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Every once in a while you get a game that redefines a genre and manages to shed the preconceived notions of what a game should be. Gothic 4 is not that game. In fact, I would venture to say that this game is one of the low points of the Xbox 360 library. It all begins very predictably: you propose to a girl, leave town temporary, and upon your return find that the entire village has been set aflame and your new fiancé has been slain. Our nameless hero, with his emo mop top, swears revenge upon the king who ordered the town’s destruction and sets off to kill him.
The story is not really important in Gothic 4. In the entire course of the game our hero our hero seems to have amnesia and forgets to mention his dead lady friend at all. I understand the concept of razing a village to create a jumping off point in the story, but even when you are toe to toe with the man who made all this bloodshed possible, our hero never mentions her. That fact alone makes any shred of story left seem unimportant in comparison. I am sad to say; however, that the lack of a narrative thread is the very least of the problems in this game.
At the very beginning of the game, it is very stunning to look at the environment and revel in the beauty of it all, but as soon as you move the character it all falls apart. The frame rate chugs when you are simply walking through town. “Pop in” is also a very common problem, with objects simply appearing in thin air, sometimes even fairly close to the player. It is quite strange to find yourself running and suddenly a tree appears right in front of you. But, hey, at least it is a shiny, beautiful tree. Despite how good the scenery appears (at least statically,) the character models are bland, lifeless, and even ugly at times. The only model that got any attention was the protagonist and even his design is very unimpressive. Do not misunderstand, the graphics are not bad in this game; the graphics engine is very robust but just does not run well on the Xbox hardware. It does feel like this game was developed graphically for a PC and very little attention was paid to the limitations of the 360. The game runs similar to one running on a very low end PC.
Gothic 4 is serviceable in the sound department, but only barely. The soundtrack is generic, unimpressive, and generally underwhelming; that’s if you happen to notice the soundtrack at all. One thing you will undoubtedly notice is the ridiculous voice acting. Our unnamed hero has a standard British accent, which is nothing to complain about, as it is done relatively well with only a few instances in which dialogue feels forced. Every single other character is given far less attention. The accents run the gambit from sort of British, to New Zealandish, to some sort of unplaceable hillbilly accent. Every NPC seems to have been force fed their scripts against their will. Some of the voice acting is downright painful to listen to and the accents only get more outlandish as the game drags on. The accents in the game change more than Jorge’s from Halo Reach. The only good thing about these disastrous guttural interactions is that they can be skipped.
Amid all these problems, the game still had potential. Then I tried the combat and my patience reached the breaking point. You press the X button to pull out a sword, RT to wield a bow, and RB to use magic, but if you have any of these at the ready your character moves slower; that means that you must hold down the A button to put away your weapon, and then you can return to normal moving speed. The problem with this is that you have to constantly equip and put away your weapon to move ahead at a decent pace. This definitely seems like an unnecessary combat mechanic and is somehow maddeningly frustrating when coupled with the fact that there seems to be a delay between button presses. Every attack takes is slow and some commands only respond a second after the button is pressed. The manual aiming is next to useless and without the auto lock on feature, playing with the bow would be next to impossible. You are constantly getting killed by groups of enemies that you should be able to easily kill, but you are constantly derailed by the haphazard control scheme.
All in all, Gothic 4 feels like it was truly meant to be a PC game at heart. The Gothic series has always been PC exclusive and the port process between a console and a PC is never an easy one. Piranha Bytes, the company behind the first 3 Gothic games, is not at the helm of this one. Instead, German based developer Spellbound created the latest title and it really shows the difference. Gothic 4 is a Gothic game in name only and I would only recommend this to the most hardcore of Gothic fans. If you are looking for a fun RPG to play, go buy Dragon Age, but stay far away from this one.