Tehra Dark Warrior is a new 3D fantasy action title from StormBASIC Games, and quite impressive in many regards. Featuring fantastic conceptual art, solid 3D character models and environments, an original Lord of the Rings-esque soundtrack, a lengthy, narrative-driven campaign, numerous mini games and more, Tehra delivers the full package.
Were the app store subject to ESRB ratings, Tehra Dark Warrior would likely be rated ‘M’ for Mature. Parents may want to think twice about giving Tehra to young children on account of her skimpy attire and the amount of gore in the game. She is easily one of the scantiest clad women in the app store, pushing the envelope of nudity about as far as I think Apple allows; feminist gamers may bemoan such blatant objectification of a female protagonist, but I must admit I’ve no personal complaints. Just be aware that much of the game will be spent follow Tehra’s bare, slightly polygonal ass; if that offends you, play elsewhere. As for gore, blood will splatter your iPhone glass as you play, but there’s nothing so visceral as dismemberment or beheading. The gore can be toggled on/off from the options menu; Tehra’s sexiness cannot be toggled, only ogled.
Tehra Dark Warrior is first and foremost about hack-n-slash action. There is no inventory management, and only lite RPG elements for character development. It reminds me most of games such as Electronic Arts’ Lord of the Rings (LotR) titles for the PS2. Elements lending themselves to this comparison are the hack-n-slash combat, unlockable spells and combat abilities, fixed camera angles, monster designs and the soundtrack which is deeply reminiscent of Howard Shore’s score to Peter Jackson’s films (just listen to those horns in Chapter II). I mention these comparisons not to belittle Tehra, but as evidence of its quality; anyone having played these LotR games should feel right at home playing Tehra Dark Warrior, and it’s truly awesome being able to carry this kind of experience in your pocket. One should hope that EA will take notice of Tehra and follow suit by releasing iPhone versions of their LotR games.
Tehra’s epic story takes place in the land of Sistar, for centuries laid to waste by countless battles between humans and the demon race Urka’h. With both races having come to the brink of annihilation, their respective kings forged a pact to end the conflict. The treaty of Tarkhubal divided the lands, with humans and demons each ruling over their separate realms. To ensure the sanctity of their pact and to uphold its edicts an assassin was made, half of human blood and half the blood of Urka’h — an ageless killer with power enough defend the treaty should ever it be challenged. Now, as demon’s once more assail the lands of men, Tehra wakes to seek out and put down their cause.
Starting up, players are briefly tutored in the basics of combat, then put out to fend for themselves against hoards of orcs, trolls and other large and gruesome beasts. The baddies in this game get big, and look pretty spectacular considering the limitations of the iDevice. Also impressive is that the game runs at full speed even on the older iPhone 3G, playing with nary a hitch, while newer iDevice models supposedly benefit from additional graphical enhancements and effects (sadly, I have only a 3G and cannot vouch for the performance or added glamor of the 3GS).
Throughout the game, players will view the action from a fixed camera perspective, with the camera set into various positions depending on the environment at hand. Players have no control over the camera, which is probably best given the iPhone’s interface limitations. It does mean, however, that enemies will sometimes attack you from behind the camera; not a big deal, as running toward camera will cause it to withdraw, eventually revealing your assailants. But fixed camera perspectives tend to draw criticism, so it’s worth mentioning. For the most part, I have found the camera angles to be well positioned and have been glad for not having to manage the view as well as the combat.
Tehra’s movement is tied to a virtual joystick on the left, allowing 360 degrees of movement. On the right, there’s an attack button, a block button and a button for wielding magic. In the upper areas of the screen reside your life and magic meters. Shortly into the adventure, Tehra will gain the ability to transform into her demon form by tapping these meters when her magic is full. There is also a pause button allowing access to the game menu, and a button for the character menu from which Tehra’s abilities and spells may be upgraded and managed. The controls are mostly responsive, though the melee combat could benefit somewhat from targeting assistance.
Triggering Tehra’s demon form changes her appearance and boosts her power. Of key advantage is that your mana gauge becomes an extra life meter while in demon form. The gauge will constantly drain while in demon form, but damage will be subtracted from your mana rather than your life, and the mana orbs that appear when enemies are slain somewhat help to abate your mana consumption. Triggering the transformation also throws nearby enemies to the ground, so it can get you out of sticky situations. Reverting back to human form is seamless, and sometimes happens in mid-swing. Luckily, this never breaks your attacks, and so there are never “panic moments” when becoming pink again.
Throughout her adventure, Tehra will accumulate gold, sometimes from treasure chests and sometimes from enemy drops, which can be spent to improve her combat abilities and spells. Tehra can unlock two combat abilities: a running strike and a riposte. Her spells include fireballs and a fire blast, electric arrows and an electrical explosion, and a magical “death leap” which brings down your blade with magical force. At set point during the adventure, Tehra will also find improvements for her defense, mana absorption and demonic power. To be honest, the system of upgrades is the most disappointing aspect of this otherwise fantastic game; more on this below.
Tehra: Tehra Dark Warrior is a product targeting male gamers. While sex is not a part of the marketing jargon, there can be no misunderstanding the intent of Tehra’s design. Sex and violence are the draws here, and — I may be base for saying so, but — it works. What game-playing male doesn’t get off on the idea of a drop-dead gorgeous, scantily clad assassin with (in/super)human powers?
Difficulty: Tehra is not on a walk through the park. Some games suffice themselves at simply being difficult, but Tehra Dark Warrior goes further; it’s challenging. You will die, and you will die a lot. Just when you think you’ve reached the end of a section, you will fell your final opponent to discover there are yet more opponents to fell, and not expecting this, you didn’t save anything for the fight. Learn to use that block button, folks, because you’re going to need it. You will not survive this game by pounding that attack button. Ultimately, this is the game’s saving grace. Hack-and-slash gameplay gets awfully repetitive and boring when all you do is hack-and-slash. In Tehra, players will really need to involve themselves in combat to survive, timing their attacks, watching for incoming blows, and looking for openings to strike.
Graphics and Performance: Tehra Dark Warrior is a great looking title, and suffers not a wit on account of it’s good looks. The game runs silky smooth even on older devices, and I’m told puts on extra shine for those with the hardware to support it. I’ve already mentioned Tehra’s good looks, but her foes are equally detailed and well-designed. It’s really enjoyable encountered new foes and locations for the first time. The draw distance pays the price for having so much pretty in the foreground, but that’s a fair trade.
Soundtrack: While obviously derivative from LotR, the soundtrack is nonetheless appropriate, compelling and enjoyable. It adds to the experience, rather than detracting from it or being so much white noise, and it always pleases me to see developers going that extra mile with the tunes.
Challenge Modes: As if it weren’t enough having an excellent story mode, playing through Tehra’s quest unlocks various challenge modes accessible from the main menu. The first challenge mode is Endless Struggle, essentially a survival mode that challenges you to live for as long as possible against endless hoards of foes. Warriors of Itharmal tasks you to slay 65 enemies in less than three-and-a-half minutes. There are five challenges in total, and I’ll leave the others for you to discover on your own. Needless to say, it’s great having reasons to come back to the game once the main quest is complete, and the challenges are perfect for shorter play sessions.
The Icon: I’m very particular about my app icons and spend far too much time arranging them categorically and for greatest aesthetic impact. Apps with crummy icons are more likely to find themselves shoved to the rear end of my screens. No such trouble from Tehra Dark Warrior, though. I love the icon; it’s beautiful, and I hope they never change it.
One Attack Button: Having only a single attack button severely limits the combat experience. The combat could really have been opened up had StormBASIC designed it around it around light and heavy attacks, which would have allowed for more impressive and devastating combos, and more upgrade options for Tehra’s combat abilities.
Upgrade System: Tying into the one attack button complaint, Tehra’s upgrades are pretty weak. Players will quickly purchase the running strike and riposte abilities, but that’s all there is for fighting moves. After that, money can only be dumped into spells. But players will be reluctant to use spells, as they eat away at the mana gauge, the same gauge that fuels Tehra’s demonic transformation. The end result is that there is little incentive to upgrade Tehra’s abilities, and little incentive to use her upgraded spells.
The combat system is obviously geared towards melee combat, and against spell use. And so the upgrade system is perplexing in its obvious focus on magic, as if it were slapped into the game as an afterthought to give players some unnecessary sense of RPG accomplishment.
Collision Detection: Collision detection is sometimes spotty in environments. Several times, Tehra has not been able to walk near enough to walls to pick up dropped loot. Not a huge deal, but it’s a niggle against an otherwise polished experience.
Lack of User Selectable Difficulty: Tehra Dark Warrior is a really challenging game, to the point that the high level of difficulty may alienate gamers. I’m all for hardcore gaming, but the lack of selectable difficulty modes is a pretty poor decision on behalf of StormBASIC. Allowing players to choose an easier difficulty setting would open the game up to more players, improving the game’s reception and probably helping out StormBASIC’s bottom line.
Archers: They’re cheap, they hurt me and I don’t like them. You can’t block their arrows, they take forever to kill and they often spell disaster for me. Cheap, dirty archers!
February is off to an excellent start, in it’s first week delivering Assassin’s Creed 2, 2360: Battle for Cydonia and Tehra Dark Warrior, making this single week better than the entire month of January! In fact, if the month keeps up this pace, it could be one of the best months the app store has ever seen.
If you’ve got an itch for beating monsters senseless, then I can’t think of anyone better to scratch it than Tehra. In fact, she can scratch me anytime she likes. Tehra Dark Warrior is a monster-stomping good time, and one of the smoothest, most attractive 3D adventures in the app store. While I’d like the combat system and upgrade system to run deeper than they do, the game more than outshines its shortcomings. Be forewarned, however, that Tehra is not for the faint of heart. The game is extremely challenging. But for those up to the challenge, it’s a must have title.