have their own unique facial expressions. What makes this one unique is the degree of detail that goes into the game. When Rau switches from his sword to a bow, you can actually see him putting his sword into the scabbard, and pulling out his bow from his ’backpack’. And you can also see what items sticking out from the backpack. Fantastic.
When you go on your first adventure, be prepared to see buckets of blood being sprayed everywhere on the screen. You can decapitate enemies, chop of their limbs or thrust your sword into their bodies. The graphics engine does a good job animating these bits flying off when you proceed to dismember your enemies, which definitely warrants the game’s "Mature" rating. The game also keeps a tidy framerate, with no slowdown noticed, even when you have multiple enemies presented on the screen.
A resounding yes! While you might be able to finish the game in about 10 hours, The Mark of Kri does have something extra to offer. By finding a tuku in each level and completing various challenges set by Bamusuu, you can unlock Arenas, additional modes like Time Attack and Body Count, concept art and new outfits for Rao. The simple but engaging gameplay will undoubtedly beckon you to replay the levels to unlock more items.
Overall, The Mark of Kri is a very solid an enjoyable action game from Sony. The revolutionary combat system, the addition of stealth elements and gorgeous graphics all add to a wonderful and under-hyped title. Definitely recommended to those seeking something to appease them while waiting for Devil May Cry 2.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com