Windows – 2000
Description of Catechumen
The level of violence in video games has continued to escalate in recent years to the point that many people feel it has reached an unacceptable level. Now N’Lightning Software strikes back with a new game which asserts that it contains all the action and intensity of other, more violent FPS’s currently on the market, yet includes no blood, guts, or gore. Catechumen (pronounced kat-i-kyoo-men) not only espouses the cause of non-violence in gaming, its central theme is rooted firmly in a historical and biblical basis. The city is Rome. The year is 171 A.D. During the course of the past century, Christian persecution by the Roman Empire has been gradually becoming more and more widespread. Now, under the rule of Emperor Nero, it has reached unprecedented proportions. To avoid imprisonment and death, many Christians are forced to practice their beliefs in secrecy, literally going underground. Roman spies claiming to be new converts often infiltrated these underground churches, however, gaining the trust of the believers and then disclosing the location of their secret meeting places. In an effort to protect themselves and prevent these Roman spies from gaining access to their hidden sanctuaries, Christians created a system in which new converts would study the tenets of the Christian faith with a private mentor for one full year before undergoing baptism and partaking in communion. Only then did they become privy to the names and locations of the rest of the membership. During this time, these Christians in training were known as “catechumen.” Catechumen puts you in the role of one of these new initiates. Before your training can be completed, however, you must rescue your mentor and other Christian brethren who are being held captive by the Romans. This will be no easy task; especially since the Roman soldiers have been possessed by powerful demons. In addition to the possessed Roman soldiers, you will encounter a number of formidable adversaries including demons, devils, real/mythical beasts, and more. Impish demons are little more than a nuisance singly, but in packs pose a more considerable threat. Minor devils are larger and more deadly than demons. They throw fiery darts and can cause devastating damage in close combat. Micro-demons are small, poorly rendered, bat-like creatures with ridiculous little faces that pose little or no problem whatsoever. The farther you progress into the game, the more powerful the foes you’ll encounter become. You come face to face with man-eating lions in the coliseum. As you make your way into the catacombs, you will likely encounter minotaurs, leviathans, sapper demons, and guard devils. Later, as you descend into the bowels of Hell, you’ll wage war against the hounds of Hell and fallen angels. The final conflict pits you against the prince of darkness, Satan himself. At the outset of the game, you are visited by an angel of the Lord who bestows upon you the sword of the spirit. Throughout Catechumen ‘s 18 expansive single-player levels, you receive additional spiritual weaponry from other heavenly messengers including a gold sword, drill sword, lightning sword, beam sword, tri-repeater, Solomon’s scepter, and Moses’ staff (each weapon varies in damage strength and effectiveness against certain creatures). Don’t expect to start hacking away at Roman centurions, though. In this game, the battle is fought on a spiritual plane. Tactics that work against inhabitants of the physical realm would have little effect on demons. The sword of the spirit (as well as the other weapons at your disposal) acts as a channel through which God’s power is emitted as a burst of energy capable of destroying the forces of darkness or exorcising demons from their human hosts. When you are successful at liberating the Roman soldiers, they are enveloped in a heavenly light. An angelic chorus sings the “hallelujah” motif from Handel’s Messiah and the soldier falls to his knees in penitence, no longer posing a threat to you. In place of the usual “health” meter, Catechumen features a “faith” meter. You increase your faith by collecting scriptural scrolls that are strewn about. Encounters with evil beings can cause your faith to falter. If you run out of faith, the game is over. It’s important to closely monitor your faith level and always locate scrolls to study, thus increasing your faith, before attempting to battle powerful enemies. It’s also wise to locate shields and various other accoutrements of the armor of God, which provide added protection against evil attacks. The quest to rescue your brethren takes you into a variety of situations and environments, including temples, bath houses, Roman dungeons, the Parthenon, soldier’s barracks, the Catacombs, a royal burial chamber, the Coliseum, and Satan’s Inner Sanctum. The graphics are quite good (but nothing particularly innovative) and include rendered fog, particles, shadows, and other lighting effects. I only had a few concerns with the graphics. Although darkness is often perfect for evoking tension, there are times when caves and catacombs are a little too dark (even with the monitor brightness set high), causing problems with obscured vision. Also, when you walk past torches on the walls, their flickering is overdone and unrealistic. Other lighting effects are well done, however. The audio does not uphold the same standard as other elements of the game. It’s not bad, per say, but there were a few things that stuck out in my mind. The screeching demons sound more annoying than frightening. The crackling of those wall torches I mentioned earlier is a little overpowering as you walk close to them. The angelic messengers dialogue was difficult to hear over ambient sounds at times. Also, there are some music segments that seem out of place. Techno-rock (reminiscent of excerpts from the Half-Life soundtrack) just doesn’t seem appropriate when you’re fighting lions in the coliseum. More of a “Gladiator” or “Ben Hur” approach would have fit the mood better I think. The thing that I was most critical of in terms of audio is that your character’s footsteps are too loud. Even though you are advised that it is sometimes better to avoid soldiers rather than fight, they invariably hear your footfalls and come running. I was enthusiastic about the option of taking a stealthy, Thief -like approach but found it frustrating that I was not able to sneak past the guards. Level design is above average. I felt there was some definite similarity in a number of the levels, particularly in the catacombs. The developers have worked diligently to throw in some curves, however, holding your interest through the level. Puzzles are typical of the genre and not altogether too challenging. Encounter a locked door or gate? Explore a bit more and, lo and behold, you’ll come across a key lying about. Other perennial favorites include buttons to push, switches to flip, valves to turn, etc. There are a few unique and highly original puzzles included as well, however. As with most FPS’s, combat is considerably more of a challenge than the puzzles. Catechumen offers five difficulty settings: Fledgling, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Impossible. I decided to make a personal leap of faith and started my first game on the “impossible” setting. A few minutes later, I came to my senses and restarted the game, this time on “normal.” Once I got well into the game, I decided to experiment some and try out the easier difficulty settings. Much to my surprise, even the “fledgling” setting provided a fair amount of challenge. Some may complain about Catechumen’s overt attempts at non-violence (although it is still rated T: Teen for mild animated violence), citing that it’s unrealistic. I have to agree that energy bolts shooting out of say, Solomon’s scepter, feels quite natural, but for every sword in your arsenal to operate in essentially the same manner seems a bit contrived. I also believe it would have been possible to swing a sword at a mortal foe and fell him without resorting to graphic depictions of blood or gore. On the flipside, in the context of the storyline — a Christian disciple waging spiritual warfare (mostly against non-corporeal enemies) — it actually makes perfect sense. Catechumen is well worth your time to check out. This game should provide hours of enjoyment and possibly even enlightenment. However, even though the concept is highly original and a somewhat refreshing change from typical FPS’s, there’s nothing particularly innovative about the graphics or gameplay. Taking these factors into consideration, I think the $49.99 price tag is just a tad high. Then again, I would have trouble recommending that you run out and plunk down $50 for ANY game. Currently, the game can only be purchased at select Christian stores or directly from first-time developer/publisher N’Lightning so the chances of traditional retail discounts are slim — N’Lightning have informed us, however, that distribution plans are underway with US mainstream chains (including Wal-Mart and Toys R Us) as well as UK stores. All in all, I found Catechumen to be highly engrossing and entertaining. On more than one occasion, I was genuinely frightened by unexpected attacks of Satan’s minions. There have been other games before this one that have been based (loosely in some instances) on biblical events such as War in Heaven, and even Requiem: Avenging Angel. It’s a difficult task at best to produce a viable product that, not only meets the demanding quality standards of the industry, but also presents its message in a way which enhances rather than detracts from gameplay. Some games of this nature try too hard to save us from the evils of video games and come off as “too preachy” to a lot of gamers. Others have taken a more secular approach to the subject matter and ventured dangerously close to sacrilege. Catechumen strikes a wonderful balance. It never gets to the point of forcing religious beliefs on the player. They are integrated seamlessly into a storyline that would be diminished by their absence.
Review By GamesDomain
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